Assad’s days numbered, dissident tells 'Post'

US-based blogger thinks regime may have orchestrated weekend’s protest rumors, says he’d love to visit Israel.

By OREN KESSLER
February 8, 2011 00:58
3 minute read.
Syrian President Bashar Assad

bashar assad 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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A prominent US-based dissident Syrian blogger said on Monday he believes his homeland isn’t ripe for the kind of unrest that has rocked other Arab states in recent weeks, and that the Assad regime was behind an online campaign to organize protests in the country.

“I don’t think anything will happen in the near future,” he told The Jerusalem Post, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear that his family would be harmed. “I don’t think the people in Syria are ready yet.”

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The blogger said that although he had no concrete evidence, he suspected that an attempt to organize protests on Facebook this past weekend may actually have been the work of the government to ostensibly prove that Syria was more tolerant than other Arab states.

The Assad regime, he said, “wants to show it’s not like Egypt, it’s not like Tunisia...They want to show the Western media that it was victorious.”

The demonstrations failed to materialize.

“This group, nobody knows anything about them,” he said. “They just emerged and called for a mass demonstration, without any information about who they are.”



He noted that none of the well-known opposition figures in Syria had recently tried to organize anything larger than small, symbolic protests.

The blogger said he and several fellow expatriate dissidents had tried to contact those circulating the Facebook invitations but were unable to obtain any real information.

“They just talked in circles,” he said.

While popular websites such as Facebook, YouTube and Wikipedia are largely banned in Syria – as is any site originating in Israel – intrepid Web surfers can use proxy servers to gain access, he said.

“I’m optimistic now, after what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, and also because social networking and the Internet are flourishing among the youth,” he said.

“It’s not like when I lived in Syria,” he continued. “I studied in Syrian schools and we were brainwashed. We were told that all of our problems were because of Israel, all of our poverty was because of Israel.”

The blogger said that he and his fellow students were taught that the country’s leader was “protecting us from Israel” and “that Israel has no goodwill toward Syria.”

“Imagine you’re six years old, going to school,” he explained. “You are told you should join an organization that is run by the government called the Ba’ath Party Pioneers. It’s similar to the Nazis in Germany. We were raised on those principles. But now people have Internet and TV channels. We used to have one TV channel – it was propaganda, like Goebbels, the way they used to brainwash us.”

He said he believed Syrians were still haunted by the 1982 Hama massacre, in which the army is believed to have killed tens of thousands of people in putting down a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in that Syrian city. Since then, he said, the Assad government has tolerated and even encouraged Islamist movements, so long as they keep out of politics. In Syria as in Egypt, he said, the almost complete absence of civil society means the best-organized institutions are run by Islamists.

Though he cannot safely return to Syria as long as Bashir Assad is in power, the blogger said he would be thrilled to visit Israel.

“I would love to visit this country, which was always a bete noire for us, but which now I realize is one of the greatest countries,” he said. “I’m not exaggerating – I really think so. One day I hope to see it, once I have my American passport.”

With Syrians better informed than they have been in decades, he is convinced the Assad regime’s days are numbered.

“Things aren’t pretty now,” he said, “but I believe it will happen.”

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