In what is now called the “Arab Spring” train, the Syrian station seems to have provoked the largest disputes. I am not only talking about UNSC discussions, which are a clear indication of course, but also about other indications, such as the vicious cyber and media war between the two sides of the conflict, and those who back each one of them. (one remarkable manifestation of this war took place last week, when a group of Syrian hackers managed to hack into almost all Aljazeera accounts on Facebook and confiscated them for about one hour or so).
So why hasn’t the Syrian revolution succeeded in gaining the same public consensus that supported the Egyptian revolution for example? And why has it provoked such a huge counter attack?
There is no doubt that observing this uprising through the media is much different than living it day to day. As Syrians, our daily intake of “the revolution potion” gives us a chance to see what is really happening. The devil lies in details, of course, and that’s the devil that has been deciding the fate of the Syrian Revolution.
The root causes behind this uprising need a lot of research and analysis, but this is not what I will try to do in this article. My intention here is merely to explain why many people, including myself, feel skeptic and doubtful about the very same movement calling for freedom and democracy in our country.
Banias: Who was Abu Hadi?
On April 11, 2011, not 24 hours after the ambush that killed 9 soldiers from the Syrian Army in the small usually peaceful town of Banias, on the Mediterranean coast, my brother, a surgeon working in Banias National Hospital, emailed me the picture in the frame to the left. He told me that it belonged to a man later identified as Nidal Jannoud, a farmer from a small village near Tartous. His dead body was found somewhere in Banias, with multiple knifing and other signs of torture. I sure felt sad for the guy, but later, when details revealed themselves, sorrow was not enough anymore.
A few days after this incident, an Army unit supported by security forces raided the town of Al Baida, near Banias, capturing hundreds of people. A video leaked later showing this army unit abuse those arrested in that small town.
Sometime in May, I found a picture of a person with a sword wound on his face, being pushed by a group of people (two of which would later be identified as Omar Ayrout, the guy carrying a dynamite bomb and a pistol, and Yehya Al Rayes, the guy in the red jacket). Under that picture, the person who published it wrote: “This is the fate of Abu Hadi, the man who appeared in Al Baida Video abusing our fellow revolutionists”.
The picture reminded me of something, and I was right! The man being killed in this picture is no one but Nidal Jannoud himself. Nidal could not be Abu Hadi, simply because he was already dead when the Army raided Al baida.
More pictures and videos leaked later, after the Army stormed Banias on May 5, 2011. They show a large crowd pushing Jannoud to his death, and no one helping him. This crime was horrible, especially that many gathered to kill one person. But no one of the opposition found any compassion for the victim. Instead, they kept calling him Abu Hadi, and accusing him of being a security spy.
Who killed Jannoud?
The picture in the frame shows a comparison a Facebook page made, concluding that Omar Ayrout, the one who appeared in the killing picture, was a protest leader in Banias. The picture shows him on someone's shoulders in a “peaceful protest”. Instead of condemning this action (and the ambush that killed 9 soldiers), protesters decided to celebrate the crime by chanting “We are All Banias” in Friday demonstrations following the Army operation in the city. The fact that there was concrete evidence that militants existed and used their guns in the city, as we see in this video, did not seem to matter.
P.S.: Omar Ayrout and Yahya Al Rayes confessed later that they killed Janoud. Their confessions appeared on the Syrian TV.
Videos for sale
The issue of citizen media has been creating a lot of debate since the Tunisian uprising. Some observers blame Aljazeera channel for using amateur videos in its news coverage, many of which later proven fabricated. Something worth mentioning is that Al Jazeera Arabic stopped even saying the usual disclaimer (video could not be verified by independent sources), and now it states video content as news, then ends with the statement: As shown in this video that was published on social media sites by activists.
In Syria, many examples can be found where videos were proven fabricated. Some videos just cannot be explained, like this one (I am using Orange TV report on the video because the original one disappeared, please slide to 0.20). In this video, people are performing death rituals and prayers for two “martyrs”, but the martyrs then stand up at the end of the video. This shocking example appeared early in the movement, and came from Daraa, where the whole story began. Seeing this fabrication, one could not help being skeptic about just any other video from the same source.
Similar videos kept appearing. But the fabrication went beyond that. Back to Al Baida video, a young man appeared in that video being beaten by security forces. His name was Ahmed Ali Bayasi. This man later appeared in a second video protesters used to prove that the video was in fact taken in Al baida (in response to pro-regime claims that it was in Iraq). So the guy became a star! Later on, around May 20th, Revolution pages mentioned that Bayasi was killed, accusing Ali Almamlouk, head of the Syrian Intelligence Agency, of killing him. They even told a story about how Almamlouk strangled him to death by stepping on his neck. International news channels followed, telling the story of the poor martyr. But the martyr appeared on the Syrian national TV denying being arrested or killed! This same story repeated itself with Zainab Al Husni lately, whose alleged death even provoked Amnesty International and HRW to issue special reports on her, only to find themselves having to apologize later when she appeared on TV, alive and fine.
Yet another type of fabrication appears in this video. This video is entitled: Shabyha (regime thugs) terrorizing civilians in Lattakia, Syria. Well, the guys in the video were Shabyha alright! Just a few minutes after Aljazeera broadcasted this video attributing it to revolution activists in Lattakia, a dear friend of mine wrote the following status on Facebook: “Fabrications have reached a disgusting level! I have just seen a video from our last year’s Easter celebrations on American St. in Lattakia, and Aljazeera is claiming that it is a video of Shabyha terrorizing people!”
