«Where are the secular rebels?» wonders one apprehensive Western «leftist», whose main task has become to emulate his Islamophobic counterpart on the right by counting the number of beards he sees in a YouTube video and the «Allahu Akbars» the fighters and demonstrators shout out.
«Why did Syrians not pack central squares like Egyptians, creating a Tahrir Square of their own?» laments another remarkably keen observer (so keen, in fact, that he managed to miss the huge anti-regime sit-ins in Homs’s Clock and Khaldiyeh Squares and Hama’s Assi Square – to name but three – all of them ruthlessly dispersed by the Syrian regime’s security forces and army).
«The situation in Syria is too complex. It’s a sectarian civil proxy war. Let us just hope for peace and refrain from taking sides», comments he who bombs us with quotes by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King on the duty to abandon neutrality in times of great moral conflict.
Repeating the basics about the Syrian revolution time and again has become exhausting. And Syrian revolutionaries, the oppressed, should not have to bear the burden to prove the justice of their cause while Bashar Al-Assad continues to enjoy full impunity and treatment as a legitimate president. Nor do Syrians owe explanations and justifications to those who dismiss their sacrifices and insist on supporting and even glorifying armed resistance revolutionary violence everywhere except in Syria.
Because of the countless checkpoints tearing the city apart and a security presence unmatched by any other Arab country in heft, Syrians never had the ability to fill a central square in Damascus. The main social bulwark of the revolution exists in conservative working class communities in the suburbs and the periphery because these communities have suffered the most damage at the hands of both Bashar al-Assad and his father. The same people who shout Allahu Akbar—that phrase that somehow manages to frighten the civilised world more than the regime’s SCUD missiles, fighter jets and cluster bombs— also sing revolutionary songs in mosques and turn funeral processions of martyrs into wedding-like protests. Even while besieged, shelled and starved to death by the regime, they miraculously remain defiant and teach life to a dead world.
Never mind that first people who took to the streets demanding the overthrow of the regime also took to the streets protesting against Islamist extremists. Never mind that they are forced to fight several battles on several fronts at once and by themselves. Perhaps, if regime supporters or those who claim neutrality were a fraction as critical of the regime as supporters of the revolution are critical of armed resistance and political opposition, we would have been spared most this bloodshed.
The ignorance regarding the Syrian revolution is too deafeningly loud to overlook at this point. Yet, stressing simple facts over and over again is unavoidable and still quite necessary, if only for the sole purpose of establishing that people cannot say they did not know about the reality of this revolution. If you are ignoring the Syrian revolution or are minimizing Assad’s unspeakably inhumane and dictatorial actions, you are willfully looking the other way. Don’t say you weren’t warned or informed.
Syrians also did not have the luxury to remain peaceful or pick and choose their allies. It is thus preposterous to denounce an entire popular uprising simply because the West and GCC tyrannies supposedly back it.
As for Syria’s grassroots rebels, they haven’t magically disappeared. The majority were imprisoned, killed or forced to leave the country, but those who have remained are clinging to the original principles of the revolution. One of them is Faiek al-Meer. Or rather, Faiek al-Meer was one of them. But he, too, joined the endless lists of prisoners of conscience detained by the Syrian regime when he was arrested by its security forces from his Damascus home on 7 October, 2013.
Born in 1954 in the town of al-Qadamous in the Tartous countryside, al-Meer graduated from the Intermediate Technical Institute of Aleppo University with a degree in electrical techniques. While studying and then working in at-Tabqa Dam in ar-Raqqah governorate, he began his political activism in the early 1970s, joining the Syrian Communist Party (Political Bureau), founded by prominent Syrian communist Riad al-Turk in 1972. The SCP-PB split from the Syrian Communist Party, the latter led at the time by Stalinist Khalid Bakdash who allied with Hafez Al-Assad’s Baathist regime. The SCP-PB was among the first leftist parties in Syria that openly advocated for democracy and pluralism. It was thus banned by the Syrian regime.
