Warning: GRAPHIC VIDEOS. I highly recommend not watching the second video.
I was on a camping trip. Offline for 3 days. When I came, one of the first things I saw was a video from a procession-cum-protest–as is now norm in Syria. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be inside an explosion? Ever wonder if those hollywood explosion bear any resemblance to a real explosion? Well here it is:
Before, chants. hands clapping. Then in one swift second a loud noise. A shockwave. Fire. Ashes. Sparks. Sound of an accelerated burning, like the one you hear when you light a whole matchstick box on fire. Video ends.
The crowd is mute for a couple of seconds as their bodies absorb and process the shock. Smoke. Dust. Screams, and running. Bodies everywhere. I couldn’t bear finish the second video. Too painful. I chose to severely limit my graphic video viewing to maintain my sanity. 11 seconds; the length of the first video were all it took to shatter it for a day. I know not what tomorrow brings.
These daily tragedies make you, the expat, feel guilty about the very air you breathe. Another story for another day.
بالكاد تنفّسنا الصعداء بعد الإفراج عن زميلنا حسين غرير قبل أن يعود اختناق الغضب والحزن ليذكّر صدورنا بواقع القمع والكبت وعبادة الصّمت الذي نعيشه.. وردنا خبر اعتقال زميلتنا رزان غزّاوي.
رزان غزّاوي سوريّة بامتياز.. سوريّة بعملها المحموم للمرافعة عن القضية الفلسطينيّة وﻻجئيها في وسائط الإعلام اﻻجتماعي باللغتين العربيّة واﻻنكليزيّة، سوريّة بالتزامها بكل قضايا التقدّم والعدالة اﻻجتماعيّة والمساواة، سوريّة بوقوفها مع الأحرار في طريقهم لنيل الحرّية والكرامة.. رزان صوتٌ ﻻ يريد له الصمت إﻻ أعداء الحقّ والكرامة والعدالة والحرّية.
نطالب السلطات السوريّة بالإفراج الفوري عن رزان غزّاوي وعن كلّ معتقلات ومعتقلي الرأي والضمير والكرامة، ونحمّلها مسؤوليّة أي أذى قد تتعرّض له، كما نطالبها بكف سياسة القمع الإرهابي الرعناء بحق المواطنين السّوريين، وندعو جميع أنصار الحقّ والحرّية للتضامن مع رزان غزّاوي، معنا، مع سوريا..!
Silence doesn’t serve us after today. We don’t want a country where we get imprisoned for uttering a word. We want a country that embraces and welcomes words.
This is the last thing Syrian blogger Hussein Ghrer demanded on his blog, and here we are today blogging with sadness on the news of Hussein’s detention, without knowing why, and where he is now.
Hussein is 30 years old, he is married and has two kids. He participated in several campaigns in solidarity with our Palestinian brothers during the Zionist invasion of Gaza and blogged about the war against Lebanon in 2006. He was well-known for his work with the Syrian Bloggers for the Occupied Golan and for his solidarity with the victims of “honor crimes” in the country.Fear of freedom and hatred against all liberties are responsible for Hussein’s detention. Words are Hussein’s weapons, and ours too. We want these weapons to break the silence. We command you to raise your voice for Hussein’s freedom and all prisoners of conscience in Syrian cells.
We demand the immediate disclosure of the fate of our friend and fellow blogger Hussein Ghrer and the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience, since their detention is against the law and universal human rights. We also demand the end of persecution against freedom of speech, because blind force, no matter how strong it is, will stay blind, and will stumble until it falls for good.
Often I find myself debating with Syrians who are pro the regime on Facebook, twitter, and Google Plus. Below is my response to comments by a fellow Syrian who supports the regime on a public G+ post. Feel free to click through to the post to see all the comments. Below are his(her?) comments and my response. They said:
It is very shallow to paint the situation as angels versus demons in Syria. Both factions have criminals among their ranks. But as a supporter of the regime I can’t overlook the fact that a significant portion of the opposition is based on a sectarian ideology and bonds upon the hatred of the other rather than through any civil dogma.
it is a stand against chaos and lawlessness. It is supporting the idea of the state not the imprisonment of your friends. Though the experiences of your friends might have been tragic, which I am awfully sorry for, but still the tragedies that the community as a whole will face in case Syria slips into chaos is much more greater than any personal suffering.
