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Entries in Time Magazine (12)


Syria 1st-Hand: Life in Islamist-Controlled Raqqa (Abouzeid)

Mass demonstration in Raqqa last Friday

Raqqa City was once dubbed the “hotel of the revolution” because it became home to hundreds of thousands of people displaced from fighting elsewhere who sought refuge in a place considered firmly in the grip of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Earlier this month, however, the city in north central Syria, which was late to the anti-government revolt, became known for something else: It is the first and only provincial capital that Assad’s regime has completely lost — with the rebels taking control of it within the span of a week.

The regime will likely lose the entire province within days. There are only three remaining regime outposts in this vast eastern tribal area that extends all the way to the Turkish border: there’s Division 17 a few kilometers outside the city; the military airport at Tabqa about 40-to-50 kilometers away, and Brigade 93 in Ain Issa, some 70 kilometers away. All three positions are under heavy rebel attack and government counter-attack.

But here in Raqqa city, some 100 kilometers from the Turkish border crossing of Tal Abyad, the scars of war are faint. Warplanes still rumble in the air, mainly to aid the men besieged in Division 17, but, despite reports from earlier in the month, airstrikes and artillery shelling in the city are now rare.

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Syria 1st-Hand: The Insurgent Sniper in Aleppo (Abouzeid)

Insurgents in AleppoHe may look calm, but he’s deeply troubled. After some nine months of fighting with several Free Syrian Army units, first on the outskirts of Aleppo and then in the city itself after the rebel push into it in late July, he has grown disillusioned with the fight and angry with its conduct. “I did this when it was clean,” he says. “Now it’s dirty. Many aren’t fighting just to get rid of Bashar, they’re fighting to gain a reputation, to build up their name. I want it to go back to the way it was, when we were fighting for God and the people, not for some commander’s reputation.”

He refused an order in November to fight a proregime, ethnic Kurdish militia in a Kurdish neighborhood of Aleppo that the rebels had entered. “Why should I fight the Kurds?” he says. “It’s a distraction. This isn’t our fight.”

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Syria 1st-Hand: Visiting the "Deadly Stalemate" in Aleppo (Abouzeid)

Destruction in the Bustan al-Basha section of Aleppo

The street warfare isn’t winning the rebels any more friends. The urbane Aleppans have never really warmed to the opposition fighers, most of whom come from religiously conservative Sunni Muslim small-towns --– and there is growing concern that the rebels are turning more sectarian. The rebels know they’re not really welcome. “The Aleppans here, all of them, are loyal to the criminal Bashar, they inform on us, they tell the regime where we are, where we go, what we do, even now,” says Abu Sadek, a defector from Assad’s military now with Liwa Suqooral-Sha’ba, one of the three rebel units in Bustan al-Basha. “If God wasn’t with us, we would have been wiped out a long time ago.”

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Syria 1st-Hand: Who are the Al-Farouq Brigades? (Abouzeid)

Photo: Sebastiano Tomado/SIPA USAThe Farouq Brigades emerged from the central city of Homs and nearby Rastan just months into the now 18-month Syrian uprising. In the period since, operating under the FSA umbrella, they have formed units across the country, from Daraa in the south near the Jordanian border to the northern region bordering Turkey. According to some of their leaders, they comprise a force of 20,000 fighters. The brigades take the name Farouq from Omar bin al-Khatab, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, political architect of the caliphate and, historically, the second Caliph.

The brigades are both a source of envy and pride among the rebels. Dressed in their matching military fatigues emblazoned with the brigade’s black insignia, they look like a professional fighting force, unlike the many hodgepodge groups in their mismatched items of military and civilian clothing. The Farouq’s slick media operation ensures that their exploits are widely known. Their videos are quickly uploaded onto YouTube, along with the group’s statements. Most importantly, their support — both in terms of money and weapons — is strong and consistent.

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Syria 1st-Hand: The Making of an Insurgent --- The Story of Abboud Barri (Abouzeid)

Free Syrian Army fighters with destroyed armour of the Syrian military in Jabal al-Zawiya, August 2012

Some of the men laugh as they recount some of Abboud Barri’s wilder antics, like the time he set out on an extremely perilous but heroic journey to the besieged town of Rastan, halfway between Homs and Hama, to deliver much needed bags required for blood transfusions. Others recall how Abu Rabieh, a respected revolutionary figure in Idlib province, refused to give Barri a gun, fearing what the former agricultural worker might do with it. Abu Rabieh was shot dead late last year in an ambush. A few months later, Barri formed a military unit, which he now says includes some 58 men. “He was always a risk taker,” one of the men later says about Barri. “In the beginning of the revolution, before there was so much destruction, we didn’t want hot-blooded risk takers who didn’t carefully study their actions. Now it doesn’t matter.”

