Bashar al-Assad Has a Syria He’d Like the World to See

Originally published in the New York Times

Photo credit: Louai Beshara/AFP via Getty Images

At first the image didn’t make much sense: tanks bunched together, red flags flying and a line of soldiers in Yemeni-style red berets. The scene was set in the shadows of bombed-out apartment buildings that, confusingly, didn’t look much like Yemen.

The scene was fake, a photo of the set of “Home Operation,” a film produced by Jackie Chan and inspired by a Chinese mission to evacuate Chinese and foreign nationals from Yemen in 2015. The apartment buildings were real, but not in Yemen. Filming started last month in Hajar al-Aswad, a southern suburb of Damascus, Syria, that used to be home to thousands of people.

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Assad’s Pyrrhic Victory

Originally published at New Politics

Cartoon against the presidential elections. Artist unknown.

It’s difficult to recollect the euphoria of the early days of the 2011 uprising in Syria against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Reflecting on that time, Syrians speak of the breaking of the “fear barrier”—the suffocating authoritarianism and repression that had silenced them for decades. At the protests calling for freedom that sprung up across the country that spring, there was a carnivalesque atmosphere replete with dance and song. Over time, as land was liberated from state control, Syrians collectively built a creative and vibrant revolutionary culture and planted the seeds for a new democratic society. Syrians both at home and abroad were optimistic for the future. We believed the regime would fall. We thought our just struggle would win.

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Building alternative futures in the present: the case of Syria’s communes

Originally published at The Funambulist

“We are no less than the Paris commune workers: they resisted for 70 days and we are still going on for a year and a half.” Omar Aziz, 2012

On 18 March 2021 people around the globe will be commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune. On this date, ordinary men and women claimed power for themselves, took control of their city and ran their own affairs independently from the state for over two months before being crushed in a Bloody Week by the French government in Versailles. The Communards’ experiment in autonomous, democratic self-organisation, as a means to both resist state tyranny and to create a radical alternative to it, holds an important place in the collective imaginary and has provided inspiration for generations of revolutionaries. 

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The erasure of Yarmouk: How the Assad regime is dismantling Syria’s hub of Palestinian life


Residents of Yarmouk queue to receive aid. January 2014. Photo credit: UNRWA

Originally published at The New Arab

Yarmouk refugee camp, on the southern outskirts of Damascus, was once known as the ‘capital of the Palestinian diaspora’.

Ravaged by Syria’s counter-revolutionary war, more than two years after the cessation of local fighting the camp still lies in ruins.

Residents who were forcibly displaced are yet to return, and a new reconstruction plan threatens to make their displacement permanent. Continue reading

The US protests: Lessons from Syria

Originally published at Al-Jumhuriya

Floyd Mural

Mural by Aziz Asmar and Anis Hamdoun in Idlib. In solidarity with protesters in the US. 1 June 2020

Over the past few days, an uprising has raged in Minnesota and elsewhere in the United States in response to the murder of George Floyd by police. In the spirit of solidarity with those on the streets, I was prompted to think about the lessons from the Syrian revolution that might be applicable to the US context. Continue reading

Idlib resists


Demonstration in Maarat Al Nu’man in solidarity with Kafar Takharim and against HTS, 7 November. Photo credit: MMC

Over the past few days a popular uprising has broken out across Idlib against the hardline Islamist group HTS (formerly Al-Qaeda linked Nusra) which is militarily dominant in much of the province .

The recent uprising began when HTS increased Zakaat (taxes) on a number of goods and services including bread, electricity and olive oil . Continue reading

On the Turkish offensive on north-eastern Syria


Syrians flee their homes amid Turkish bombardment. Photo credit: Delil Souleiman/AFP

The recent Turkish offensive on north-eastern Syria and US withdrawal of troops from the region is unleashing yet another humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions.

In the past few days over 130,000 Syrians have fled for their lives, in desperate search of safety. Dozens of civilians have been killed by Turkish bombs and assassinations by Turkish allied militias. Among the chaos ISIS prisoners have broken out of detention camps and are now running free – many of them foreigners, including children, whose respective states have refused to take responsibility for their nationals. Continue reading

Syria, refugees, and solidarity

Syrians march towards the Turkish border demanding an end to the shelling or safe passage to Europe, on 30 August 2019 Photo via: MMC news

This was first published at Crisis Magazine

no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark

                   Warsan Shire ‘Home’

Crossing the Mediterranean Sea is fraught with danger. During 2018, an estimated 2,277 people died in their attempts to enter Europe. They were among the 141,500 refugees and migrants who reached Europe’s shores via the Mediterranean route that year. Some 10,400 of those migrants were Syrians arriving to Italy, Greece, Spain and Cyprus. Continue reading

The Syrian Quagmire

Photo via SY+

A family in Idlib Province, home to three million people, half of them displaced or forcibly evacuated. Photo via SY+ #HumansOfIdlib

This article was first published at Fifth Estate.

If 2011 looked like the moment when people could unite, both within and across countries, to topple decades-old dictatorships with the demand for freedom and social justice; today looks like the moment of counter-revolutionary success. After eight years of increasingly brutal conflict in Syria, Assad still presides over a now destroyed, fragmented and traumatized country. The narrative is that the war is nearing its end. States once vocally opposed to Assad now have other strategic concerns which take precedence over the victims of his savage efforts to hold onto power. Yet on the ground conditions are far from stable and civilians remain trapped and are paying the price for ongoing struggles for power and territory between the regime, foreign states and ideological war lords. Continue reading

Indefensible: Idlib and the left


Protest in Idlib, 7 Sept 2018

Originally published by Freedom.

On Saturday regime and Russian airstrikes intensified on Idlib in what appears to be a prelude to the long anticipated campaign to regain control of the province.

Only a day before, thousands of Syrian men, women and children took the streets in over 120 cities towns and villages across the remaining liberated areas under the slogan ‘resistance is our choice’. Continue reading