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As more reports of protestors being shot dead in Syria are coming in, so are international calls for the Syrian government to back down or stop their violent crackdown on demonstrators. It is easy to get caught in the political tailspin as the global community holds its breath while observing the so-called Arab Spring. However, for the Syrian people the facts are on the ground, where government troops show little restraint as they attempt to exert the will of the regime.
I met Nizar, not his real name, by chance in the capital of Germany. He had left his home in Syria about a month ago and agreed to speak to me about his country and his thoughts on the conflict.
“I’m in love with my country,” he told me. “I love everything about it – the people, the food, the trees, the ground, the buildings, the stones, everything.”
“What I love about my people is that we’re so hospitable – when you come into our home, we offer you a place to stay, a bed to sleep in and food to eat, lots of food! Eat, eat, eat. We would get on your nerves with offering food because we are afraid you’re too shy to ask!” He told me he misses his country, but continues to have faith in the people “Syrians are such hard workers, they always find a way.”
Nizar is from a Christian, middle-class background. His parents run a restaurant and are both educated. Nizar himself is a student.
During our conversation, I gathered a few important traits of the Syrian society. First of all, communication systems in the country are limited, and internet censorship has been in place for years. Users are constantly monitored, while websites such as Facebook and youtube have only recently been allowed. Nizar tells me that the ban on Facebook didn’t prevent people from using it through proxy, but that the government felt no urgency to crack down on the proxies. Why, I wondered?
“People only use Facebook for fun,” he answered and continued to tell me that it is generally uncommon to speak about politics – unheard of in public. The fear that the wrong words could end you up in prison deters that form of conversations. Despite this, he tells me that people still keep themselves up-to-date about the world, and that most are well-educated in society and politics.
When we spoke about the regime, Nizar explained to me that the system in Syria is innately corrupt. “Not like South America because there’s a high level of security [...] but the Syrian people have fallen into a pattern that says solving problems is easier done with money.” He is not shy to blame Syrians for letting it come to this. “If you are an important person, and the people around you don’t take advantage of knowing you in this position, then they are considered naive and bound to fall behind.”
Meanwhile, Nizar loves his country for its inclusiveness and social community, but he has also seen the ugly side of so social of a society. He and his family have been through a difficult ordeal which proves that the injustice of the regime can get to anyone. He gave me a very personal account of how the regime affected his life which, for the sake of his family, will not be published. He told me that the sense of community in Syria could sometimes become too much for him, and that people were quick to pass judgement and delve in rumors because “everyone knows everyone’s business.”
I asked him about his emotions towards Bashar al-Assad and the regime, but he was quick to correct me, “Bashar and the regime are two very different things.” In his and many fellow Syrian’s view, Bashar was never a man of the military but forced into his position after the unexpected death of his brother. Nizar explains that his emotions are based in a gut-feeling because society has taught him that Bashar as a person is humble and not dangerous. When he came to power, he came with a lot of hope that he could improve the country.
The problem is the regime. The majority of the Syrian society is Sunni, while its rulers are from the minority Alawite sect of Shiite Islam. Nizar described the rulers of his country as stubborn people, very strict, who have forged their power on fear and social unity. It is, however, also the perfect soil for corruption and injustice.
As we began talking about the current situation he told me “today, many Syrians are frustrated.” Why, he asked me. “Security.”
Although the nation lived under a strict and corrupt system, security was always first priority. “The security forces are very powerful, yes, and they can interfere with your life in a second, true, but they kept my society safe.” He had an interesting interpretation of the present situation. “If I had to choose between a liberal society or security in my country, I would choose to be safe.” He elaborated on his conclusion saying that minorities in Syria fear that, like Egypt, the introduction of ‘majority rules’ would grant full power to a religious segment, which could potentially turn the country into an Islamic state. Nizar’s worry is that failure to separate religion and society, like the regime did, could end up alienating him and others of the Christian minority.
Briefly, we spoke about his irritation with the presence of American politics in the region. He noted that he had nothing against Americans, or any other communities of people, but that he was annoyed with the idea of “America’s Freedom Packages” – as was satirically coined by the American comedian John Stewart. “If the revolutionary movement in Syria turn to support from the West and succeeds, it would be like stabbing their country in the back.” He believes millions of Syrians will reject these freedom packages. “Our society is different, you can’t expect our traditions to suddenly coexist with western ideas let alone change overnight.” He sees the solution as a much longer process: “Syria needs to change by itself, and it will take education.”
I finally asked him about the developments of the protests. “I am so sorry for the violence in my country, no matter what war is being fought, I never wished this for us.” Still, he doesn’t see it ending before the goal is reached. “The problem is that there is no real opposition to the regime, and it’s scary to follow the developments. I want change in my society, but I don’t know who I should support. The religions? The capitalists? who? I believe people would calm down if the old crooks were to be judged under the law. I think an independent law system could bring freedom.”