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Syria Snapshot: Armed Groups Complicate the Fight in the Northwest (Abouzeid)

Insurgents celebrate the seizure of the Bab al-Hawa border post on the Turkish-Syrian border, 19 July 2012

Although there are still loyalist checkpoints along some of the main highways (which are easily avoided using backroads), the rebel flag flies in many of the towns and villages in this flat, fertile agricultural region, creating pockets that function as informal safe zones free of government troops. Still, although vast swathes of northern Syria may have fallen out of government control, they are not necessarily firmly in the Free Syrian Army's.

Criminal elements also function within these pockets; groups that kidnap people for ransom (releasing them dead or alive after payment of a ransom or purchase of weapons), and that carjack civilian vehicles. Sometimes, those criminal elements operate under the FSA’s banner, prompting other FSA units to try and neutralize them via one of two ways --- firepower, or by leaning on local leaders with influence over certain families, tribes and areas. The FSA are trying to police their own ranks, while fighting the regime and competing for suppliers, supporters and resources with each other and with other armed groups like the Salafist Ahrar al-Sham brigades.

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Syria Feature: The Next Challenge --- Running a Liberated Town (Abouzeid)

Demonstration in Saraqeb, 29 June 2012

Saraqeb is still at the mercy of the tanks of President Bashar Assad, just as it has been for about a year. The military invaded during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan in 2011. It re-entered on March 24 for a couple of days. It also shelled Saraqeb on July 19, in response to an attack by local elements of the rebel Free Syria Army on a checkpoint on the outskirts of the town. Some 25 people were killed in several hours of shelling on that night. It is Ramadan once again and the tanks every now and then lob a shell in the direction of town to remind Saraqeb that Assad’s forces are still around.

But a different flag flies in Saraqeb: the three starred one belonging to the rebels. And the local government works. The Baladiye, or local council, in this Sunni town of some 40,000 in northwestern Idlib province is still functioning. Its 90 or so civil servants still show up for work and still draw their salaries.

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Iran Special: How the Myth of the Green Movement and "Regime Change" Was Created

Protesters in Tehran's Azadi Square, 15 June 2009

Three weeks ago, the Iranian site Khabar Online published an extended interview with Alireza Marandi --- the physician who returned from the US to become the Islamic Republic's first Minister of Health, a minister under Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 1980s, and now a prominent MP from Tehran. While his name may not be well-known in the "West", Marandi's record and his "straight shooter" reputation make him a bastion of the establishment --- so when he speaks, the words carry weight.

The discussion is an extended denunciation of Mousavi, both in the 1980s and during the 2009 Presidential election. In that sense, with the former Presidential candidate now entering his 15th month of strict house arrest, it is far from surprising.

But amidst the damning of the Green Movement's figurehead, one passage deserves a feature. For Marandi's explanation of why Mousavi turned in 2009 from candidate to the would-be mastermind of "regime change" reveals how the myth was spread that Iran's protesters were merely the puppets of the "West" and the "seditious elements" within the Islamic Republic.

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Egypt Follow-Up Video: The Man Who Will Fight a Lion Today

Two weeks ago, we reported on Al-Sayed al-Essawy, the strongman who wanted to help the new Egypt by fighting a lion in front of the Pyramids.

Despite reports that the Government had banned the fight and al-Essawy had been detained, information is still circulating that the fight will take place today.

Time offers a video profile of al-Essawy and the event, including concerns that he is going to his death with his mission:


US Politics Special: Will the Democrats Fight Back over Jobs?

The Democratic response to the twin problems of the stagnant economy and the successful Republican onslaught on "irresponsible" government spending has been to play defense. Little has emerged from Congress, and nothing from the Obama Administration, to suggest that the Democrats have vision of how to stimulate not only the economy, but also a liberal base feeling battered by the conservative resurgence.

But there were signs last week that Democrats are beginning to emerge from the bunker mentality re-engaging Republicans with the case that more should be done to invigorate the labor market through government investment.

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