Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for June 2011

Spontaneous Expression of Love

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photo by Muzaffar Salman/AP

The regime brought thousands of supporters onto the streets of Damascus today. The picture shows them carrying a two-kilometre-long flag along Mezzeh Autostrade – this supposedly proves that the regime, despite its mass murder of Syrian civilians, is a patriotic one. Some of the loyalist demonstrators will be genuine supporters of the president. Many will be civil servants, teachers and schoolchildren told to do their duty. That’s how official demonstrations work in Syria.

I remember the run-up to the final referendum on Hafez al-Asad’s reign. Every night extended news bulletins screened grim-faced crowds shaking their fists on snowy hillsides or stiffly dancing debke in enormous stadiums. The newsreaders described these spectacles as spontaneous expressions of joy and loyalty. When the president won 99.something percent of the vote, the newsreaders called it ‘a marriage of people and leader.’

In honour of today’s occasion, I’m reposting the short story below. It’s inspired by an organised riot which I witnessed in Damascus in the late 1990s.

The Screen

There were no classes. Instead we marched down to the square and began to shout slogans. At first the teachers led us but soon we got into a group with no teachers and we could shout what we wanted.

Ya Blair Ya haqeer

dumak min dum al-khanzeer

O Blair, you are mud

Your blood is swine’s blood

It was hard to say the words because I was laughing so loud. Muhannad squashed his nose with his finger and oinked like a pig.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 15, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Posted in Syria, writing


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pic by Rex Features

This piece was published at Foreign Policy.

Selmiyyeh, selmiyyeh” — “peaceful, peaceful” — was one of the Tunisian revolution’s most contagious slogans. It was chanted in Egypt, where in some remarkable cases protesters defused state violence simply by telling policemen to calm down and not be scared. In both countries, largely nonviolent demonstrations and strikes succeeded in splitting the military high command from the ruling family and its cronies, and civil war was avoided. In both countries, state institutions proved themselves stronger than the regimes that had hijacked them. Although protesters unashamedly fought back (with rocks, not guns) when attacked, the success of their largely peaceful mass movements seemed an Arab vindication of Gandhian nonviolent resistance strategies. But then came the much more difficult uprisings in Bahrain, Libya, and Syria.

Even after at least 1,300 deaths and more than 10,000 detentions, according to human rights groups, “selmiyyeh” still resounds on Syrian streets. It’s obvious why protest organizers want to keep it that way. Controlling the big guns and fielding the best-trained fighters, the regime would emerge victorious from any pitched battle. Oppositional violence, moreover, would alienate those constituencies the uprising is working so hard to win over: the upper-middle class, religious minorities, the stability-firsters. It would push the uprising off the moral high ground and thereby relieve international pressure against the regime. It would also serve regime propaganda, which against all evidence portrays the unarmed protesters as highly organized groups of armed infiltrators and Salafi terrorists.
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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 11, 2011 at 11:48 am

Posted in Sectarianism, Syria, Turkey

On the Radio

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 9, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Posted in Iran, Sectarianism, Syria

Civil War

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'reform operation' by Ali Ferzat

Will Syria experience a civil war? There’s already a civil war of narratives, pitching the regime’s version against everyone else’s, and a social civil war, in which Syrians find themselves shocked by the responses of their friends and relatives, and find new friends and unexpected allies, realigning their perspectives and values as they do so. Many Syrians are still so scared of the unknown, and so deep in the slave mentality, that they wish to believe what the old authority tells them.

But decreasingly so. Most people have a time limit on their gullibility, or their self-deception. The lies of state TV and the ridiculous ad-Dunya channel, though they come as thick as summer flies, cannot cover the dazzlingly obvious – that the regime is torturing children to death, shooting women and old men, and randomly arresting, beating and humiliating the innocent. That Syria’s tanks and helicopter gunships should be liberating the Golan, not slaughtering Syrians. That the protestors are patriots seeking their basic rights. (I gave up having the argument about Salafis and foreign infiltrators weeks ago on the basis that anyone who wants to believe the regime version will believe it regardless of facts and logic.)

There are still diehards who point to Syria’s social and cultural ills as a reason for sticking with the regime. Give it a chance, they say. Let it reform, as it will undoubtedly do. The alternative is sectarian civil war.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 6, 2011 at 2:40 pm