My response: I’m interested in seeing where you got your stats when you said “significant portion of the opposition is based on a sectarian ideology and bonds upon the hatred of the other rather than through any civil dogma.” Please don’t try to pass your opinions as fact. The regime is trying desperately to paint the protesters in a bad light. Heck, if we want to talk about percentages, I can easily prove to you that a larger portion of regime loyalists have committed far more atrocities, crimes, and human rights abuses that any abuses committed by the protesters are a mere fraction of that.
Also, care to explain why the regime is targeting peaceful activists if the claim is that the regime is fighting armed gangs? Why did +Anas Maarawi spend two months in jail? Why did Ghayath Matar, the renowned peaceful activist, get arrested by security forces, tortured and brutally murdered? Why was Ali Ferzat assaulted? Why did the parents of the Internationally renowned musician Jandali get viciously beaten up because he composed a song calling for freedom? Why is Syrian media publishing statements by groups promoting violence against Syrian protesters AND their parents? Why am I (and my parents) along with countless others, such as Hakam AlBaba being threatened by the dirt-bag Ammar Ismail from Damascus News Network who’s heavily supported by the regime and is constantly appearing on Syrian TV channels? Why were peaceful artists and intellectuals arrested for days and threatened and almost assaulted when the court finally freed them? Why are pro-Assad thugs assaulting people in Europe and even Washington DC?
I can keep going for days. In brief, the current regime is the antithesis of the “idea of state” that you claim to support. The Assad regime is a ruthless clan clinging tooth and nail to power at any cost.
What kind of state keeps hundreds of thousands of its people stateless and without any rights for decades? Why all the repression of the Kurds?
Syria has been in masked chaos since the sixties. “Stability” enforced by human rights abuses and fear is not something to be proud of or defend. The Assad regime is a sectarian regime if I’ve ever seen one. They claim to be secular but they do everything in their powers to scare the minorities from what would happen if the regime falls.
If your idea of state is North Korea, then congratulations, the Assad regime is bringing us ever so closer to it.
Note: the article below is an incomplete fragment. It was written on April 16th; the day President Assad gave his second speech. I was interrupted before finishing it and it has remained a draft ever since. It lacks links, sources, fact/grammar checking. I publish it as is. Please do NOT quote elsewhere.
1. The willingness to take bold risks: “her audacity came in handy during our most recent emergency”.
2. Rude or disrespectful behavior; impudence: “she had the audacity to pick up the receiver and ask me to hang up”.
I watched Al Assad’s second speech today, to the newly formed cabinet. The main change: he did not laugh. It’s hard to laugh when people are tearing your pictures apart and destroying statues of your late father and setting them on fire.
He opened by talking of conspiracy theories and infiltrators. Not too promising. There was definitely a change of tone from the previous speech and not interruptions with poetry or parroting chants like what happened at the parliament. However, removing status law is still going to take another couple of weeks. I expect it to be announced on a Thursday.
Algeria(?) lifted their emergency laws promptly after some protests. But in Syria we still need sometime. Time we can’t afford. We have a constitution, be it faulty as it is, so why does it need weeks just to be reinstated?
Giving hundreds of thousands of Kurds citizenship, and even the thought of establishing a Parliamentary committee to study removing the emergency law were red lines. It was unthinkable that anyone would dare discuss them openly in the public sphere.
It took a few weeks of protests by– if you were to believe the Syrian official line– “infiltrators;” “conspirators;” “agents of Bandar, Hariri, Israel, and the US,” and trained foreign nationals to push the regime to announce that they’re going to give Syrians some of their basic rights back.
