Sunday, July 31, 2011

"A President Who Kills His People is a Traitor": From Syria's Arab Spring to Its Ramadan Massacre

Anti-government protesters carry a giant Syrian flag in the city of Hama on July 29. [Photo: Reuters]

This post has been in draft form since April 30. At that time I noted there had been 700 dead and 10, 000 imprisoned by Syria's Al-Assad government. The numbers now are considerably higher and rising--even before Friday's massacre of 60+ at Hama when government tanks descended on the protesters.

Hama is further proof that when it comes to the Presidents Al-Assad, Hafez and Bashar, the saying, "Like father, like son", is sadly true:
Significance of Hama

Hama - a bastion of dissidence - occupies a significant place in the history of modern Syria. In 1982, then-President Hafez al-Assad, father of Bashar, sent in troops to quell an uprising by the Sunni opposition Muslim Brotherhood. Tens of thousands were killed and the town flattened.

Hama, with a population 800,000, has seen some of the biggest protests and worst violence in Syria's 2011 uprising. It was slow to join in, but has now become one of the main focuses of the revolt, and is largely out of government control.

Like many other Arab Springs, the one in Syria was marked by simultaneous promises of reform and repression. The repression in Syria is ongoing and particularly brutal--as hard as it is to gradate brutality. Syria, like Yemen, seems to be underreported in the media. In reference to the Friday July 29 killings in Hama, the CBC's television headline was "Syrian Protests in Hama Turn Violent"--as if there were no agent of the violence, or by implication that the protesters themselves turned violent. Inept titling--to put it mildly--although, the report was actually better.

The Hama Massacre seems to be a simultaneous attempt to gain control over protesters before Ramadan starts, and to warn against increased protests during Ramadan. Friday communal prayers are seen as a time for organization of the protesters, and during Ramadan there are nightly communal prayers, seen as more of a threat. It is hard not to feel the irony even while typing that sentence.

The reason this post began in draft form on April 30 was that I had seen a protest organizing in a usual place for protests in my city, noted that the women were wearing hijab, and that a number of protesters were carrying a flag. I recognized it right away as the flag of a MENA country but couldn't immediately place which one. I looked for other clues, and saw a sign written in English, "A President Who Kills His People is a Traitor". I was immediately struck by the simple yet powerful truth of this statement. However, I was left racking my brain for which countries' presidents were then killing their people. Egypt-no; Yemen-yes killing,?president; rule out monarchies--or wait some of those have "presidents" too;...

Finally, I decided it must be Syria, and so I said tentatively to the people standing together, "Syria?". "Yes" a couple of them replied solemnly with no further engagement. So I said, "Good luck with your protest", and went about my errands.

A few weeks later I was in the same area, saw a cultural festival going on, then a number of police lined up--with their backs to the festival. I looked, as they were, across the street, and this time immediately recognized the prostesters as Syrian. This was partly because of my new found flag knowledge, but mostly because they were better organized, had better signs in English and Arabic, and there was the unmistakeble picture and lamentation for Hamza Al-Khatib, the 13 year old boy tortured, mutilated, and killed, by the Syrian regime, whose body was released as a lesson to others.

This time the protesters were engaging passersby who were interested, including myself. They had information printed if one asked for it, and since I did, the woman I spoke to asked me if I had heard of "our Hamza". I said I had, but asked for her information on him. We both had tears in our eyes. She said, "We are all, our whole country, broken hearted for our Hamza".

Every time I have wanted to complete and post my draft on Syria, there has been something new and even more horrible. This is not the first violence in Hama or elsewhere in Syria, but it is the newest most shocking one--until the next, because so far Al-Assad seems to operate with relative international impunity, if not encouragement.

See Also:
Good Friday Sadness Regular commentator Susanne's excellent post on her blog This and That on "The Great Friday" massacre of 90 people; incudes a graphic video.
Hamza Al-Khatib, Syria Boy, Brutally Killed In Custody (GRAPHIC VIDEO)--Huffington Post
The Torture of My Father by the Syrian Regime Syrian blogger Maysaloon, of Maysaloon ميسلون on why she doesn't believe Syrian propaganda, or trust an Al-Assad, father or son--restrained and very moving.
In Scarred Syria City, a Vision of a Life Free From Dictators-Anthony Shadid reporting for the NYT from inside Hama on July 19, 2011; includes slide show; thanks to Mustapha of Beirut Spring who has blogged regularly on events in Syria and whose post brought this article to my attention
Syrian Revolution : Hama Massacre 2011 edition “Extremely Graphic” by Zeinobia of Egyptian Chronicles.

Resources on the Syrian Uprising and Reprisals:
#Ramadan Massacre--Twitter hashtag to give information about and help raise international awareness of the Hama Massacre on Friday July 29.
Syria Live Blog--Al Jazeera
Syria Crisis--BBC; includes Inside Syria: Protest footage mapped, an interactive map of underground protest videos from specific locations in Syria; Syrian refugees tell of rape, murder and destruction, extensive stories from refugees; Syrian unrest: Hama army raid 'kills dozens'
Shaam News Network -- a news service by Syrian youth activists in English and in Arabic; with links to their Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube sites (in each language), and their contact information.(Thanks to Susanne)

Your comments, thoughts, impressions?
Please share additional resources on the "Syrian Spring" you have found helpful.

Although the arrest of the teenagers in the southern city of Deraa first prompted people to take to the streets, unrest has since spread to other areas, including Hama, Homs, Latakia, Jisr al-Shughour and Baniyas. Demonstrators are demanding greater freedom, an end to corruption, and, increasingly, the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad. From the BBC's slideshow backgrounder in its  Guide: Syria Crisis.


Susanne said...

Thanks for sharing this, Chiara. It's so heartbreaking. Has been for a while, but today on the eve of Ramadan, the gov't seemed to declare war on its people. My friends are so sad. One said, "It seems the government knows it is going down and wants to take down all of us with it." It's horrible to see all the people dying because they want the rights many of us enjoy and often take for granted.

Haitham هيثم Al-Sheeshany الشيشاني said...

Tahnks Chiara.
I hope their dawn is not far away! Ya rab.

coolred38 said...

I hope this Ramadan will, at the very least, open the hearts and minds of the current Arab group of leaders who seem intent on being viewed as the worst in Arab history (current history)...if not than Ramadan has become useless to them and there is no need to further pretend they are muslims.


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