Monthly Archives: July 2012

Associated Press on Gaza, exposed but unbowed

This post first appeared on openDemocracy

Once again, another controversial report by the Associated Press raises questions about western media coverage, particularly that of AP, whenever the issue under discussion has to do with domestic circumstances in the Gaza Strip under the control of the Hamas government. Though most previous reports addressing the general situation of a shrinking Christian minority in Gaza have been called into question for the way they were shown to be either prejudiced or unsubstantiated, this time the story entitled “Gaza Christians protest ‘forcible conversions’” has been factually discredited by outside sources and later confirmed by none other than the AP reporter who wrote the story.

His story is about a silent protest staged by the Christian minority in Gaza against the ‘forced conversion’, or so it is claimed, of two Christians from Gaza, a 25-year Ramez Al-Amash and a 31-year Hiba Abu Dawoud, who escaped after conversion taking her three daughters along with her. The report quotes the converts’ family members attending the protest several times throughout, communicating their feelings of extreme anger and frustration, which rather sensationally sets the background. These quotes are all taken at face value by the reporter without any effort to verify their credibility. The report allows for little if any room for well-evidenced factual statements about the general situation of Christians in Gaza.

For his part, Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada co-founder, thoroughly refutes any claims of ‘force conversions’ made by the converts’ families as adopted in the AP report. Abunimah provides evidence arrived at by an investigation conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights that repudiates any of the above claims. He further highlights the several inaccuracies and ellipses of the report, in addition to the emotive language it employs, which he describes as faulty and unprofessional. Abunimah explains the particular damage such allegations have already inflicted on the image of not only the Hamas government (which might be the main purpose of the report as Abunimah’s introduction explicitly states) but also the entire Muslim population of the Gaza Strip. The fact that the story is deeply flawed needs no more demonstration than the clarification of the AP reporter who wrote the story, Diaa Hadid, who afterwards tweeted that the two converts have not actually been coerced into conversion as incorrectly, to put it mildly, claimed by their families, but rather that they were converted of their own free will and “sought protection with Hamas authorities fearing community retribution.”

The Christian minority in Gaza has been the subject of multiple reports in recent years – and each time the timing of the report by western media outlets seems calculated. Two of the most recent examples of this reporting on the current domestic state of affairs in Gaza might help us to understand how this prejudiced coverage works.

The first was an AP feature story published in August 2011 which purported to highlight the widening gap between a rising middle class in the Gaza Strip and the majority of the population. I wrote a rebuttal of this ill-timed piece at the time which seemed primarily designed to deflect attention from what was unfolding on the ground, that month having witnessed one of Israel’s deadliest offensives against the Palestinians in Gaza. In addition to subtly questioning the fact that a humanitarian crisis had engulfed the Gaza Strip and its 1.7-million population, the story did not account for the alleged rise of this middle class except by simplistically relating it to the attitudes of the Hamas government and the “corruption” of some of its “loyalists.” There is no reference whatsoever to the root causes of the problem represented in Israel’s (indirect?) occupation of the Gaza Strip and its five-year hermetic blockade.

The second example is a feature story, this time in the Guardian, the subject of which was the Christian community in Gaza as they readied themselves to celebrate Christmas “long[ing] for the days before Hamas cancelled Christmas,” or so the title of the story proclaimed. On this occasion, I juxtaposed the piece to a contemporaneous feature in Al Akhbar English on Christians’ preparations for Christmas in Gaza. Phoebe Greenwood of the Guardian opens her story with the unsubstantiated claim that there have been no Christmas celebrations in Gaza since Hamas’ ascension to power in June 2006. Addressing the general situation of Christians in Gaza and the several problems they have to face extremely vaguely, the reader automatically blames the government as the source of this trouble, thanks to the hint about the government’s restrictive policies at the beginning of the story. Ruqayya Izzidien of Al Akhbar English however quotes various interviewees leaving little doubt that the blame should be placed squarely on the Israeli occupation and its oppressive policies against the Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike. This is in addition to the completely distorted image which the reporter draws of the Muslims-Christians relationship where Christians appear to be constant targets of the government’s policies as well as of Muslim fundamentalists.

