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Syria 1st-Hand: A Letter from Aleppo on Deprivation, Islamists, the Opposition...and Hope (Walls)

"7ee6an", the author behind the Walls website, offers a detailed personal look at the confict in and beyond Aleppo:

I don’t know how to collate news round-ups, despite the many available modern gadgets that make that easy. May be I don’t like to do that, or, perhaps, it is nowadays harder for me to do so as my main source of news ceased being news-papers and blogs and became fast tweets, rapid shots of rss-feeds, and Facebook posts coming from all over Syria --- telling me and a cynical world where a mortar shell has just fallen and where the most recent massacre-by-barrel has taken place, decimating a neighborhood block and absurdly ending many potentials of greatness, mediocrity, and just plain normal living.

It is also harder to be opinionated nowadays, especially regarding the rapidly unfolding events in Syria, which while appearing to occur in a rapid succession, do nonetheless betray a slow, constantly flowing lava-like wall of brutality, suffering, and unimaginable misery. Friends are wounded with no well-organized medical relief to take care of them. When relief is available, it is mostly controlled by a single group with a viciously selfish and opportunistic political agenda whereby aid is dispensed only to those who belong in their allegiance to the group or to its battalions, most of which consist of fighters and a leader who are neither indoctrinated, nor deeply religious, but are pragmatic in meeting the needs of the moment, be it a case of ammunition, a few gallons of fuel, or some food to sustain their fighters.

What permeates the atmosphere in Aleppo are the genetic prints of the culture of despotism, nurtured and fed through corruption and terror by two generations of Assads. Despotism is evident among some armed groups, especially in Aleppo where stories of abuse, theft, corruption, lack of coordination, greed, vengeance, betrayal, and selfishness continue to surface every day. A majority of these stories can be attributed to the hordes of [pro-regime militia] Shabee7a, who when abandoned by Assad, decided to form their own military battalions or to join other groups under the banner of the free Syrian Army. But other stories can be attributed to young men, now carrying weapons, and are entrusted with maintaining peace and order in liberated areas, but fail to understand that this revolution is all about ending abuse and behave the only way they have seen men with arms and authority behave, and that is being abusive with a sense of entitlement.

The regime, as expected, continues its wanton “burn the country” vengeful madness as it bombs infrastructure including power stations, bakeries, and hospitals, as well as civilian neighborhoods as the most wanted target on its list of mayhem. Power outages, water cuts, and full deterioration of basic services made life unbearable in a city used to abundance, and during 40 years, has been devoid --- through premeditated malice by the Assads and their goons --- of civil society institutions to maintain social cohesion in times of disasters. A city plagued, like all of Syria, with a state that is indistinguishable from the brutal regime who had, as described by Yassin Haj-Salih, used the state to cement its brutal sectarian rule, and gradually eradicated it and turned it into a mere extension of itself....

It is natural, therefore, that some residents of Aleppo’s liberated areas complain about FSA [Free Syrian Army] in their midst. The lack of basic services, the severe bread crisis, weeks’ long black-outs, and water outage, and constant bombardment gets to you. But is that a sign that FSA is losing public support? Or that the regime is gaining more supporters? Frankly, I believe that only a fool, completely detached from the facts on the ground, would think that the regime can gain any public support. Same fool of course might even think that this criminal gang of thugs cares about gaining public support at this stage.  The Assads and their band of thugs and criminals (both physically and economically) have combined brutality, corruption, despotism, fatalism, and sectarianism, to create a witch’s brew of absurdity at an inhuman scale and qualities. Within such a severely deformed prism, facts don’t matter, and whether one believes his own lies or not is irrelevant, for suspension of disbelief is no longer a requirement, what matters is only fear and spiteful vengeance. Both are the hallmarks of this inhuman horde that had ruled my Syria for most of my life-time.

In the midst of suffering and lack of coordination among FSA groups in the north emerge groups of highly disciplined fighters. Jihadist in their practices, and yet, of unclear origin, these groups are now coalescing under Jabhat Al-Nusra (Support Front). I have argued in the past that this group is highly likely made up by the regime. But the Front and similar groups seem to have taken an increasingly more visible role as the most effective of the anti-regime armed groups. There are visible campaigns to bestow a legendary stature on the Front as it continues to be present in almost all recent successes of the FSA against the regime, and with that, control over much of the spoils in weapons and ammunitions captured from regime forces. Groups not directly affiliated with the Front, but wanting to get access to the same source of support the Front has, are starting to copy-cat the Front’s behavior, albeit against the citizens instead of against the regime --- such as the fools who declared the establishment of the "virtue brigades", with calls for the cleansing of Syria from Alawites, such asthe band of battalion leaders/war-lords wannabes who declared an Islamic Emirate in the north in a desperate effort to oppose the newly formed [opposition] coalition, which they feared will centralise funds and leave them out to dry if they don’t shape up.