Assad talked audaciously for an hour about reform. I’ll leave it to you dear reader to choose which meaning of the word applies here. Meanwhile thousands of people are rotting in jails for committing though crimes against the “beloved leader” and motherland. Convicted felons, thieves, frauds, and the average thug are released in hours with a .frequent presidential pardon. Bigmouths aren’t so lucky.
Adding insult to injury, Assad talked about ensuring citizens’ dignity, on day after his security forces tied down every man in Al Baida village in Baniyas for daring to protest. Heavily armed thugs gleefully walked all over the men tied down like cattle, frequently kicking them in the head and face and beating them with sticks.
Of course, the speech did not leave out political reform. Assad talked about improving life standards, supporting the drought impoverished Eastern provinces, improving transparency in the public sector and economic processes as a whole. There was no mention of the economic titans–or Economic Bulldozers as they prefer– of Assad’s close circle, Makhlouf and Shalash, who have been treating the Syrian Economy as their personal trust fund for decades. A promising start indeed.
After the speech, some of my fellow Syrians were optimistic, hopeful, excited even with all the seemingly serious promises and apparent change in tone. I wonder how those promises are in anyway more serious than similar promises from Assad in 2000, or his promises two weeks ago that had a fair share of blood chilling jokes and chuckles as blood of Syrians were coloring the streets red.
For the time being, I’m going to hold on to my skepticism and cynicism. Studies show that cynics are more bitter than the average person, but also have a firmer grasp of reality. To my fellow Syrians that took the redpilland set themselves free I say: I’m forever humbled by your bravery and persistence. I’m honored to be your compatriot and had the pleasure of knowing some of you whether in person or online.
First was the proliferation of what tweeps dubbed as the “twitter eggs,” a group of newly created and mostly image-less twitter accounts that cussed out, verbally assaulted, and threatened anyone tweeting favorably about the ongoing protests, or criticizing the regime. Those accounts were believed to be manned by Syrian Mokhabarat[intelligence] agents with poor command of both written Arabic and English, and an endless arsenal of bile and insults. Several twitter users created lists to make it easier for the rest to track and report those accounts for spam. Here are a couple of examples.
Second, which is more damaging, is the creation of various spam accounts that mainly target #Syria hash tag; flooding it with predetermined set of tweets– every few minutes–about varied topics such as photography, old Syrian sport scores, links to Syrian comedy shows, pro-regime news, and threats against a long list of tweeps who expressed their support of the protests.
Identifying The Cause
At first I thought this was a badly timed annoyance, and several users were already reporting those abusive accounts. However, a couple of users apparently discovered some foul play. The parody account @SyrianPresidenttweeted:
Stop it mukhabarat Twitter is not #Bashar’s spam machine! >@TheLovelySyria #Syria #Homs #Aleppo #Damascus #Lebanon http://is.gd/Plii1Z
@SyrianPresident it’s a company in Syria that send automated msgs, a dedicated owner they use server of @eghna check website #Syria branch
I went to investigate the Bahrain based Eghna Developement and Support*, which among other things provides “political campaign solutions.” I searched for any affiliation with Syria, and sure enough, one of the main suspected #Syria spam accounts was featured in their success stories page.
Eghna claims that “LovelySyria is using EGHNA Media Server to promote intersting photography about Syria using their twitter accounts. EGHNA Media Server helped Lovely Syria get attention to the beauty of Syria, and build a community of people who love the country and admire its beauty.” The only problem with that claim is that the lovelysyria.com website is only a Drupal login page void of content. There’s no way of creating a new user account, and therefore any claims of fostering a community are false.
Syria-News today reported that Syrian Hackers defaced the website of Brown County, Ohio. Below you’ll find a screen grab of the page that was still defaced at the time of writing this post. The hackers went by the names The Pro, SaQeR SyRia, and boy-25 and identified themselves as being from the Occupied Golan Heights.