Now as the most recent AP report on this issue has been proven false, and in response to Abunimah’s demand that the AP apologize for the damage it has caused to the image of the government and the people in Gaza, the AP Jerusalem bureau refuses to apologize. It stands by its false report insisting that “[the] story does not contain errors, grave or otherwise, and there will be no correction. We are attempting a follow up story on this complex issue.”

The general prejudice of mainstream western media in their coverage of the occupied territories and particularly that of the domestic situation in the Gaza Strip, is hard to shift. Nearly all coverage of the situation of Gaza’s Christians is distorted by rigid, Orientalist perceptions, not only of what an Islamist government looks like and how it behaves, but also of how intolerant, oppressive and highly conservative, a Muslim society like that of Gaza must be.

Ramy Abu Jilda, a Christian from Gaza, interviewed for the Al Akhbar English piece referred to above, had this to say about the western media’s coverage of Gaza. “All my friends are Muslims. I don’t care if my friends are Christian or not. My Muslim friends here in Gaza also wish me Merry Christmas and come to visit me at Christmas. So what the media says about Arabs and intolerance isn’t true.”

I saw Ramallah protest

Originally published on openDemocracy

News from Ramallah which has plunged me into cynicism repeatedly over the years has transformed my mood into one of unqualified optimism for the first time. Over the past few days, Ramallah has restored my faith in the untiring free spirit of the people of Palestine. It has given me hope. Ramallah, by its own initiative, may have finally secured its place in Palestinian history as something that is, for the first time, not notoriously PA-dependant but rather astoundingly and heroically PA-opposed.

“They’ve occupied your land; don’t let them occupy your minds,” one friend advised me after listening to me speak so despairingly about the current situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. I knew this was a precious piece of advice since one of the reasons I have always thought the status quo looked so unprepossessing is the level of manipulation and ‘mind-control’ deemed necessary not just by the Israeli occupiers but by the various political agencies across the political landscape in Palestine, particularly the Palestinian Authority (PA) which, until very recently, has had quite a sure hold over the minds of Palestinian people, particularly the youth, continuously and falsely feeding them a crudely self-contradictory narrative of an independent Palestinian state soon to be realised in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank while at the same time firmly holding onto the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, all this of course being conditional, we were told, on keeping the faith with our wise and experienced leadership.

Various incentives were deployed in order to keep the Palestinians in check, primarily the vision of economic prosperity, security (possibly the most incomprehensible word for a Palestinian) and development, all fulfilled through the building of the infrastructure of a future Palestinian state. What comes under the ‘infrastructure’ heading can, for the sake of simplicity, be understood as, on the one hand, security-related, though for the word security to have any meaning in this context it has to be attached to Israel, i.e. it has to be understood solely as Israel’s security, and translates as the sudden delivery of the collaborationist, western-backed PA’s Dayton-well-trained security apparatus (including police, intelligence and even riot-control forces), sufficiently equipped and excellently trained to deal with any stability-threatening situations as well as individuals or organisations who might be seen as posing a threat to Israel’s security — hence the large numbers of political prisoners inside PA prisons. On the other hand, there is the non-security-related infrastructure, i.e. infrastructure which is designed for the benefit of, not necessarily in the interest of, Palestinians in the occupied territories, and somehow this is bizarrely reduced and is in reality seen only in reference to the building of restaurants (including one KFC), cafes, hotels, streets (preposterously named after Russian presidents and to their embarrassment!), hospitals, sometimes schools and so on and so forth. All of this is meant to mirror the level of progress and, it is counterfactually claimed, independence, which Palestinians have come to achieve thanks to the commendable efforts of the Palestinian Authority.

Meanwhile, fear, intimidation, and detention are used as a part of a strategy to stifle any criticism and silence whoever dares openly question the supposed wisdom of the PA’s leadership, let alone take action against it.

Israel on the other hand has dreadfully stepped up its policy of colonial expansion as it continues unabatedly to occupy more Palestinian land and build more settlements (or more precisely colonies), forcing Palestinians out of their homes only to demolish them; the scenes of women and elderly people humiliated at checkpoints which have patently dotted the geographic scene in the West Bank has become an everyday reality, schoolchildren are constantly stopped, searched and kicked by helmeted Israeli soldiers during the day and traumatized by the same soldiers storming their way into their homes in the middle of the night and pointing their guns at them while in bed; arbitrary arrests have increased; the separation wall, and most significantly the graffiti and drawings all over it encapsulate several actual levels of misery, extreme vulnerability and despondent incapacity on the part of Palestinian people living under military occupation.

