Interviewed July 2011
Ammar Abdulhamid is a Syrian human rights activist who in 2003 founded the Tharwa Foundation, a grassroots organization that enlists local activists and citizen journalists to document conditions in Syria. In response to his activities, the Syrian government subjected Abdulhamid to repeat interrogation and threats. In September 2005, he and his family were forced into exile in the United States. From his home in Maryland, Abdulhamid remains one of the leading bloggers and commentators on events in Syria through the Syrian Revolution Digest.
Follow Ammar Ahbdulhamid on Twitter @Tharwacolamus and on his blog, Syrian Revolution Digest.
Many people said, "This is selfish on your part. Because the consequences can be born by your family."
But I also said to them in reply, "The consequences of their silence have been born by me. And are being born by all of you, also." So silence has consequences. Not rocking the boat has consequences. And the consequences of not rocking the boat, it may not be the dramatic death that you we see when people take to the street. It may not be arrests. But it's a death of hope. It's losing a battle for your spirit.
It's accepting to live like a nothing, basically, from day to day. Or, except because I coming from privileged family, okay. Everything is good for me and damn the rest, who cares? I didn't wanna live that kind of a life. So yeah, it requires, perhaps, an element of selfishness to defy authorities. Because you know they're gonna come after your family and not only yourself.
But I did it. And we are realizing that I'm not the wrong. They're the one who are making the wrong choices. And if they come after my family, it's they are the one who are making the crime. I'm not the criminal here. And I'm not gonna accept that reversal of guilt. Because this is one way of putting you down. And making you incapable of acting. So I made that decision.
Syria is bordered by Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, and the Mediterranean Sea. It emerged from the Ottoman Empire in 1918 as a protectorate of France, reaching full independence in 1946. Its population of 22 million consists of many ethnic groups. Approximately 70 percent are Sunni Muslims, 13 percent are Shia Muslims, and 10 percent are Christians. Syria had a lower middle income economy prior to the civil war, where the state played a dominant role.
The Syrian Arab Republic originated as a secular, socialist state dominated by the Ba’ath party, an Arab nationalist movement. The state has since evolved into an autocracy headed by a single family and dominated by members of the minority Alawite sect, a branch of Shia Islam.
The Ba’ath Party took power in Syria in a series of coups d’état in the 1960s and 1970s. One of the leaders of those coups, Hafez al-Assad, became president in 1971 and led the country until his death in 2000. Under Assad, Alawites assumed control over the state security forces. In 1982, Assad’s forces stormed the city of Hama to brutally suppress a Sunni rebellion, killing thousands of civilians.
Following the death of Hafez al-Assad, his son, Bashar al-Assad, was elected president by a referendum in which he ran unopposed, officially garnering 97 percent of the vote. He was reelected in 2007, again with 97 percent of the vote.
The Syrian government is one of the world’s most brutal and restrictive. From 1963 to 2011, the government operated under an “Emergency Law,” which suspended many constitutional protections of civil liberties. The government continues to use arbitrary detention and torture against political opponents, and operates through an extensive internal security apparatus, including secret police. The government controls most of the country’s media outlets, and access to the Internet is permitted only through state-operated servers. The minority Kurdish population has been continually discriminated against and repressed.
Influenced by movements in Egypt and Tunisia, large opposition protests took place across Syria in 2011. The government responded with a harsh crackdown. Security forces fired on protestors, killing thousands. The crackdown led the Arab League to suspend Syria’s membership. The Assad regime attempted to appease dissenters through a series of low-level and largely inconsequential reforms in 2011 and 2012. However, the conflict has escalated into full-fledged civil war with both liberal and Islamic militias being formed to fight against the Assad regime. The Assad regime has continued to attempt to defeat the opposition using air strikes and heavy artillery to attack rebel-held neighborhoods. Freedoms of association, assembly, and the press were restricted even further as the government attempted to quell the uprising. Over a million people have been either internally displaced or fled the country as refugees.
In the summer of 2013, it was confirmed that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons to attack civilians. Over 600 people were killed in one such attack in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus using a nerve agent confirmed to be sarin. The Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons drew international attention and resulted in a renewed international focus on the nation and its civil conflict.
Freedom House rates Syria as “not free” noting that conditions even prior to the 2011 uprising and subsequent civil war were, at best, abysmal. It earned the worst possible ratings of seven in both the political rights and civil liberties categories. Conditions since the 2011 uprising have only deteriorated, and civil freedoms are restricted under the fear of violence. Freedom House has also expressed concern over rising sectarian tensions and massive displacement.