Arguably, the presence and ascendancy of Jihadi groups has wielded a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they are making it easier to wipe out the security apparatus in the post-Assad era as they have managed to close many of its branches, scare its informants into hiding, and intimidate its collaborators, sometimes through outright execution style assassinations especially at the local level. At the same time, they have made defection of much-needed officer corps harder than it would have been without their practices and ignorant-pretend “I am a Jihadist" attitude. In fact... pushing their luck, some of the groups have now scared the US and some other nations into the edge of declaring them terrorist organisations, which --- even if right --- further complicates the on-going liberation of Syria, hinders much-needed relief efforts, and the jeopardizes the immediate post-Assad political process.

I have not commented on the formation of the new [National] Coalition. Many have argued that the coalition suffers the same ailment of its largest component (Syrian National Council), which has been controlled by an opportunistic and cynical group of the Assad opponents, the Muslim Brotherhood. The coalition, however, presents a reasonable platform for now. It seems to be successfully led by a charismatic and respected leader, who still needs to do much more to stem the monopoly the Muslim Brothers have over much of the aid resources available. This monopoly continues to place honest people, who are willing to work within the SNC, in bad situations. Today the Kurdish National Council decided to join the coalition, which is bound to reduce the influence of the MBs, and with more groups to join as the coalition becomes recognized as the legitimate interim representative of the Syrian people, there may be a hope for some improvement on the political front. Power plays are bound to affect it, like any ad hoc political coalition formed in response to external pressure and facing a brutal regime that has succeeded through brutality in making relief work become the measure of performance, rather than the political or even military successes of its opponents.

Likewise, militarily, also under external pressure, there seems to be a trend for coordination. A meeting was held recently in Antalya, Turkey between representatives of many of the armed revolutionary groups. Once more a new central command was announced --- albeit in complete isolation from the political coalition, at least for the time being.

Criticism of the FSA is coming from several sides. I will of course dismiss that coming from the band of loyalists and regime propagandists. But I will not discount criticism coming from the revolution's quarters. Some of the criticism is fair and some is not, but all in all, it is a very healthy sign that has thrown some of the personnel and leaders off-balance and has caused the FSA to try to ameliorate some of the problems, albeit through sharia courts which on many occasions add fuel to the fire instead of calming things down.

I would argue that once the regime air force and artillery are silenced, hopefully soon, civil society will emerge and will thrive in short order. It is the regime’s criminal destruction and murder that continues to hinder the emergence of effective local councils and the inherent capacity to produce healthy community governance.

Overall, the picture is grim. Syrians are now recalling what their great-grandparents have once told their parents about the great years of famine and misery: the time of Safar Barlek, when the Ottomans forcibly drafted the men of all ages for their war efforts, confiscated most agricultural products, and left the women, the children, and the elderly to fend for themselves during one of the harshest cold spells in the elders’ memory.

But the Syrian tragedy resembles no other, for never in history have rulers shown such contempt to their own people. The Syrian Misery extends throughout the region. Children have died in the cold of most inhumane refugee camps in Jordan....Even the lucky ones who have made it, through family members. into the safety for homes in Egypt or one of the Gulf States continue to suffer.  On Facebook, I read the story of a little girl,  brought to safety in the United Arab Emirates by her uncle, who was taken for an outing during the celebration of the UAE National Day.  When hearing fireworks, the poor girl put her hands over her ears, and started shouting hysterically. "Bashar is bombing us, Bahsar is bombing us."

It is for this child, it is for Hamza’s memory, for the Qashoush, for nearly 50,000 fifty thousand Syrians, young and old, who were murdered in such cold blood by the Assad gangs --- accompanied with the fanfare barked by ugly and cruel herds of mindless loyalists --- it is for the victims, for Syria, and above all it is for humanity that Syrians can’t lose hope. We can’t afford to lose it, even knowing that this regime might and can easily resort to mass murder weapons in its arsenal.... To the scared child I say, sweet child, they have been bombarding us for forty two years. Little by little, they destroyed our heritage of civility. But my sweet child, we will get that back. Granted, we may lose some of our innocence, but from you dear child, we will learn it again....

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