Archive for May 2011
Amid debate with Joshua Landis in the comments section of the previous post, I wrote this:
Another point about sectarianism. Remember the fight bewtween Alawis and Ismailis some years ago in Masyaf (was it Masyaf?). There was a good piece about it on Syria Comment. Somebody at the time (perhaps Joshua) pointed out that the fight wouldn’t have reached the proportions it did if there had been respected civil society figures who could have knocked the young men’s heads together. But there weren’t any such figures, because any natural authority figure was perceived as a threat by the regime and had been removed. Masyaf is a microcosm of Syria.
Then a visitor called AK posted the following comment, which is very worth reading.
Syrians lived together even before the arrival of Al Assad family to power. Mind you, majority of Alawii are poorer now than forty years ago. You just need to visit any Alawii village (including Kurdaha) to establish that yourself..
The Syria Comment website is an indispensable source for news and views on Syria. Unfortunately, it now requires a health warning.
In a recent article Joshua Landis writes that the protestors “failed to provoke a confessional split in the army as happened in Lebanon. Sunni soldiers have not split from Alawis, despite all the talk about “shabbihas,” which is code for Alawis.”
This, as so often in recent weeks, is an example of Syria Comment taking leave of reality in order to slander the uprising. I’ve been following activist websites and facebook pages, and talking to Syrians of a range of backgrounds. I haven’t come across anyone who aimed to achieve a ‘confessional split’ in the army. Of course, the protestors wanted a split in the army, between patriots and the dogs of the state. They wanted Syrian soldiers to refuse to fire on unarmed Syrian people, and it seems in Dara’a they got what they wished for. Nobody wanted a confessional split.
Like all Syrians pure or hyphenated I’ve been regarding my father’s country over the last weeks with the utmost horror. The Damascus suburb where I got married is currently sealed off by tanks, its dovecots occupied by snipers. When I lived and worked there, Syria felt like a land of promise. Did it have to come to this?
On the one hand, Hafez al-Asad, father of the present president of Syria, was a ruthless dictator who put down a violent uprising (in the 1980s) by slaughtering 20,000 people in the city of Hama. On the other, his regime brought stability after two decades of non-stop coups, provided services to urban and rural areas alike, educated a middle class to staff the public sector, and based its legitimacy, often with good reason, on a nationalist foreign policy.
The regime liberalised somewhat in the latter years of Hafez’s reign, once the Islamist opposition had been neutralised. Syria remained a dictatorship, dissidents were still jailed, but it was no longer a country of fear. When Bashaar took over from his father eleven years ago Syrians hoped for accelerated reform within continued stability. And the regime did make a good start at liberalising the economy, but reneged on early promises of political reform. The model was China, not Gorbachev’s Russia, but growth levels were never Chinese. The result was the enrichment of a new bourgeoisie simultaneous with the undercutting of safety nets for the poor majority.
Syrian revolutionary chants are as distinctive, creative, as powerful and sometimes as comical as their Egyptian equivalents. One of my favourites parodies Qaddafi’s threat to hunt down the Libyan opposition ‘alley by alley, house by house’:
zanga zanga dar dar alley by alley, house by house
bidna rasak ya bashaar we want your head, O Bashaar
In the film below, residents of Um Shurshouh in besieged Homs enjoy a talbeeseh, or bridegroom’s wedding party. The neighbourhood itself is the bridegroom. The leader calls out a verse, and the crowd repeats it.
Traditional calls of welcome to those arriving at the party:
Despite the mass arrests, the beatings and torture, the besieged towns and suburbs, the blocked-off mosques, and the killings of up to a thousand people, Syrian heroes today demonstrated in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Idlib, Qamishleh, Amouda, Latakia and elsewhere.
The film below was made in Dera’a last month. It is very distubing to watch, but also very inspiring. I love the courage and compassion and the solidarity of those wonderful people who work against bullets and fear to rescue one fallen. That’s the best of syria, and there’s a great deal of it. I challenge anyone to watch the film and then claim that the Syrian regime still enjoys any legitimacy at all. “Khawana!” scream these brave men at their persecutors. “Traitors!”
More videos smuggled through the media blackout can be seen at Sham News.
Upmarket central Damascus, Corncob square and the shopping precinct below. ‘Salafi terrorists’ singing the Syrian national anthem. The mukhabarat playing various roles.
This review of Leila Aboulela’s novel was published in the excellent Wasafiri magazine.
It’s the mid twentieth century, as British control over north east Africa fails. Sudanese cotton tycoon Mahmoud Abuzeid, awarded the title Bey by Egypt’s King Farouk, is pulled between his two wives.
“They belonged to different sides of the saraya, to different sides of him. He was the only one to negotiate between these two worlds, to glide between them, to come back and forth at will.”
The two wives share a compound. Sudanese Waheeba in her hoash – a traditional living space half open to the air – represents “decay and ignorance…the stagnant past” to gregarious, multi-lingual Mahmoud. Egyptian Nabilah, much younger, better educated, attempts to recreate Cairo in her Italian-furnished modern salon. She represents “the glitter of the future..sophistication.” But events question such easy distinctions.