Brave Alawite Voices Inside Assad’s Syria
By: Mansour Omari
In 2009, I met an Australian journalist in Damascus, who was secretly working on an investigation on the new investments in the Syrian coast, led by Assad’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf along with leading investments companies from the Gulf. This new alliance caused more injustices to the Syrian people, and this time, against Alawites, who are mainly concentrated in the Syrian coast. One of the incidents that took place then was the evacuation of the Western Karnak area, that is an open beach area for those who cannot afford resorts, and a place that was providing job opportunities for many families there. Syrian authorities kicked out those people so the area can be handed over to the investment companies. This incident provoked popular anger at the time, especially among the Alawites, who were supposed to be supported by the Assad regime without limits, but once again realized that Assad’s economic support and actual loyalty were not for the poor Alawites, but for the pillars of his rule.
Later, during my frequent visits to Alawite villages in the Coast and the mountains there, with Alawite friends, I saw for the first time in by my eyes the dismal conditions of services in the Alawites areas in particular. In one mountain village, for example, drinking water or even sewage services were not available.
Poverty was evident in the homes and attire of people in these areas. Their faces were painted by the hard times they are living, their wrinkles were capable of expressing their constant suffering more than their tongues, which they rarely used fearing the ruling regime. Criticism of the regime by the Alawites or their talk of their suffering and demands of their fundamental rights is considered betrayal to the sect.
I visited several times the University of Latakia, and I noticed that the vast majority of the students were females. Most of the males are enrolled in the army and the security services, and they do not pursue their university education.
The Assad regime, with its security, military and social institutions, followed two main approaches to transforming the Alawite community into a holder of its regime and a scapegoat for its survival.
First, limiting the Alawite males education to a certain point and sending them them to the security and military institutions that is separated from the broader varied Syrian society.
Second, maintain Alawites within low economic situation and living limits that turns the maximum ambition of a male member of this community is to join the state’s military and security institutions. This provides them with a long-term job with a good salary compared to their living conditions. While leaving the investments and huge gains to Assad’s relatives, like Rami Makhlouf. The Assad family has billions of dollars in their bank accounts outside Syria. If a part of this huge amounts of money was dedicated to improve services in the areas of the Alawites, it would change totally the situation in their areas. The wealth of the Assad family is estimated at tens of billions, and if distributed to the Syrian people without exception, the sum will be enough to support every Syrian family for 3 years. On the other hand, the Assad regime maintained the loyalty of many Sunni traders, allowing them to gain huge profits, and opening doors wide to them for corruption.
These policies aim at impoverishing the Alawites and isolating them to a single path, the security and military institutions that support Assad’s regime survival.
Brave Voices and Demands for Basic Rights
Alawites in Syria are under great fear and pressure, preventing them from publicly criticizing Assad, or talking about their grievances, their suffering and their just demands. But every now and then one of the voices comes out to remind Assad of the sacrifices of the Alawites, who endure the injustice of his regime for many years, and sacrifice their limbs and loved ones for his survival. But to be rewarded by more repression and humiliation, and disregard for all these sacrifices. Assad regime does not respect their sacrifices, and abandon them every time. With practices like the neglect of their kidnapped, and prisoners of war, while doing everything to exchange Iranian and Hezbullah prisoners and others. Manipulating the news of their missing loved ones, and neglecting their widows and relatives and leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and begging for basic living needs.
One recent courageous voice that addressed Assad and reminded him of these grievances and fundamental human rights, was Mohammed, Abu Ali al-Tayer, the brother of Wissam al-Tair, the founder and director of the Damascus Now news page, which has more than 2.5 million followers on Facebook.
In an interview with the Jabla News Network website, Abu Ali al-Tair talked about his and his mother’s suffering to find out the fate of his brother Wissam, who was arrested by Assad security for speaking up about corruption: “We did not hear about Wissam except through social media. The new Minister of the Interior had given instructions to inform the families of the fate” of their loved ones if arrested by the government, “because that’s their right.” Abu Ali, was refereeing to a two months old regulation by the minister, which proved it was for mere propaganda purposes, while the enforced disappearance Assad machine is still grinding Syrians.
Abu Ali spoke in accordance with the rights of detainees in international conventions. The first is not to hide their fate, and to allow access for the families and lawyers, so that detainees does not become forcibly disappeared and thus subjected to forced confessions, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Abu Ali added: “I went to many, and knocked a lot of doors but I returned with empty hands … As if he disappeared! I am sure he is in the custody of security services.” Abu Ali al-Tayer went on to explain the reasons for the arrest of Wissam: “Wissam told me a while ago about his pain for the photos of the martyrs hanging on lamp posts, and what is happening to the families of the martyrs…” to be interrupted by someone next to him in a censorhip attempt saying: “some of them”.
Abu Ali, continues to confirm that it is not “some” but many of the relatives of the martyrs did not have their rights. “Wissam told me once about the suffering of the villages of Jabla, Turtus, and the people of the coast,” Abu Ali.
Abu Ali added that he published the following post directing it to Damascus Now team, because they let their colleague and manager down:
“My people do not speak that speech is forbidden
Sleep and never wake, only the sleepers win
Don’t dare to speak up, shut up or you will regret it ”
Abu Ali concluded his talk by final remarks that protects him from retaliation by Assad regime: “All the confidence in the president on the basis that he does not accept injustice and slander.”
The mother of Wissam al-Tayr, who cried during the interview, said: “When I heard of his arrest, I didn’t believe it! I travelled to Damascus, and spent ten days there, I wept day and night, but they didn’t allow me to see him. May god not forgive them, they arrested him like that, without reason. May Allah bless and delight him, and may Allah rejoice all those missing and wronged, inshallah all the kidnapped get back”.