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My Mother, My Story, Sami, Syrian Revolution Journal

Revolution Journal – February 2011

Revolution Journal – February 2011

Emergency law was still effective in February 2011. Any kind of gathering was questioned by the mukhabarat. Facebook was still unblocked and everything seemed to be fine. Syrian intellectuals didn’t want what happened in Tunisia and Egypt to happen in Syria. After all, we know how the regime will react. Instead, some movements to show support to Tunisia and Egypt were starting to send the regime a message that Syrians want serious reforms.

A that point in Syria, many were actually working for mukhabarat. I only found about a gay man working for mukhabarat early February. His “official” job was a PR officer in a 4-star big hotel, and he started advising “us” not to engage in any discussion in any group or page on Facebook about freedoms and rights. His brother is the PR manager at that hotel and is responsible for public and private events. Early February, a woman added an event to her Facebook that was supposed to take place in that 4-star hotel and invited her friends. The gay mukhabarat guy and his brother were questioned by the mukhabarat about that event – they simply wanted to know if it was going to be used as a cover-up or it was a real event. It was weird and somewhat encouraging to know that the regime and the government are scared. However, because of the emergency law, no one could/can have any kind of gathering for partying – weddings, engagements, dinner events, birthday parties, etc. – without asking for a permission from the mukhabarat. This used to normally take 2-3 weeks. Before February, Syrians used to add events for their birthday parties, small parties, etc. The norm was that friends go and celebrate in a club or a bar, however, if anyone wanted to book a place for a somewhat “bigger group”, they had to go through the 2-3 weeks process, and, of course, to pay certain amounts of bribes to the corrupt mukhabarat.

The word “Tunisia” became a “keyword” that gets the attention of any mukhabarat person. Those were/are everywhere, waiters, taxi drivers, almost all barbers and hairdressers, journalists, editors in chief… etc. My close friends and I, started to get bored with others who were really scared to talk in public about what has been happening in Egypt back then. We started to break out from our normal “groups” and look for people who wanted to think of a way to start some kind of peaceful and careful movements to ask for more rights, especially the freedom of speech.

Our work on the documentary was progressing well, but we spent most of our evening following the news from Egypt. We all wanted Egyptians to get their freedom. It was an important thing for Syrians who were thinking of uniting later with the free Egyptians to stir some kind of Pan-Arab rights movements. We were waiting and hoping, and every time Mubarak came up with his fucked up speeches, we get as annoyed as the Egyptians. To most Syrians, the two countries, Syria and Egypt, are twins that were separated by the politics of Hafez, Sadat, and Mubarak, and those twins had to find each other again.

The candle march detainees were released early February, with rumors spread by the regime that unblocking Facebook was a “reward” for the Syrian people who proved that “they loved their leadership and didn’t fall for the outside conspiracy of February 5th day of rage.” We were so annoyed with this yet another personal cult Bashar was trying to pull out. How the fuck unblocking a website is supposed to be a “reward”! We don’t work for the bastard! We’re not his “kids”! We even know more about life and politics than he does.

My mother started to get daily radiotherapy sessions. I got so busy with her that I had to neglect the documentary for two weeks. I used to meet my friends back then, exhausted, and tired, and wanting to get a summary of the events of the day. “Same shit! Mubarak still call it a conspiracy, and the official media in Egypt are still doing a disgusting regime propaganda. The great Egyptians are more resilient than ever!” This is what I used to get almost everyday, until the Copts in Egypt protected a Friday prayer in Tahrir Square. I saw a tear in my friend’s eye, and she told me, “so, all this shit about sectarian and Islamic movement didn’t work. People are people and all people want freedom. Do you think if something happened here we will be sectarian?” I simply said, “Sectarian my ass! Look at us, we don’t even know what is the religion of most of our friends. The common people don’t care, you know that. My Christian illiterate neighbor is always checking up on my Muslim mother.” However, reminding her of what happened in Hama in 1982, I explained that I don’t want a “people revolution” to happen in Syria, because I believed back then that the regime will never stop the killings.

