Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: How Arab Citizens Lost their Fear and Regained their Dignity

There is no adjective that can capture the enormity of what happened in the Arab world in 2011. Suffice it to say that the region will never be the same. It will be a infinitely better place; it already is.  The citizens of the Arab world have shed their mantle of fear and regained their dignity and with it they have reclaimed their freedom.  And with freedom comes hope.

A skeptic would say that despite the ongoing uprisings in the Arab world, little tangible change has in fact occurred. The big change is intangible, it is a  change the mindset of the people. Loss of fear is liberating, it allows people to think for themselves, to dream and to hope.  All one has to do is to look at the faces of the young and old in Tahrir square beaming with pride and confidence, to feel the energy and sense of elation emanating from the chanting crowds in Cairo or Homs or Sanaa.  This is a sea change for the region. The people are longer willing to play the role of docile, pliant sheep to local power elites and all the regional and world powers who conspire to keep them submissive, stagnant and predictable.  The regimes of the region should take note, the citizen has been empowered and it is no longer business as usual.  The most dramatic example is the recent response in Egypt to the videotaped beating of the female protester. Overnight, thousands of Egyptian women descended onto the streets of Cairo to protest.  It was a sight to behold, women of all ages and from across Egypt's cultural and social spectrum were out in the street in a spontaneous show of support for a fellow citizen. This type of a grassroots response to the plight of a single citizen would have been unheard not too long ago. The change in people's mindset is not only manifested in street activism but in what people dare to say and dare to think.  The previously stale fare served up on the web from the Middle East is now replaced by a flood of original ideas,  thoughts and creative expression. Emboldened TV anchors and journalists are no longer willing to tow the official line; they are asking hard questions and demanding answers. Politicians are no longer untouchable and unaccountable. Another dividend of the Arab Spring is that it has brought the people of the region closer together.  Activists exchange ideas and have helped each other in organizing acts of civil disobedience and banners in demonstrations in one country often offered support for the people demonstrating in another.

In the last decade a series of UN reports on human development in the Arab world painted an increasingly  grim picture of the region by whatever index of measurement used.  As the rest of the world moved forward, we seem to be moving back.  No longer; the Arab Spring has shaken the world.  Occupy movements across the world were inspired by the Arab Spring and the world's most populous country, China, clamped down hard on protesters fearing the contagion of the Middle East revolts would reach its shores.  The world stands in awe at the courage of the young men and women who stood their ground and sacrificed their lives for the good of their people.

The revolts in the Middle East are far from over and the clouds of instability and unrest will continue to plague the region for years to come. Change will take time; the corrupt autocracies will leave behind few if any viable civic institutions.  Make no mistake about it though, there is no turning back and the region will be a better place.  We owe it to the thousand of mostly young men and women, who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that the rest can live free.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Arab League Observer Mission is a Farce

I don't know much about "observing" a slaughter as it is happening.  I think I would at the very least like to have a pen and a clip board with me; perhaps a camera might come in handy to document what I saw.  And, as a supposed impartial arbiter of what is happening,  I would tell my government minders to fuck off so I can "observe" what is happening from the other side.  Serious observers would be on the ground with helmets an flack jackets not ridiculous orange vests like construction workers.  That latter detail is perhaps telling; the regime knows with certainty that no one will shoot at the observers.  This is not a war zone they are entering, it is a one-sided massacre implemented by a murderous regime.  The observers in the second video, including  the head of the mission, the Sudanese general Mohammad al-Dabi seem unaffected by the heart-breaking pleas of a local man asking them to come into their neighborhood.  The government minder brushes off the man's pleas without any objection from the observers.  There might be a reason why general al-Dabi seemed unfazed by what he saw. He knows a thing or two about waging war against your  own people and the utility of thugs like the Shabbiha to do your dirty work.  Or perhaps it is that the AL observers, while being entertained by the government in Damascus for two days before they managed to make it to Homs, have fully imbibed the regime's narrative and have already made up their minds. I thought the AL had finally made itself relevant by agreeing to send observers to Syria.  I was wrong, it is the same shamefully incompetent and irrelevant body.

Tomorrow, the tanks will be back in Homs and the observers will have moved on to Hama for another few hours of useless observation.  If the observers continues to willingly play the cat and mouse game of the regime, their mission will not only be useless, their inaction will be tantamount to complicity in the ongoing murder of innocent, unarmed civilians.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Syrian Regime's Cynical Game

When claims by activists that hundreds of  people are  mowed down by the regime around Idlib earlier this week, it created but a ripple in the world media because there were no "visuals" and the sources are "unverifiable". Conveniently, a day after the arrival of the Arab League advance team of observers, two explosions rock Damascus with the Syrian state media at hand to document the carnage.  Media outlets around the world publish the regime's version of events without questions, complete with visuals. Suicide bombers, they said, even though one of the "bombers" was picked up a couple of hours later.  The security forces, inept at everything except the torture and killing of  their own citizens, figured out within the hour that it was the work of Al Qaeda. SANA, publishes the accusation adding, without a hint of irony, that it was part of the "Zio-American conspiracy".  The AL observers are rushed to the scene to "observe"  and the regime spin masters are out in force to tell the world, "we told you so".  The Russian leadership, practically silent for nine months and over 6000 deaths, suddenly develops a conscience and deplores the bombing as heinous crimes. With Al Qaeda's name invoked, western media minds tend to freeze and lose all objectivity. This narrative also works to reinforce the regime's local support.  In a twist on the Youtube video of the soldier kicking a bound protester as he tells him, "you want freedom? I'll give you freedom", the minhebbakjis (regime ass-kissers) point at the carnage in Damascus and ask the opposition accusingly, "is this the freedom that you want?" Of course Syrians are not easily duped, except of course those who wear pictures of the eternal leader and choose to salute him -appropriately- with a Nazi-style salute (below).  The cynicism and Machiavellian machinations of the Assad dynasty are well known and there are no moral boundaries to their take on "the end justifies the means."

