Friday, May 6, 2011

The Plot Thickens!

With protests now taking place more often in Aleppo and protesters there calling for toppling the regime, some Syrian artists and intellectuals have joined the fray showing greater sympathy for the protesters’ cause.  

Thursday May 5, 2011
·         Syrian army began its pull out from Deraa and is taking position in key locations around the city. The move comes following growing international pressures as well as unease among Syria’s intellectual and commercial elites, as reflected by a variety of statements issued by artists and intellectuals, individually and as groups, and by the sit-ins held in Damascus by women groups whose membership comes from the Damascene commercial elite. The official line is that the objective, namely containing an alleged insurrection by armed Salafi gangs, has been met. Few outside the regime’s own circle of supporters believe this story. The army itself is still deployed around the city and could reenter at any given moment. Basic services continue to be down, and the fate of hundreds of men is still a mystery following their arrest over the course of the preceding week.
·         Meanwhile, Syrian army units continue their deployment around the city of Banyas. Local residents fear the worst but continue to be in a defiant mood.
·         The inhabitants of the Damascene suburb of Saqba tell of security forces conducting house-to-house raids over the last three days leading to hundreds of arrest. The campaign is taking place under the supervision of units affiliated with Maher Al-Assad’s the 4th Division, according to eyewitness reports.
·         Syrian authorities continue their cyber-campaign to track the activities of protesters by trying to break into their Facebook accounts. The latest attempt was exposed by activists, and may not have been that sophisticated, but with reports that Iran’s intelligence services are providing their colleagues in Syria with new software, equipment and expertise that can help modernize their cyber-warfare capabilities, the situation could soon deteriorate.
·         Protest leaders around the country called for making tomorrow May 6, Syria’s Martyrs’ Day, a Friday of Defiance to mark their continued commitment to the revolution and its goal of toppling the regime, despite the violent crackdown unleashed by the Assads.


One of the Syrian artists to come out and take a strong public stand in support of lifting the siege imposed on Deraa is Syria’s top actress, Muna Wassef, a national icon known and respected all over the region  who also happens to be my mother.


In a carefully calibrated statement, my Mom voiced her strong sympathies with the protesters, saying that she is willing to “carry her shroud and stand among them if that would help curb the bloodshed.” She also expressed her wish for a “temporary halt” of the protests until the identities of the parties targeting protesters and security and military officers are clearly established. But she rushed to say that she doubts that anyone could actually stop the young protesters who, she said, need guidance, and that, in the final analysis, no one can trample on the Syrian people.


Mom also spoke against foreign intervention in Syrian affairs and called for an internal resolution of the crisis, a development that requires “much love and forgiveness,” she insisted. She concluded by endorsing “the popular movement” calling for lifting on Deraa “because Syria is one country and not separate provinces.”


These statements by my mother were made on May 1st and have gone viral since.  They seem to have hit a major nerve among many Syrians, especially protesters, who have been looking for some sympathy from the country’s intellectuals and artists. But most Syria’s artists and intellectuals continue to maintain a deafening silence, and the few who chose to speak out defended Assad’s leadership in the most sycophant manner. Consequently, a perusal of the protesters’ Facebook accounts and pages reveal their deep disappointment with the country’s intellectuals and artists.


But Syria’s artists and intellectuals, especially those living inside the country and not in exile, are in unenviable position. They have always been favored by the Assad regime and have received much support from the Assads. Last year, my Mother herself became a recipient of the Golden Sash, the highest award that can be bestowed on a civilian by the President. She is the first and only woman so far to hold this honor. Consequently, Assad supporters were expecting her to be in the forefront of people defending him, not to mention disowning me, the person named by Syrian TV and media as the chief conspirator behind the protest movement. My Mom’s “failure” to rise up to these expectations and her studied media silence up until she made these statements has earned her the ire of these people. There are numerous pages on Facebook now slamming her and calling for depriving her of her awards, until she recants, praises Bashar and disowns me, her only child (I might worry about that when hell freezes over, and perhaps not then).


The protesters have themselves been critical of Mother as well as part of their general criticism aimed at the artistic and intellectual community. But even before these recent statements of hers, most protesters and many “neutral” Syrians have defended my mother against her attackers, with Facebook hosting most of their efforts. Her iconic status was simply too well-established for most people to stomach the vicious attacks to which she was subjected from pro-Assad cyber-thugs. With these statements of hers, she has now earned the sympathy of even more protesters, just as they have earned hers, and this interaction between protesters and artist might now help encourage more Syrian artists and intellectuals to take a more sympathetic public stand with the protesters and their aspirations. Indeed, on Saturday, a group of Syrian artists and intellectuals issued a statements calling for lifting the siege on Deraa and called for “a political not military resolution to the matter.”


It’s this kind of dynamics that might end up shaping the nature of future political processes in Syria, than the traditional political maneuvers on part of the regime or the opposition.  


While I believe that my Mother is wrong in calling for a halt in protests, no matter how temporarily, and while I do believe that the international community and Syria’s traditional opposition movements still have a critical role to play in guiding the transitional processes, talk about foreign dabbling and conspiracies notwithstanding, the Syrian protest movement is eventually an internal affair that is leading to much reshuffling in Syrian society, and it is this kind of developments that will go a long way in determining the final outcome of the revolution down the road.


For now though, the Syrian opposition needs to get its act together, the protest movement should expand in the face of all attempts at suppression, and I will continue to love and honor my Mom, just as I do the young protesters giving their life for the cause.


Damascus / Saqba: video purports to show members of the 4th Division patrolling the streets of Saqba, where 7 protesters have so far been killed since the outset of the revolution.

Homs / Bab: tanks deployed in preparation for tomorrow protest.
Talkalakh: train transporting tanks.
Aleppo / Bab Al-Nayrab:  finally, a protest calling for toppling the regime.
Aleppo / May 5: medical students hold a small protest in support of Deraa.

Aleppo / Marei: “Syrian media full of lies”

Deraa / Jassem: daily protests continue, despite crackdown in Deraa City. Chants: “we take death over humiliation”

Deraa / Namar: night vigil. Chant: “Take your party and let us be.”

Deraa / Ankhel: the daily protests: “the people want to topple the regime”

Deraa / Nawa: the daily protests. Chants: “God is Greater than the oppressor”

Damascus / Barzeh: this video taken on May 3, shows a man in civvies standing among security officers with a rifle in hand shooting straight into protesters as they shout “the people want to topple the regime.” These are our infiltrators.

Banyas: army units laying siege to the city.
Deraa City: scenes of devastations following the army’s withdrawal.
Damascus / Sitti Zainab: “the people want to topple the regime” “he who kills his own people is a traitor.”

Amuda: silent nightly vigil in preparation for Friday’s protests

Aleppo / May 3: students protest in support of Deraa

“Security arrive and crackdown begins”