Al-Meer’s first arrest came in April 1979 when he was detained for a month by the military intelligence for distributing pamphlets. That brief stint in jail would prove to be only but a first step in a journey crammed with persecution and arrests. In March of 1983, al-Meer was fired from his job at the Euphrates Dam at the request of the political security branch due to his political activism. In 1987, he was indicted for participating in a banned party. The indictment forced him into hiding when his daughter Farah was only two months old. Al-Meer was eventually arrested in 1989 and was sentenced to ten years in jail for the crime of being a communist striving for democracy. He could not see his daughter until 1992 in Saidnaya prison; those rocky five years changed his complexion so much that Farah failed to recognize that he was her father.
Faiek al-Meer, or Uncle Abu Ali as his friends and comrades call him, possessed an unbreakable spirit and a heart unshakable by despair. Even after spending 10 years in jail, he did not waver or abandon the struggle for freedom and democracy in Syria. He was an active participant in the «Damascus Spring», a short-lived outburst of political and social debate that flourished following the death of Hafez al-Assad in 2000 but was quickly snuffed out resulting in the arrest of several of its activists, including Riad al-Turk and al-Meer. He remained a leading member in the SCP-PB as it held its sixth congress in 2005, changing its name into the Syrian Democratic People’s Party and adopting the approach of social democracy.
As pointed out by Lebanese journalist Ziad Majed, al-Meer responded in his trial to the charges saying: «My aim is to maintain Syria’s sovereignty, liberate the occupied Golan, end tyranny and create a democratic country… and he battle for democracy will go on».
Faiek al-Meer embodied the true values of the left, not just because he advocated for democracy and social justice, but also because he always worked tirelessly on the ground, never shying away from doing the unattractive stuff. It was that incredible insubordination and commitment that cost him the best years of his life, separated him from his family, and denied him the right to lead anything resembling a normal life.
It was only fitting, then, that Faiek al-Meer would be among the first to join the Syrian revolution for freedom and dignity in March 2011. By the time the revolution began, Faiek al-Meer had already been forced into hiding (again) after Syrian security forces raided his family home in Tartous in 2010 and a Damascus court had sentenced him to 15 years in absentia. This did not stop al-Meer from participating actively in the revolution, however. He took part in anti-regime protests in Damascus and its countryside during the early stages of the uprising.
In addition, he worked closely with martyr Omar Aziz and was one of the few people who believed in and fervidly supported Aziz’s idea and vision to found revolutionary local councils. Al-Meer was with martyr Aziz when the first local council in Barzeh, Damascus saw light. He remembers vividly the happiness that overwhelmed them at achieving the first form of self-governance in revolutionary Syria. «What a wonderful people! What a revolution!», he recalls Aziz exclaiming upon witnessing the stunning popular participation in the Barzeh local council.
Al-Meer would later go on to organise aid and relief work in the besieged and constantly under-shelling eastern Ghouta.
Abu Ali’s capacity to remain hopeful and positive even during the most morose periods has been astounding and inspiring. One of his close friends, a young activist, says: «Though 59, we felt that Abu Ali was younger than all of us. He treated us with the love of a father and the spirit of a friend and never acted with superiority. He also rarely mentioned his experiences in jail».
Abu Ali, the former political prisoner who never used his experience in prison as an excuse to relax or to attain privileged treatment; the loving father and husband who has spent more time in jail and in hiding than with his two children and steadfast wife, Samar; the assiduous grassroots activist who, despite coming from a religious minority, never confined himself to a sect instead believing in the people’s revolution and that no-one or sect should demand or expect guarantees in order to join the uprising; the warm-hearted man who ceaselessly demanded the release of political prisoners and shed light on their case. Abu Ali is now a prisoner himself.
Only a few days before his arrest, Faiek al-Meer would write on his Facebook page a call to release of friend Khalil Ma’atouq on the first anniversary of Ma’atouq’s arrest. Maatouq, a prominent human rights lawyer who represented al-Meer during his 2007 trial, has been in Syrian regime jails for over a year. Fatefully, the two are in jail now. And they, like millions of Syrians, are targeted and punished for fighting for a better tomorrow for Syria, a future without despotism, a future without political prisoners, a future without Assad and his regime.