Bashar Assad And The Syrian Regime

I still remember what it felt like to be thirteen. Going to school every day, nothing on my mind but getting good grades and catching up with the latest Pokemon episode. Life was as carefree as it could be. Thirteen also happens to be my favorite number, not because I was born on the thirteenth, but because many people find the number to be an omen. Do I believe in all those things though? Absolutely not, but thirteen is a number that makes me happy.

However, that rule does not apply today.
I’m always saddened when I hear about youngsters passing away. It’s always sad when you know someone approximately your age going through an ordeal such as cancer. You pray for them and hope that the doctors (or whichever mystical power you believe in, I shall call it God) and God help that person out. And you’re always filled with joy when you hear the cancer has gone into remission.
For a young thirteen year old by the name of Hamza Khatib, the number thirteen was the last candle he would blow out on his birthday cake. Why so? Because he fell victim to a brutal tyrant known as Bashar Assad, the head of the Syrian regime in its current form.

Hamza Khatib was used as target practice. The bullets were not used to kill Hamza but to torture him. Imagine anyone being shot repeatedly in the arms and legs just because someone felt like it – now imagine that “anyone” be a frightened thirteen year old whose only fault was expressing, in the only way that he knows, his opinion in a country where that luxury is not given.
Hamza Khatib was castrated and his hands, feet, and abdomen were severely beaten. Overall, men in power who don’t care about him being so young and innocent subjected this teenager, for a period of well over a month, to most signs of abuse and torture imaginable.

This is how Hamza was returned to his parents.

Alas, we should know better. Hafez Assad, Bashar’s father, once proclaimed: “Lebanon and Syria… one people in two countries.” We all know the phrase. It was written, after all, on every wall around the barracks the Syrian army and security apparatus occupied in Lebanon for over thirty years. So, since we are “one people in two countries,” it is our right, as Lebanese, to demand the regime in Syria to fall. We’re only going by the teachings of the “great” Hafez Assad, after all.
I don’t want to bring up being Lebanese in every talk about Syria, but we Lebanese were subjected to what Hamza Khatib has been through but to a far worse degree and for a much longer period of time. How many of our men and women are handicapped today because of things the Syrian regime did to them? How many media outlets were intimidated, censored, or closed (anyone remember what happened to MTV in 2002)?  How many of our fine men and women are still missing today and how many martyrs have we buried because “brotherly” Syria stated that Lebanese security was tied to Syrian security?

We, Lebanese have suffered from Syrian hypocrisy even when it comes to our land. Bashar Assad (and his father before him) made it their job to point out how our South was occupied by Israel, day and night. They made it their duty as well to arm Hezbollah and work on making it as strong as it is today, giving it an allure of grandeur that Hezbollah does not, honestly, possess. And yet, look at their land. They have an area that is about 17% the size of Lebanon occupied by the Israeli army for over forty years now and yet they don’t even dare talk about its liberation. Why is it that they are only feisty and defendant of this “glorious” thing called Arabism when it comes to our South and yet when it comes to their land, they’re ever so silent?

Israel occupied South Lebanon until 2000, yet a much worse form of tyranny occupied the rest of Lebanon. From handpicking the presidential candidates, to extending presidential mandates, to rigging elections, censoring media outlets, playing politicians off one and another (Hariri vs. Lahoud) and controlling the security apparatus, Syria dominated nearly every aspect of Lebanon as if it was its own personal fiefdom and all in the name of “brotherly” security. What is sad is that Syria still has its proxies in Lebanon today to fight its battles outside its borders. These proxies pay regular tributes to Damascus for protection of their own parliament seats and sect, all in the guise of “brotherly” relations and fighting Israel, all the while thanking Syria for its “presence in Lebanon”. They constantly threaten that instability in Syria would be no good for Lebanon. Even worse these proxies recently spat in the face of the Syrian protestors by supporting the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings while declaring that Syria is merely facing a Western backed conspiracy and that Lebanese must stand by this power hungry tyrant. But how different can those people be from the regime and person they support? After all, Assad brutally killed every Lebanese that stood in his path for the thirty years of Syrian occupation, without caring – even remotely – about human life. That makes him a war criminal.

The Syrian people are going through some of the similar events we went through for thirty years such as tanks shelling their towns and villages, and innocent civilians disappearing because they were crying out for liberty. They are making the same calls we made in 2005, calls for independence and freedom, and no to rigged elections and brutal security services. The Syrian people need to revolt, for the innocent souls of the likes of Hamza Khatib and the hundreds of other martyrs that have fallen victim for this tyrant since the protests started on March 15th.

Assad put forth the strategy of a minorities coalition, whispering in the ears of Lebanese and Syrian Christians alike that such an alliance is needed to safe guard minority rights against Islamic fundamentalists. His actions, however, proved otherwise. Look at what happened in the 1990s, Maronites were robbed of their political perogatives, with their major parties banned and political leaders jailed and tortured.The Syrian people need to speak now because now is the time for action and they will not get a better chance.

“The Syrian regime is dealing like the old-fashion Soviet regime, imposing the reign of terror.  When we talk about fighting for democracy, fighting for freedom, it isn’t only words.  We know the smell of blood, we know the smell of dynamite, we know what “gun” means and what “threaten” means.  They can only kill you…. And we know that sometime we’ll be assassinated.”   -Gibran Tueni

So for children like Hamza, their families, and the future of the Syrian people, the time to get Bashar Assad, his tyranny, and his regime to fall is now… after all, I was once thirteen too.