Quickly forgotten in the media are the hundreds killed in Idlib and the basic fact that, for the last several months, the daily death toll among Syrian citizens at the hands of the regime has equaled and often exceeded that of the Damascus bombings. All in all, this criminal act, was the perfect end of the year present for the embattled regime; or was it a present it gave itself?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Syria Loses its Doctor of the Revolution

Dr. Ibrahim Nahel Othman was born in 1985, the year I became a doctor. He was the youngest of several siblings and, according to his friends, his mother's favorite. Ibrahim obtained his medical degree in Damascus in 2009 and was in training to become an orthopedist when the Syrian uprising began on March 15th of this year.  A soft-spoken, popular young man who believed in non-violence, he was appalled by the loss of life and the injuries sustained by peaceful demonstrators at the hands of the Syrian security forces.  More outrageous was that many of the injured feared going to public hospitals as the security forces raided them periodically looking for and arresting the injured.  They even raided private clinics and arrested both the injured and the treating physicians.  By one account some 700 physicians have been arrested and several have died. True to his calling, Ibrahim could not stand by and watch.  He founded with other physicians the Damascus Phyisicans Coordinating Committee and became it spokesman using the pseudonym Khaled Al Hakeem.  He was instrumental in setting up dozens of secret field clinics to deal with the flood of injured at the hands of the security forces. Risking life and limb, Ibrahim ventured to other restive cities like Hama and Homs, to help set up and run field clinics. He had become the Doctor of the Revolution and his laudable humanitarian work landed him on the most wanted list of this most inhumane of regimes. Sensing his life in danger, he was making his way to the Turkish border yesterday when he was cut down, in the prime of a promising life, by the regime's henchmen outside the village of Kirbet El Joz.

This is an unspeakable personal tragedy for his family and friends, one that is unfortunately repeated dozens of time a day in Syria. The greater tragedy with the loss of young men and women like Ibrahim, intelligent, passionate and driven individuals,  is that Syria is deprived of its future leaders.

Rest in peace, Ibrahim. I  am awed and humbled by your courage and compassion. You are an inspiration to our profession and to our country.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Syria: Bashar's 4360 "Mistakes" ... and Counting

Bashar Al Assad's interview was one of the most inarticulate, discombobulated, contradictory and mendacious performances by any head of state I had ever seen.  It is even worse when you read the full transcript rather than just watch the sanitized video that was broadcast. 

One of the most outrageous claims is that there was no official policy to shoot or maltreat peaceful demonstrators.  Those who died were the result of "mistakes" committed by individuals.  How many mistakes should be committed  before we can declare it a policy?  Even more troubling is his total lack of remorse. Even if every last civilian victim of the last 9 months were killed by his fictitious terrorist gangs, he should feel remorseful because he failed miserably to protect his own people. 

For those doubters, those who still cling to the notion that there is an ounce of decency in this man, here is the  list of 4360 of  Bashar's "mistakes" as of December 6th.  

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Syrian Blogger, Activist Razan Ghazzawi Arrested

The Local Co-ordination Committees activist network say Syrian blogger Razan Ghazzawi was arrested on Sunday at the Syrian-Jordanian border as she was on her way to attend a workshop for defenders of freedom of the press in the Arab world in Amman as the representative of the Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression (Source: Al-Jazeera English)

In August of this year Razan left a brief comment on a blogpost I had just written after a multiweek hiatus.  "Welcome back!" she wrote. " Thanks Razan" I wrote back, "stay safe".  Indeed, I always worried about her safety seeing how boldly she criticized the Syrian regime's action while living in Syria. She spoke without the shield of anonymity or the comfort of being beyond the reach of the regime's thuggish tactics.

When I started my blog in 2006, I quickly got to know of Razan, one of a handful of Syrian bloggers writing in English.  She was studying in Lebanon at the time.  I was a regular reader of her posts that alternated between being intensely personal to broadly political.  One got a sense of someone with evolving ideas, yet ideas solidly anchored in the belief of fairness, justice and equality.  She was the champion of the poor, the downtrodden and the disenfranchised.  She championed the Palestinian people at every turn.  And because of that, she also sided, at the time, with Hizbollah's "resistance".  On that we disagreed; I saw Hizbollah as an extension of the divisive sectarian politics of Lebanon; their focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I felt, was not genuine but  more a means to an end.

Razan earned my respect because she was never trapped by ideology.  She did not tolerate hypocrisy and was not shy to speak the truth as she saw it, even if it meant changing course. She never backed away from a confrontations taking on religious conservatives and others even it mean enduring vicious verbal attacks.  She has championed migrant workers' rights, women's right as well as  gay and lesbian rights int he Middle East.  Razan, in short, is an original, a trailblazer.  She is among a generation of brave, remarkable young Syrians whose collective, peaceful, efforts will eventually undo one of the most repressive regimes anywhere. 

I hope and pray for her quick and safe return. 

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Fadwa Suleiman's Recent Videotaped Statement

Another compelling statement by Syrian actress Fadwa Suleiman addressing the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations.