An afternoon tea with Syrian oppositionist

Today, it seems to be difficult to find a place, which would symbolize change more than this square. Midan Tahrir in central Cairo is definitely one of the places, which has defined dawn of the new decade. Descending during the sunset to this square from bustling streets of Egyptian capital, the signs of the new order are omnipresent, although the crowds are away for a while. The graffiti, ranging from childish, simple slogan illustration until the very fine examples of the street-art, make no room for mistake about what has happened here. Another sign are also the tents. Despite being considerably less numerous than in past months they still make Tahrir look rather like a sort of run-down camp. It is quite difficult to assess, how many of these tents stand there for political purposes, or just for the fact, that their inhabitants have nowhere to go. The appearance of these tents seems to follow the overall mood in Egypt, where the revolution trajectory apparently reached the plateau and descended into a political version of trench warfare.

There is an important exception, however. The tent at the western edge of the square is definitely in much better shape than the above mentioned remnants of the not-yet-finished revolution. The effort of this tent’s inhabitants also bears no signs of weariness. There is a good reason for it. This tent represents the Syrian revolution, where the events have not yet slumped into a confusing, behind the scene power struggles. On the contrary, according to the many sings events in Syria are reaching the tipping point and the mood of this tent mirrors it.  This is the place, where the author met Amin – a well-educated, English speaking anti-Assad activist. He agreed to tell his story. The author of these lines has not many means how to independently confirm, what he was told. Nevertheless, he sees no shame in it. The much better equipped and informed analyst, journalist, intelligence officers or whoever else are altogether struggling to find the answers on many questions of tragic events in Syria. There might be missing parts, inaccuracies or deliberate disinformation in what Amin recounted me. To find the TRUTH is NOT the aim of this article. Its aim is just to tell a tale of this revolution. The author does not interpret, edit or explain what he was told. He is just honestly reporting what his ears heart from Amin. The author let fellow reader to make picture on his own. Take it, or leave it.

Amin has earned his degree in law from universities in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. He is a Sunni from the city of Hama. After the graduation he moved to the Gulf in order to earn a living in telecommunication companies, which has been swarming on these fast moving markets. However, as he was recounting with evident excitement, the events in Syria could not let him cool. As the revolution escalated, he asked for the permission to leave his post in order to join the anti-regime struggle. He arrived in Syria at the beginning of May 2011. Establishing a group of seven, also mostly well-educated, middle class Sunni citizens, he started to participate in anti-goverment rallies in the city of Hama. From his story it is easy to imagine, how the course of events proceeded from large anti-regime gatherings into a bitter civil war.  For Amin, the breaking point came on the 12th June 2011 after one of these rallies in Hama turned into a massacre. Drawing a sketch of the tactical situation of that day, Amin recounts the well prepared ambush, which made dozens of demonstrators run into a deadly trap, where they were machined-gunned by hidden pro-government troops. Even story-teller itself was wounded on that day. The bullet left visible scar on his shoulder. After that, he decided to raise the arms. AK-47 with two magazines became the weapon of choice. Amin recounted how he participated in organizing the resistance in the city quarter named Hadir.  How the check points began to rise around the Hama in order to deny the police free of manoeuvre. He offered a detailed explanation of the way how some of these check-points were mined. According to him, at that time (June-July 2011), there was a near absence of any heavy weaponry, apart from the army’s infantry fighting vehicles, which were patrolling the streets. The fighting was rather a cat-mouse game among the snipers and small-arms equipped light units. He personally spotted first tank on the 1st August. However, he was subsequently jailed by the security forces due to the treason within the rebel ranks. The traitor used his mobile to document the faces of him and his fellow rebels while they were sleeping. Amin thinks the reason for the traitor was a prospect of the better well-being in post-revolutionary era. However, once discovered, this traitor paid with his life instead. Amin spent nearly a month in prison until his father bribed the local security staff. After leaving the jail, Amin escaped from Syria and moved to Cairo.

Now, amid the tea and cigarettes, it was time for me to ask.  First of my question portfolio was directed at the nature of the uprising. Can he identify any ideological or schematic currents within the uprising? Are there any respected leaders? If yes, who are they (at least from his point of view)? Amin told me that he feels in favour of cooperation with anybody, who could help to establish free, democratic and united Syria. The only group or current, he was able (or willing) to express his resentment about, was the Muslim Brotherhood, which he does not perceive as a positive actor. However, he disputed the claim about the significance of support from Hamas. According to him, Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has sufficient resources to arm and sustain itself simply due to the revenues of his prominent figures, who run significant businesses in Saudi Arabia and also in Europe.