Screen capture of Brown County website, accessed 10:00 am EST, Feb 16, 2011
The hackers did not list any demands apart from apparently bringing attention to the Golan Heights which Israel invaded in 1967 and annexed later completely ignoring International Law and UN resolutions. Unfortunately Brown County was punished for a crime it didn’t commit. Hacking is in no way acceptable. Surely you can’t hope to solve major regional geopolitical problems by hacking websites of an innocent county in north-eastern US. The hack seems to have happened some time ago, at least it’s been long enough for Google spiders to index it:
Screen capture of Brown County Ohio Google search, accessed 10:30 am EST, Feb 16, 2011
Syrian reactions to the news were divided between cheering the hackers on and berating them. Below are some translations of comments left on the afore-mentioned Syria-news article:
Susu: You’re a master, keep on hacking other Israeli and American websites!
Rami: What an achievement! People show off scientific discoveries and inventions and you go about hacking American websites? I don’t know what to say… you’re leaving us with no friends
blah: Bravo! make them hate us more!
Huda: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is a stupid operation that is surely to backfire. What’s the use? Is it just to show off? Does inserting the Quran help Islam or harms it? [...] I believe this is an operation to link Syria to Islamist terrorism.
Mahmoud: DUMB TERRORIST! Do you know what you’re doing? Do you realize that you’re acting like Al Qaeda? Do you know that you’re linking Syria to Al Qaeda when you abuse the Quran and use it in your operation? Oh my God how will we make you understand?
Hacking governmental website has become a common occurrence in Syria recently. Youth have repeatedly hacked the websites of ministries and universities as they view it their only way to get their demands across to the government. The demands varied between asking for a better education, protesting unemployment, and frequent power outages. Sometimes, their only target was to point out security flaws in these websites suggesting that the government should invest some more in protecting its online presence.
I just received the following appeal via email which I’m publishing as is.
A Call to the People and Governments of the Free World
We call upon all of you to support the Egyptian people’s demands for a
good life, liberty and an end of despotism. We call upon you to urge
this dictatorial regime to stop its bloodshed of the Egyptian people,
exercised throughout the Egyptian cities, on top of which comes the
city of Suez. We believe that the material and moral support offered
to the Egyptian regime, by the American government and European
governments, has helped to suppress the Egyptian people.
We hereby call upon the people of the free world to support the
Egyptian people’s non-violent revolution against corruption and
tyranny. We also call upon civil society organisations in America,
Europe and the whole world to express their solidarity with Egypt,
through holding public demonstrations, particularly on People’s Anger
Day (28/01/2011), and by denouncing the use of violence against the
We hope that you will all support our demands for freedom, justice and
كنت أتابع المظاهرات في تونس ومصر بكل إعجاب وفخر، وأنا مع المتظاهرين (قلباً وإن لم أكن معهم جسداً) حتى التغلب على آخر مستبد في بلادنا. أثناء تصفحي للإنترنت وجدت نصائح هامة وقيمة موجهة للمتظاهرين، وقمت بترجمتها بسرعة. أرجو المساعدة في إيصالها للمتظاهرين في تونس ومصر للحفاظ على سلامتهم، ومساعدتهم على مواجهة القمع من قبل الشرطة وقوات حفظ النظام ومكافحة الشغب:
النظارات الوقائية (ولكن ليس جميعها): يجب أن تكون عازلة للهواء (أو يمكن إغلاق الفتحات بالشريط اللاصق) مفيدة ضدة جداً الغازات المسيلة للدموع ورذاذ الفلفل. يتوجب استخدام نوع لايتكاثف عليه .البخار من أجل الحفاظ على القدرة على الرؤية في جميع الأوقات
تعرّق الجسم: عرق الجسم يستوعب الغازات المسيلة للدموع وغيرها، ولذلك حاول تجنب التعرق ما استطعت وحاول الاستحمام في كل فرصة للتخلص من التعرق.
مطافئ الحريق: على الرغم من أنها ثقيلة، ولكن يمكن استخدامها بفعالية شديدة لحجب رؤية قوات حفظ النظام المرتدية للأقنعة والحاملة للدروع الشفافة.
