Syria Squeezed: Are We Free Yet?

Dispatches by Elisabeth Eaves

… What is going on now is a lot of testing of “red lines,” as everyone in Damascus seems to call them. People are saying things and publishing things. But many of them, like al-Bounni and Ammar Abdulhamid, who heads the minority-rights Tharwa Project, are engaged in a harrowing pas de deux with the government. Al-Bounni and Abdulhamid are both barred from leaving the country. Intelligence officials have interrogated Abdulhamid three times since January. Al-Bounni has seen his siblings and friends thrown in jail for peaceful political speech. No one testing the limits knows when the next crackdown might come or what will provoke it.

Abdulhamid, who often despairs of the government on his eloquent English-language blog, is not entirely sure how he stays out of jail, though extensive media coverage of him outside Syria has certainly helped. Also, his mother is a Syrian movie star. Recently, though, she too was interrogated about his activities. “It may be the fact that we are focusing on a regional issue [minority rights] rather than a specifically Syrian one,” he speculated. “It may be the fact that we have European funding or that we’re blatantly breaking the law.”

He is not entirely without hope. “We’re seeing the makings of a velvet revolution,” he said. But not in a Gorky Park  sort of way. “The end is not going to be as grand and eye-catching as in Eastern Europe. We have too much baggage. We have Islamicism as a complicating factor.” Nevertheless, he said, “This is the beginning of the end. The Internet and satellite TV have launched it.”