The following is a YouTube video of the brutality Hamza Al Khatib has been through. It is very graphic. So only watch it if you can take in brutal imagery of human torture.

Thanks to Ali Seifeddine and Boulos for their input.

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The Aoun Paradox

Michel Aoun

You should know by now that I’m as close to a supporter of FPM leader Michel Aoun as there is hope to explain the Holy Trinity.

Even though I’m not closely following Lebanese politics lately, I was surprised when Mr. Aoun came out of his parliament bloc’s meeting, attacking the Lebanese president left and right.

I remembered how almost two years ago, he was defending this president, saying that we need to give him more rights to fortify the role he – the representative of Maronites – has.

I’m all for increasing the administrative powers of the Lebanese president. If you ask me, the Taef agreement took too much away for the president to be of any essential need to the country. The president is more than a referee and more powers would allow him to assert his role more.

This change in stance got me thinking once again.

The most obvious paradox Mr. Aoun has had was his Syria stance. Back in 2005 and before, he openly declared his opposition to the Syrian regime, accusing it of even killing Prime Minister Hariri. Fast-forward a few months and this totally changes… a year later, he is visiting the Syrian president as a guest of honor. What’s even worse, I remember how a guy by the name “Jamil El Sayyed” used to creep everyone out. The ruthless man to whom the disappearance of many activists against the Syrian regime was staunchly opposed by Mr. Aoun. Up until very recently, of course, where they have become allies.

Mr. Aoun tries to defend his shift in opinion by saying we were “too harsh” to Syria in the first place. Personally, I don’t have anything against Syria as a country and people. However, I know way too many people who died trying to defend the country against the Syrian regime, which was trying to get Lebanon to become an unofficial Syrian province. Too many people who support Aoun as well gave everything they had to protect Lebanon against the Syrian regime. Is Aoun’s opinion shift justified by the argument he gave? Not even close. The main reason he switched sides? Hariri did not agree to allocate to him the Christian seats he was asking in the 2005 parliamentary elections.

What I believe Mr. Aoun is trying to achieve by this change in stance is a sort of coalition of regional minorities, believing that this is the best way to protect Lebanese Christians – and regardless of what he might say, Aoun is a sectarian person. By uniting a portion of Christians, the vast majority of the Shiites and now a big portion of the Druze population in Lebanon with the ruling Alawites in Syria, he believes that this would create the best front to fight the almighty regional devil: The growing Sunni influence.
What Mr. Aoun does not remember, however, is that Mr. Assad, the Syrian president, while being “kind” to his own people, will not offer anything close to that to the Lebanese Christians, as history has already taught us. Moreover, to think that someone like Hassan Nasrallah has had a serious paradigm shift since the days of him thinking Christians were “invadors to Muslim areas”, then Mr. Aoun becomes seriously delusional.

Which brings me back to the point I first mentioned: presidency. It has become Aoun’s lifetime dream to become the Lebanese president. When he saw this dream will not happen in his previous alliances, he simply switched it. Anything for the cause, right?

Aoun also believes in “change and reform”. He believes it is the way forward for the country. And it most definitely is. However, almost nothing he has done so far really signals “change and reform” and yet he preaches about it wherever he goes. It’s like a prostitute claiming virginity. Charbel Nahhas, current minister of telecommunications, even tried to ban Skype!
Part of his “change and reform” ideology is to eradicate the idea of feudalism from Lebanese politics: No more to the son inheriting his dad’s legacy and going forward with it, etc.
Aoun has no sons. He has, however, son in laws to whom he is passing down the mantle. His nephew is a parliament member in his bloc, his other son in law is head of his TV station and his daughter is head of his political bureau. I believe with all of this, it seems that the concept of feudalism has escaped Mr. Aoun.

So this is our paradox. This is a man who believes he is allowed of cursing whoever he wants, take his followers wherever he pleases and still believe he is correct in everything he does.
I blame Mr. Aoun’s followers… they seem to have forgotten why they became supporters of him in the first place. They seem to have forgotten the shared values they have with the movements they are cursing today. And for that reason, they are demoted from the a supporter to a follower. I have many friends who are FPM supporters. Some of them still are, others have seen a change in the man they once supported – one they do not approve anymore. Many of those supporters have been imprisoned, tortured, beaten down just because they had the courage to speak up. To those supporters, we can only be grateful. Supporters are critical.Followers simply follow.

Mr. Aoun switched sides in 2005, ruining everything his supporters and other free men of the country had tried to achieve for 15 years: true independence. The historical March 14, 2005 protest set the bar high for freedom fighters in the region. More than half of the Lebanese population had gone down to the streets to reclaim their country. And just because this man’s greed saw it fit, he decided that the spilled blood, the ruined prides, the oppressed freedoms were not enough to continue this movement to the end. I can only imagine where we would have been right now had Aoun remained somewhat sane in 2005. We would have brought Lahoud down, elected a president that represented us all – maybe Mr. Aoun even – and worked for the past six years of letting this country become one that we all deserve.
Apparently not. And why’s that? Because one man’s delusion is another country’s dark ages.