Syria: A Glimpse Behind the Curtain of Fear

March 5, 2011

by Avi Melamed

The Syrian regime is taking some preemptive measures just to make sure that the Egyptian uprising will not create some “unhealthy thoughts” in the heads of the oppressed Syrian citizens.

Allow me to introduce to you Unit 255 within the Syrian Internal Security apparatus.  Unit 255 is responsible for disinformation. Using a variety of State owned and controlled communication platforms Unit 255 is very busy these days.

Under its direct command and authorization, false and misleading reports are being spread in Syria these days, telling people that Syrian drivers are “honking to express the solidarity of the Syrian citizens with their beloved President, Bashar Alasad.”  The Unit planted recently misleading information in the Internet and Facebook, describing the call for demonstrations against the Syrian regime that have been spread recently on Facebook under the slogan of “The Day of Rage,” as an expression of authentic Syrian rage not against the Syrian regime, but rather expressing Syrian rage against the “Conspiracy made by Israel.”

But the unrest is there. Syrians are closely watching the events.  The tension is palpable. Yet, the only thing that overshadows the hatred of the Syrian towards the Assad regime is their fear. So meanwhile, Syrians are mostly turning to black humor as a way of dealing with the situation and their fear.

Mr. Rami Mahluf is member in the intimate circle of the Assad regime. He is also the owner of the Syrian Cell Phone Company. He is not the most popular person in Syria. Mr. Mahluf recently sent messages through his cell saying that “Some people burn themselves to change the rule, but the Syrian people will burn themselves so their beloved President and regime will endure.”  That message generated a bitter joke among Syrians:  They advise Assad to “Burn Mahluf if you want to stay in power….”

Yet, the Syrian regime is far from smiling. It knows that the sense of humor is filled with fuel – it is an explosive and flammable situation. So the regime is taking some additional cautious measure including:  Increasing the subsidies on commodities and announcing a Special Aid Plan for “2 million poor Syrians.”

The real number of poor people in Syria is higher – much higher.

Syrian cities are surrounded today by massive tent cities and tin can cities.  These are Refugee Camps and the refugees are Syrian citizens. These are ex-farmers, mostly from the northeastern part of Syria – once the Syrian Bread Basket — not any longer.  A continuing draught, a failing agricultural policy, the misuse of water and the fact that Turkey, Syria’s neighbor to the north built massive damns, blocking and diverting the flow of rivers that used to be a major water source for Syria.  All of these factors have led to a catastrophe. Hundreds of Syrian villages have been abandoned and are now deserted.

The once proud independent Syrian farmers and cattle growers; many of whom are of Kurdish origin, have become refugees in their own homeland, abandoned and hopeless, while the Syrian regime stands there totally helpless. These proud people are now dependent on foreign aid.

So the Syrian regime does what it does the best – oppress and intimidate its own people.

Undercover agents of the Syrian security apparatus are deployed everywhere. Particularly in the Old City of Damascus; and if to be more accurate; in its old market place – the Alhamidiya Market – the symbolic and actual center of everyday life in Damascus – disguised as taxi drivers or as peddlers.

But not everything is black about that regime.  It does not discriminate between old and young, female and male.  A Syrian opponent to the regime is held in Syrian prison for a long time.  He will just stay there…regardless of the fact he is 81 years old.  On the other hand, a woman is being held also in prison.  She is of course accused as an “Enemy of the Syrian State.”   She is 20 years old.

So the Syrians are oppressed and intimidated.  Here and there you may hear the calls for change.  An exiled Syrian Ex-Minister is calling for an uprising on Youtube.  He is covered with the Syrian flag; his voice is shivering — perhaps from excitement — more likely from fear.

In a bold and heroic act, some underground factors spread a list of the names and ranks of Syrian Security Agents and Officials.  The list is interesting, it illustrates the role of Alawis – the Asad sect that rules Syria – though it is a 13% non-Sunni minority (the overwhelming majority of Syrians are Sunnis), in the State Police apparatus.

The Syrians are notorious for their brutality.  When the flames touch Syria, it will not be surprising to see that the notorious Syrian reputation is not groundless.

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