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..!
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.
A delegation of US tech companies and policymakers are visiting Syria today and holding a meeting with President Bashar Al Assad and high-ranking officials. The tech delegation (#techdel on Twitter, and “techdel” hereafter) came after coordination on high diplomatic levels and as a part of the Obama administration’s policy of engaging with Syria, according to William Burns, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.
A tweet by Alec Ross, the techdel’s leader, summed up the United States’ attitude towards the visit:
This trip to #Syria will test Syria’s willingness to engage more responsibly on issues of #netfreedom
Of course Net freedom is craved by Syrian users; Censorship is strict and many popular websites are blocked by the Syrian government (Facebook and YouTube to name a couple), and perceived cyber-dissidents have many a time received prison sentences ranging between 3-5 years in most cases. What the techdel seems oblivious to is how much the U.S. sanctions on Syria are complicit in further limiting internet freedoms for Syrian users. Jared Cohen, Member of Secretary Clinton’s Policy Planning Staff and a member of the delegation, tweeted:
Big gap between older & younger Syrians on challenges to business. Youth blame lack of education, not sanctions
Just to show how misguided that statement is, I’ll draw up a few comparisons between Syrian governmental censorship and U.S. imposed IT sanctions: Read the rest of this entry »
I have been doing some intensive cartography lately. Yes, I’m literally putting Syria on the map.
Going to college in Damascus was a frustrating experience for quite a long time. I did not know the city nearly as well as I should have. I didn’t live in the heart of Damascus, but 30 minutes by servees (a microbus used for commuting in Syria)on a good day. When meeting people in parts of the city that I did not know, I was often too stubborn or too ashamed to ask for directions or help getting somewhere. That always ended with me asking questions to people I’m more comfortable asking, but also less likely to be able to help me; or walking aimlessly and asking people in the street who were as clueless as I was. Going to a new theater or cultural center was always a process of finding out the address and the best way to get to and fro the designated activity location.
Well, not for long. Thanks to Google’s Map Maker, other location-recognition-impaired people won’t have to suffer like I did. I’m now one of a group of volunteer users, or citizen cartographers as Google likes to call them, who have been drawing the entire map of Syria on Google Map Maker. We’re highlighting points of interest, businesses, streets, neighborhoods and just about everything in between. Eventually it will be available on a high quality, easy to search Google map that’s free to use for all people and platforms that have an active internet connection. There’s an intimidating learning curve to Map Maker; roads are hard to draw and they disappear after you first draw them because they need to be moderated before they show up. This means having to draw roads with no visual clues of your previous work. Drawing on water is a close analogy.
Today, March 12, is the World Day Against Cyber Censorship. Thus, it’s a perfect timing to finally pen down some of the ideas on the topic that I’ve intended to write for so long. Threatened Voices is a Global Voices Advocacy “collaborative mapping project to build a database of bloggers who have been threatened, arrested or killed for speaking out online and to draw attention to the campaigns to free them.”
As you can see from the map, Arabic speaking countries are a ‘hot area’ where many voices are threatened. I looked closely at the data to see what I can get out of it. My approach was to select a sample of the worst offenders and do a little comparison. I chose the following regimes for this mini-research project I did: Assad of Syria, Mubarak of Egypt, Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mohammed VI of Morocco, Saud of Saudi Arabia, Al Nahyan of UAE, and Sabah of Kuwait. Now wouldn’t it be interesting to see comparison between a regime’s years in power opposed to how many voices were threatened in those years? I thought so too and here’s what I found:
My RSS reader this morning brought some news that I’ve been anticipating for a long time now. The environmentally friendly Toyota Prius is now available in Syria. With an extraordinary fuel economy and a price tag to match: $60,000!
Car prices are always high in Syria because of jacked up customs and fees on purchasing new cars. But paying $15,000 just to register the car is outrageous, especially that there’s a presidential decree for reduced import and registration fees for eco-friendly hybrids. The car would still set you back $45,000 without the registration fee. I wish I were joking, or dreaming for the matter. A car that the fully equipped top model Prius V would cost 28K costs over twice as much! And judging by the specs on the model available in Syria it’s the cheaper 26K Prius IV model.
So If you happen to be in Syria, and hope to save 30 thousand dollars on gas, this car is definitely for you!