Because of my mother’s long treatment sessions, I was not able to meet my gay friends frequently. One day, I heard about a raid on a cruising park. I went to check for news, and I went to a al-Hijaz café where we used to meet. The owner told me that the mukhabarat questioned him about the “feminine” gay men and encouraged him to get rid of them. I thought that this was an upturn in the way authorities used to deal with gay men. The owner even told me that there are more mukhabarat coming to the café every day. When I asked him what he might do, he simply said that gay people are his “customers” and he can’t ask them to leave or not to come.

The “gay scene”, if there was any, didn’t go through a drastic change then. There were certain winter cafés where gay men used to go, especially at late nights. Those were safer than al-Hijaz since the latter was one of the old, traditional, and cheap ones in Damascus. My close gay friends and I started to meet there. I remember telling them once, “if anything happens in Syria, I will be one of the first protesters. If you have any problem with that, you should stop contacting me the minute people start to protest.” Someone asked me then, “Do you think something will happen here.” I said, “I don’t know if I want anything to happen, they (the regime) are criminals, but if anything happens, you all know I hate the Assads, the regime, and the Baathists.”

Gay people used to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a special way. In the years before, there were normally private gay parties for Valentine’s. That year, someone tried to have one, but he got questioned and warned not to. My gay friends went to a bar, some others had “micro-parties” at friends’ places. No significant gay event happened on Valentine’s Day in Damascus that year. I had the Tunisian butt to celebrate with, which was great since I needed the sexual release.

Mubarak finally stepped down. Yemenis were revolting, and Libyans were as well. “People want to topple/overthrow the regime” was all over the news, coming from different Arab countries. After Kaddafi’s first speech, Syrians wanted to have another candle march in solidarity with Libyans. It was beyond comprehension to us that someone, anyone, might call people “rats”. [1] Kaddafi did and were outraged. Isn’t it enough that he exiled, killed, or imprisoned all intellectuals in Libya? Kaddafi started killing his people, and we had to do something. The Syrian authorities finally gave in and allowed a silent candle sit-in near the Libyan embassy in Damascus. It was a trap!

The regime permitted a silent sit-in, and permitted only 3-4 banners to be used. Someone who didn’t belong to the group, came suddenly on a bicycle and said “Down with the man with an umbrella!” [2] This sentence was not permitted by the authorities, so, the police started arresting everyone who was there, and later arrested all those who signed up for the sit-in and were not able to join. The “bicycle” guy was another mukhabarat!

We, media persons, were ordered not to use the word “revolution” to refer to what was happening in Libya. “What’s happening in Libya now is not a revolution, it’s a conspiracy coming from the west. All radios, newspapers, magazines, and TV stations should use the word “conspiracy” to describe what is happening in Libya.” This was a written declaration that was sent to all media managers.

Meanwhile, people were following reports about what had happened in Tunisia and Egypt, and what was happening in Libya and Yemen. They sometimes made jokes about certain banners, slogans, etc. 15 young boys in Deraa, southern Syria, chanted “People want to topple/overthrow the regime”, and scratched a few other slogans they used to hear on the news on their school’s wall. They were reported by the principal to the secret police who arrested and tortured them. This was subject to media blackout and gag order. Nobody heard about it until mid-March.

Our documentary had to be on hold. Syrians were “ordered” to show support for their “leadership”. “Micro” marches with Bashar’s photos were taking place everywhere at any time. All media had to talk about the great accomplishment of the esteemed and loved leader of the country. Luckily, my friends and I were not writing about politics, until that point, we did not have to participate in any kind of propaganda, even though most of us were “asked” to.

[1] This is a long video, and it’s just for the reference. I couldn’t find a dubbed or subtitled one.

[2] Kaddafi was known after this by “Abu Shamsiyah” i.e. the man with an umbrella.

A translated bit of Kaddafi’s speech:

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