When asking about the leadership of the revolution, I received rather negatively defined response about who is not well respected. He talked with obvious disrespect about so-called National Council. According to him, it is rather a group of individuals, who have not been in the country for long time and lack sufficient knowledge and touch with the developments of the last year and half. Even from the very practical point of view, the capabilities of the National Council to organise or even just to influence the events are easily matched by any local leader. In this light it is not surprising that he did not show a great enthusiasm about names like Mr. Ghaljun. His despise grew even higher, when we arrived at the figures like Abdel-Halim Khaddam or Hikmat Shehabi, once members of the so called “old guard” of Hafez Assad and now prominent Syrian émigrés, who fled the country after Bashar Assad selected the new inner circle for his regime in early 2000s. Although for long term followers of the developments in Syria this information is definitely not surprising, the mainstream press (at least at the begging) gave these figures a voice.

After I turned to the question of Syria in potential post-Assad future, I was answered at several dimensions. First of all, Amin insists that this fight is not Sunni contra Allawites, or other minorities. He strongly believes in Syrian nation based on the grounds of shared history rather than sectarian differences. Amin was talking vividly about the need of national reconciliation. He compared (now I am recounting exactly his own words) all Syrian groups to the springs of a river, where every one of them is needed to ensure the survival of the main river which is Syria. Once one of these streams seizes to exist, the flow of water gets slower and the desert spreads. After my curiosity concentrated on the possibility, that the fighting might not end with the Bashar’s fall and the country might follow the Lebanon or Iraqi way, he firmly disputed. If the things go like that, he said to me, it would have to be contributed solely to the intentions and aims of foreign powers such as USA, France, Russia etc, which he blamed for deliberate weakening of the Arab world. According to him Syrian war must be read war against oppressive regime of Bashar Assad, not the war between any groups.

When he was asked about the vision on post-revolution Syrian stance in the region he was rather evasive at first. He realistically predicted the foremost need to reconstruct country after the fighting stops. After some time, however, he started to talk about his vision of Syria in the interconnected word, the need for education exchange between Syrian and Western universities etc. I decided to aim my questions to the countries in Syrian vicinity. Foremost, I was interested in fate of Lebanon and especially Hezbollah. Regarding the Party of God, Amin thinks it deserves only one fate – complete destruction. He offered a detailed account of his grievances against Hezbollah. His account begins with Hezbollah significant presence in many parts of the country. There, the members of this movement along with their Syrian and Iranian counterparts openly manage the checkpoints and they are also involved in heavy fighting. According to the Amin, Iranians Revolutionary guard members and Hezbollah troops are also the most active snipers, who have no mercy not only with the oppositionist, but also with any hesitating pro-government troops. Amin sees Syria and Lebanon as naturally interconnected countries and he would also welcome unification. But in the same breath he adds that it would have to take a path completely different from that Syrian leadership has embarked on in the past decades. Any unification project would depend completely on the will of Lebanese people. After my kind request for more detailed vision about how he imagines potential Hezbollah demise, he talked first about the need to cut off support for it. Then he expressed his positive attitude towards potential Lebanese revolution and also suggested an option of possible Syrian intervention in favour of the anti-Hizballah forces in case the Party of God opts for violent way.

When asked on the possible relation with the West and Israel he was insisting on the need to pursue an independent policy. He thinks that Syrian moves towards the West should be reciprocal and dependent on the Western intentions. As already stated above, be blames the USA for corrupting local regimes and overly damaging policy towards the Middle East. He sees the possibility of normal relation with the US and the West as very feasible one, but it would definitely differ from the patron-client relationship as used to exist between the USA and Mubarak’s Egypt. Of course he was highly critical to China and Russia, for whom there should be no place in post-Assad Syria. A last point worth mentioning was the case of Israeli-Syrian relationship. Amin admitted the possibility of a peace treaty with Israel under the condition Tel Aviv returns Golan Heights. But Amin does not think that mutual relations could go any further and he was sceptical even about possible diplomatic relation.

As I stated above – this article is about the story and opinions of one man. According to me, this story should be heard. I do not take any normative stance on what Amin told. Middle East is definitely shaking and in this time of crisis, it should be the voices of its inhabitants which should be listened to. Because it will be these voices like Amin’s, who will ultimately define the future rather than anyone else.


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