Yes, the video was in fact shot in front of my best friend’s house (another person, not the one who wrote the status above) in Lattakia, the Easter before the events. It is a time honored tradition in Mar Mekhael church on that street to celebrate Easter by shooting in the air after the priest declares that Jesus has risen from the dead.
This incident is not one of the kind. On this link, you will find a detailed account of stealing a Yemini video and claiming it happened in Deraa. Another well-known example is the deception Australian ABC found itself falling into, when they broadcasted a fake video distributed by Reuters. The same video was shown on France 2, who also “regretted inaccuracy” a few days after broadcasting it.
One last example worth mentioning is this picture published by RASD News Network on Facebook, the same network that played a major role in the Egyptian uprising, claiming it was for children tortured by the Syrian security service in Deraa. I remembered the pic at once, I had seen it in this news report by Syria News months before the Syrian uprising. This example is even more important than anything else, not only because it was published by an Egyptian network, but also because it is related to the event that sparked the first flame in Deraa: Children who were arrested for writing graffiti on public schools walls in Deraa.
These are just a few examples. There are many other examples of videos where “martyrs” were caught moving or swallowing. In fact, the number of fabrications that we witnessed during the past 7 months was just too high to give the opposition activists the benefit of the doubt.
Sectarianism for National Unity
I have been following the Syrian Revolution pages on Facebook since late January 2011. The amount of sectarian slogans that appeared (well-disguised in admin posts, and explicitly in comments by participants) was just too huge to ignore. I even created fake Facebook accounts to participate on this page, sometimes claiming to be pro-revolution and sometimes pro-regime. I received many death threats in my inbox, containing an amount of sectarian charge that made me hopeless. The main revolution page minimized sectarian incitement later, after the uprising started on the ground.
But this incitement did not stop, it just moved from Facebook to the streets. Videos leaked at the very beginning of the events showing clear sectarian slogans and even actions as early as March 25th. This video for example shows the very first demonstration in the coastal town of Jableh. Not only that you can clearly see swords and sticks, but the person speaking also incited protesters to “drink the blood of anyone who comes between them”. Protesters also chanted “Down with Shiites”, which is quite outrageous in a town also inhabited by many Alawites who belong to the Shiites sect.
This video, however, goes beyond that. Protesters actually attacked minibuses that work as public transportation on villages’ routes, which has a clear sectarian significance in that town.
These examples of sectarian behavior are not the only ones, but how did revolutionists react to them? They just did not mind them. I don’t recall hearing anyone from the revolution side condemning such behavior, which I believe played a major role in scaring religious minorities. In fact, in a number of discussions with opposition Facebook activists, I was accused of sectarianism only because I pointed to this kind of behavior. It was pretty funny to me that people chanting sectarian slogans were considered good patriots, while me, who only pointed at the behavior, was accused of sectarianism.
The clearest example of sectarian incitement could be the action of Sheikh Adnan Al Arour, a former Islamic Brotherhood member who lives in KSA. Al Arour used sectarian incitement in his TV shows to provoke people to support the uprising, and his name appeared on banners in several demonstrations. No one from the opposition condemned what Arour was doing. I believe they were happy with him being able to gather more supporters than anyone else and send them to the streets.
Dictatorship for democracy
It is common sense that people who claim to work for a democratic Syria should at least practice democracy in their struggle for it. But the exact opposite has been happening.
An old dear friend of mine is now a member of the Syrian National Council and the spokesperson for the Local Coordination Committees. This friend tolerated me for no more than three weeks after the start of the uprising, then he blocked me on Facebook. When I texted him asking why, he said: “Why should I tolerate your speech if you insist on not understanding what is happening?” Quite democratic and tolerant I would say. The same way, I lost my lifelong friend, who did not even bother discussing things with me. She just blocked me, then bragged about it later in a discussion with other people. Many opposition activists just blocked me without prior notice, and this happened with many others as well, from both sides of course. But this was not the worst undemocratic behavior they practiced. In this article, I discussed the way opposition activists intimidated pro activists by publishing their names and contact info, accusing them of terrible things, such as killing protesters. This resulted in murdering some pro activists, as explained on the same link.
This kind of democracy is also shown in the opposition reaction to pro marches that filled main squares in many Syrian cities several times. The opposition always explained these marches by saying those people showing support were either Shabyha (thugs) or forced to gather. It has always given me a good chuckle that they want us to believe that security service not only forced people to march for support, but also forced them to sing, chant pro slogans, dance, and stay in the streets for a long time.
I could go forever on similar examples that show why the opposition failed in gaining the support it expected and worked for. I personally believe that ignoring violence exercised by protesters in many Syrian towns played the main role in making people hesitate to join the uprising. I can safely claim that a considerable portion of the “silent majority” is not fond of the regime, but they just don’t trust the movement. Latest events, specially calling for foreign intervention by some opposition leaders, made even some revolution sympathizers retreat. In another article coming soon, I will discuss how the Syrian regime handled the uprising, and how it succeeded in exploiting the opposition’s deadly mistakes to convince a large number of Syrians that it is the better side.
*Nidal Jannoud pictures are masked for being too graphic