المطارق: دون وجود الكثير من الحجارة على الطرقات، البديل الأفضل هو صنعها، والمطارق وسيلة ممتازة لذلك. (المدونة لا تشجع استخدام العنف إطلاقاً، ولكن بعض الحالات قد تستوجب الدفاع عن النفس بأي ثمن)
الماء: احمل ما استطعت من الماء بشكل دائم وذلك لمحاربة التجفاف وللحفاظ على طاقتك وقدرتك على المشاركة لأطول وقت ممكن.
بالونات مملوءة بالدهانات الزيتية: ولها عدة فوائد وهي أنها ستسبب مشاكل في الرؤية لقوات مكافحة الشغب التي تستخدم الأقنعة والدروع الشفافة، كما أنها ستعلم على أفراد الشرطة مما يسهل تتبع تحركاتهم وخططهم.
سدادات للأذنين: ويمكن الحصول عليها أو صنعها بشكل مرتجل بسهولة. في حال استخدمت القنابل الصوتية أو غيرها من الأسلحة الصوتية المضادة للتظاهر، إن لم تكن تملك سدادات للأذنين فليس أمامك فرصة أبداً.
رذاذ الطلاء Spray paint: كما ذكرت أعلاه، فهي أيضاً مفيدة حيث ستسبب مشاكل في الرؤية لقوات مكافحة الشغب التي تستخدم الأقنعة والدروع الشفافة.
صفائح حماية للساقين (مثل تلك المستخدمة في كرة القدم): إن كنت تواجه قوات مكافحة الشغب وكانوا يحملون الدروع فبقدورهم توجيه ركلات مؤلمة جداً إلى ساقيك من تحت دروعهم. يمكنك صنع صفائح حماية للساقين مرتجل بربط قطع من البلاستيك حول ساقيك.
تذكر أن شرطة مكافحة الشغب يتفوقون عليك بشيئين فقط: التدريب والمعدات، ويمكنك مواجهة ذلك بصنع معدات مرتجلة من مواد عادية ومتوفرة. يمكنك مراجعة هذه المقالة لرؤية أمثلة عن العديد من تكتيكات الدروع المرتجلة.
According to Sada Souria, Syrian Telecom Minister, Imad Saboni, said in a recent lecture at Tishreen University that he personally believes that “effectively raising awareness of the dangers of the internet is the answer, not blocking websites.” Saboni alluded to the ban on GPS devices in Syria that was reversed lately after being in effect for so long. He said that GPS is finally allowed after endless controversy and that it’s now actually used on Civic Administration motor-vehicles. Of course the Minister did not miss the opportunity to launch in ill-informed statement saying that all countries block websites. While that might apply to a few dozen countries, the vast majority of the world does not censor the internet.
The latest statements reflect a conflict between the old guard and more pragmatic officials who see that the censorship policy simply does not work, that the pros of allowing new technologies has a greater positive impact on development than any imagined negative effects that might have on the stability of the political system in the country. It’s worth mentioning that in the early days of internet in Syria you had to have a police or intelligence officer look over your shoulder while you surfed the web at Al Assad Library in the heart of Damascus. Before that, satellite TV was banned as well. I remember laughing when my high school history teacher told us that radios were banned in Yemen for fear of foreign influence. Well, I’m not laughing now.
The Minister was clear that what he said was his own personal views, and that the current policies are in effect because it’s perceived that the internet is more of a danger than phone and mobile networks. I don’t want to read much into what he said, but there are hints of a change of policy that might be coming, just like with every other technology that was blocked partially or fully in the country.
Syria currently blocks dozens of websites including some major blogging platforms and social networks, along with humanitarian and political websites. However, circumvention has become common knowledge for a large swath of the tech savvy youth and thus is available to a majority of users. The government is aware of this, but the sporadic nature of online censorship means that very few websites were ever unlocked in Syria due to having too many parties involved in the process. Will other websites soon be free just like Wikipedia Arabic that was blocked for a while and then unblocked? One can only hope.