Voices From The Arab Press: Inside the prisons of the Assad regime

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

THE MOON is seen during a lunar eclipse over Idlib, Syria, on July 27. (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE MOON is seen during a lunar eclipse over Idlib, Syria, on July 27.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Al-Araby al-Jadeed, London, November 15
Human rights organizations have been closely monitoring the humanitarian condition of Syrian refugees, but nobody has been looking at what is happening inside the prisons of the Assad regime.
In the Hama prison, one of the notorious sites of torture in Syria today, political dissidents have been interrogated and executed without a remote chance for a fair trial. Some of them have tried to smuggle audio recordings out of the prison, in an attempt to gain the world’s attention to the terrible abuses that they endure each and every day.
Without any international body to protect them or a legal system to defend their rights, these men and women, whose sole “crime” was to protest the Assad regime, have no choice but to continue suffering with the hope of evading death. Many of these individuals are deprived of food and water. Most of them suffer prolonged physical and psychological torture.
The Hama prison, just like many other prisons in Syria, was used prior to the civil war as a detention facility for convicted felons. Following the uprising, it was converted into an interrogation center for anti-Assad activists. With time, it grew into a fullfledged concentration camp in which inmates are systematically abused, tortured and killed – much in line with the Nazi concentration camps we remember from World War II.
The testimonies laid out in the 2014 Syrian detainee report, which provided photographic evidence of the systematic killing of more than 11,000 detainees by the Syrian regime, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Much more is happening today behind closed doors.
The actual number of individuals killed at these detention centers has long surpassed the hundreds of thousands, and the killing continues.
It is unbelievable that world leaders who claim to be acting in the best interest of the Syrian people have completely overlooked this major crime. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been slaughtered by Assad in these camps to date, and not a single finger has been lifted to end this abhorrent crime.
  Amer Kush
Al-Ayaam, Ramallah, November 15
The resignation of Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman from office is a pure act of political survivability.
Liberman did not resign because of strong disagreements he had with the military over how the Gaza crisis should have been handled. In fact, when he released his resignation notice to the public, Liberman did not mention a single word of criticism against the IDF or the chief of staff.
Instead, he focused his disparaging remarks against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is the real target of this resignation. Liberman hopes to weaken Netanyahu by attacking him at his base: with the conservative right-wing voters. Resigning at this point in time, just days after Hamas fired more than 500 rockets at Israeli towns and cities, and accusing Netanyahu of not responding harshly enough to this escalation, is meant to portray Liberman as the “macho” politician in the Israeli political sphere.
However, just like Netanyahu, Liberman, too, knows all too well that the only solution to the Gaza crisis is a political one. The recent round of confrontation between Israel and Hamas revealed the latter’s upgraded capabilities, which include an advanced missile system that is far more accurate and advanced than it used to be.
In addition, Hamas’s strikes against Israel were more coordinated than in previous rounds of fighting, and suggest that directives to its forces on the ground were dispatched from a central command room somewhere in the Gaza Strip. By responding to the massive Hamas rocket fire with nothing more than a few targeted attacks against vacated Hamas buildings, the Israeli political and security echelon essentially admitted to not having a solution to the Gaza situation.
Israel is trying to win time and sign covert deals with Hamas through secret back channels. Hamas, meanwhile, succeeded in getting Israel to come to terms with its power and respect its authority over the Gaza Strip. It also marked a victory over Liberman, who entered office after promising to “exterminate” the movement’s heads, and left office at a time when Israel no longer knows how to deal with Hamas.
Rami Mansour
Al-Arab, London, November 17
The personal rapprochement efforts of French President Emmanuel Macron did not succeed in fostering good or acceptable relations with US President Donald Trump. It is clear that Macron’s attempts to establish a working relationship with the president through mutual respect were simply not enough to make up for the differences between the two leaders and their respective outlooks on global politics.
Indeed, these divisions have become so deep, that restoring the bilateral relations between France and the United States might be impossible. The most recent brawl between the two leaders took place on the eve of France’s commemoration of the centennial of the First World War, which was attended by more than 70 heads of state. In his remarks to those in attendance, including President Trump, President Macron called for the formation of a European army to protect the continent “from China, Russia and even the United States.”
This angered Donald Trump so badly, that it took no more than a few hours for the American president to respond via Twitter, calling the French public to make their country “great again.” But that was not all of it.
Trump then proceeded to launch a personal attack against Macron. He scoffed at the idea of establishing a “European army” and mocked France for its failure to fight the Nazis.
Trump and Macron’s animosity has grown like a snowball in the past few months. Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate agreement, as well as his decision to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, revealed the president’s deep lack of respect with his European counterparts. Macron quickly realized that the American president holds more respect for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un than for any European leader, including himself.
In light of this new US stance against Europe, Macron has sought to strengthen his relations with his counterparts in Europe. European Union President Donald Tusk and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have been particularly sympathetic to Macron.
It seems as if the leaders of Europe have grown more united than ever before in their front against the US, and President Trump can insult and protest as much as he wants. At the end of the day, this battle for Europe will not be determined on Twitter.
Khitar abu Diyab
Al-Quds al-Arabi, London, November 17
In a recent televised interview, Iraqi politician and parliamentarian Izzat Shabandar was asked by a host about his opinion on the current situation in Iraq and the corruption that hinders the formation of a new government. Shabandar replied that he would be willing to support a government even if 70% of its members proved to be corrupt politicians, since it is more important, at this specific point in time, to end the state of division in Iraqi society than to rid its political system of nepotism.
Without even flinching, the interviewer then posed a follow-up question: “Why, then, did you fail to support the government of Saddam Hussein?” To this, Shabandar admitted that if he had known what Iraq would look like following the American invasion, then he would have stood by the side of Saddam Hussein and defended his regime at any cost.
Despite disagreeing with many of Shabandar’s politics, I can’t help but admire the honesty with which he approached this interview. His remarks were very telling, not only of his own politics, but also of those of many other revolutionaries in the Arab world.
Many of them now admit that if they knew how the Arab Spring would unfold, they would have likely turned down the call to rebel against their leaders.
The chants for “liberty,” “justice” and “dignity for all” that we’ve all heard in the main squares were quickly forgotten. New leaders rose to power and claimed to represent the people, but worked to defeat their revolutionary demands.
What we’re witnessing today in Iraq, Syria and Yemen is a direct result of revolutions that have gone wrong.
Those who allowed Islamist movements to lead their protests ended up with pious regimes that bred further sectarian conflict and civil war. The religious movements that once inspired the Arab public and gave them hope for a better future have now come full circle and revealed their true face. Their true motivation was to increase their own political power, not represent the people who stood behind them.
Abd al-Nasser Essa
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