In conversation with Samar Yazbek: A woman on the frontline of the Syrian revolution

Report by Ivana Davidovic

As the violence in Syria spreads to the capital Damascus and the latest reports confirm the deaths of top government ministers, it is certain that the revolution there is entering a new phase. Many analysts believe that it is not now a question of “if” the Syrian regime collapses from within, but “when".

A conversation with Samar Yazbek, a Syrian journalist and writer, therefore couldn’t have been more timely. She is an opposition activists and human rights defenders, she is also a member of the minority Alawite community, which is probably the only thing in common she has with the President Bashar Al Assad. When describing the ruling family, Yazbek certainly did not mince her words.

Bashar Al Assad and his family have always seen Syrian citizens as slaves. He was never chosen by the people to be the president. He is ready to destroy Syria, he will completely divide it up, turn it into ruins before letting go of power,” she said.

The regime in Syria is a family that has been building alliances for 40 years. Bashar Al Assad is a front for this mafia alliance of families who are basically criminals.”

Yazbek also gives a nuanced analysis how, throughout the decades, the Assad and a cluster of several other families – both Alawite and some Sunni – have turned Syria into, what she calls, “an explosive society.”

The Syrian secret service have the upper hand in the Syrian society, that’s how it’s been carefully created for 40 years. The Assads eliminated all the fellow officers who had helped them in the 1970s coup. Those were the origins of, what I call, explosive society.

They worked on undermining of the social context of the Alawite sect. Little by little they made the Alawite sect synonymous with the totalitarian regime, they made sure its survival depended on the regime.

They also enhanced the divisions between various tribes, giving them control over different sectors within the secret service, which has always been recruited mainly from the coastal, Alawite regions, but not exclusively. The Assad regime built strong alliances with the wealthy merchant class from the Sunni community.

He also undermined the rule of the national army, despite the propaganda you hear. The secret service controls them too.”

Yazbek says that this clever social engineering brought a lot of resentment from large parts of the Syrian society, which had started to simmer long before the first protesters, emboldened by the events in Tunisia and Egypt, took to streets demanding change. However, in the early months of the revolution, the overthrowing of the ruling family was not yet on the agenda:

"In the first four months of the revolution the people demanded change – reform – but not the overthrow of the regime. They did not want the division along the sectarian lines, they did not want the country to be run by Alawites or Sunnis alone.

The regime at the time accused all of the protestors of being armed gangs. But I was there, all protests were peaceful. I remember once I was standing next to someone who was shot by a government sniper from a nearby building. I can tell you now – if these people had been armed, I never would have supported this revolution. The armed forces were the security forces of Bashar Al Assad.”

More recently there have been accusation by the generally supportive Western media that the Syrian opposition are conducting massacres of their own people to push for a Libya-style intervention, which Yazbek categorically denies.

"Every time there is a massacre I communicate via Skype with survivors from the area who tell me exactly how things developed. I interviewed children survivors. The regime wants Shabiha, who are mainly from Alawite background, to commit massacres in the hope that Sunnis will want to retaliate. But that has not happened. We have not yet seen a massacre committed in a mostly Sunni area.

To say that the Free Syrian Army is committing massacres in order to push for the international intervention is an unethical statement to make. The Syrians understand that they stand alone, no opposition body is asking for an intervention any more.”

So if there really is no more hope for the foreign intervention, what could be the future for Syria?

That was by far the most difficult question to answer for the eloquent and passionate journalist. Yazbek said she was afraid that the international community was surrendering Syria to the Russians in silence. “There may be an escalation of sectarian violence, which might completely change things.”

"We will continue to fight. Because, I promise you, after Assad is gone, things will be a hundred times better,” she concluded.

Watch the event here:

Video streaming by Ustream