The "independence flag" is celebrated in "liberated" Al-Bab, 3 August 2012
Anita McNaught reports for Al Jazeera English:
In the ransacked and burnt-out remains of various security headquarters in al-Bab lie many clues to the means used by Bashar al-Assad's government to stay in power, revealing why life under the regime had become increasingly intolerable for its citizens.
In the widely-hated building of military security, the formerly locked cupboards containing files on the town's "suspect” citizens and how to "manage" them are now all emptied of their contents. The caretaker there, a man who used to work in the Post Office and telephone exchange that is located on the ground floor --- probably to faciliate alleged routine phone tapings --- told us that some Free Syrian Army fighters had taken the files and burnt them.
But in the office of Political Security, the situation is different. There, the cupboards are still stuffed with manila files and brown envelopes containing years of records documenting government-condoned snooping.
Mostly handwritten, the files are the fruits of an East German style surveillance state. In Syria, it is believed that one third of the adult male population was in one way or another working for the government as "intelligence” agents. Informants were vetted for their loyalty to the regime, either because they were card-carrying members of the Ba'ath Party, or they proved themselves "helpful" by carrying out acts for the security services.
Many of the documents have the same format: So-and-so "is a good man because he told us" such-and-such. So-and-so "can be relied upon to provide us with information".
For people in the town of al-Bab, the greatest shock has been finding out that the situation was worse than their worst suspicions. Many people liked and believed to be "good men” by the town’s residents have been revealed as long-standing collaborators with the regime's security services.
It was a massively corrosive process: A situation in which for decades trust was sold in exchange for money and influence.
In an economy where there was no fair distribution of wealth or equitable access to services, any means of getting ahead became normalised. With the people governing at the top regarded as a "mafia elite”, the trickle-down was a kind of rotting amorality, where so much corruption was prevalent that there was no longer a social imperative to behave decently - even to members of one's own extended family.
Osman Alosman is a local businessman in al-Bab, a successful pharmacist with two shops. He is one of the town's respected citizens, and while he could have sought a position with more power, he refused, he said, because he did not know how the regime might seek to use his promotion. He was told that to take on his new "leadership” role, he had to join the Ba'ath Party. He went through the motions, but did not attend the meetings.
Despite this, he managed to keep his business going. "I come from a large tribe and have many friends in Aleppo province. I was charitable and generous - the regime could not shut me down, but I would never be extremely successful without being a member of the Ba'ath Party".
Osman had never been a supporter of the regime. His family was historically allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, dating back to his grandfather's time. In 1982, at age 17, Osman went to Libya himself for two years, to escape political persecution.
He himself is not involved in Muslim Brotherhood politics - he had long before turned into a general campaigner for freedom and representative democracy - but his family history, plus the fact that he has two wives - one Syrian and one Russian - was enough to put him at odds with Syrian security services.
Once the uprising began, he was one of the primary suspects in al-Bab.
He was arrested twice, the first time on July 24, 2011 by the Political Security Branch on suspicion of involvement in the uprising. After being held for one day, he was freed because his tribe gathered in al-Bab to demand his release.
The second time was by the military security branch on November 8, 2011. He was taken to Aleppo and held in solitary confinement, blindfolded, for eight days. They threatened him with violence, accusing him - not without grounds - of fomenting revolution in al-Bab. Again, pressure from his own community secured his release.
From then onwards, he never spent two nights under the same roof. He fled Syria at the end of April 2012, realizing that if he was arrested again, he might not be released. He only came back in July as the regime started to lose its grip in Aleppo province.