Gaza, meanwhile, has become, not only as is often mentioned, the largest open-air prison on earth, but more accurately described as the largest twenty-first-century concentration camp, where a population of over one million and a half, mostly poverty-stricken people, totally dependent on humanitarian aid and relief agencies for their daily subsistence, is sealed off from the rest of the world, its youth unemployed, its children uncared for running bare-foot down the streets, drinking extremely contaminated water from pipes lying across the camp’s narrow alleyways, and callously subjected to up-to-10 hour daily power cuts while thousands of power generators are regularly enlisted as a power alternative, resulting in several unfortunate deaths and an extremely unnerving clamour damaging to normal mental functioning, in addition to uncontainable pollution, prices skyrocketing, freedom of movement and crossing the Rafah border having become out of the question, while Israeli unmanned drones buzz ceaselessly above in the sky and rarely does a day go by without a series of targeted shelling or assassinations…

Over the past few months, there have been a few incidents which commentators from within the Palestinian spectrum thought might constitute the spark that would finally bestir the Palestinians into their long-awaited third Palestinian intifada. Dozens of analyses with different theses have regularly appeared in several newspapers and online publications all coming to the same pleasant conclusion of the impending collapse of the western-backed Palestinian Authority and the increasing prospects for a third Palestinian intifada which has now become closer than it has ever been. We read, cheered, circulated the post, awfully cursed the PA at the top of our lungs, and sat in anticipation. That one opportunity never came good, or in fact it has arisen quite a few times, every time more intensely and with more force than the time before, but nothing happened. Things continued to simmer beneath the surface, and the spark seemed too weak to rouse the Palestinians into any form of collective action that might shake off their infinite apathy.

As around 2000 Palestinian prisoners embarked on a mass hunger strike inside Israeli jails, a state of anticipation reigned amongst Palestinians, and it was said time and again that this would be the last straw that broke the camel’s back and that it is about time Palestinians joined the Arab awakening and took action— most likely in the form of, mass mobilization, large-scale demonstrations, and civil disobedience against not only the Israeli occupation but also the PA as the power enabling and facilitating this occupation through their despicable silence and shameless collaboration with the Israeli authorities.

Behind the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strikes, some commented, was a message very much indicative of their lack of faith in the power of the masses on the ground as prisoners took things into their own hands and won the battle all by themselves – this tone was even largely present in several of the letters written by many of them in which they appeared to be desperately pleading with their people to take action for them…

I became dangerously cynical and hopeless, and lost the pride once deeply-rooted in me as a Palestinian brought up with the heroic images, scenes, anecdotes, and music of the first and second Palestinian intifadas as the point when the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation had reached its heights. I lost that pride. For a moment, I felt ashamed of myself being a Palestinian, completely powerless and apathetic in the face of this oppression. “Where are the Palestinians,” gnashing my teeth, I asked myself time and again.

I was recently discussing the situation in the West Bank with a Palestinian from Ramallah who is currently conducting PhD research at the LSE . Although we both were down-spirited at the end of the discussion, having left one another with a bleak image of the status quo, he still thought change is somehow looming and the status quo is no longer sustainable. “Don’t despair, and keep up the hard work!” he cheered me up before we departed company.

Only a few days later on July 1, protests took place in Ramallah against a scheduled meeting between PA president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli vice prime minister Shaul Mofaz. Although there has been a growing level of discontent amongst the Palestinians, none would have expected a protest of this kind to take place in Ramallah. That by itself is a huge achievement for everyone who is full of rage at the current situation. One has to acknowledge though the folly of the PA president’s decision to meet with an Israeli official as notorious as Mofaz. This created a situation in which Palestinians from various political backgrounds and affiliations united — only at the very early stages and before it was officially postponed — in staging protests against the meeting.

The brutal crackdown by PA security and intelligence forces has proved a widening, deplorable disconnect between the PA president and the youth on the ground. Instead of listening to the youth’s demands, Abbas completely isolates himself in his presidential palace while the people chant against him and the PA’s collaboration with Israel. He needs to know he is loathed by an increasingly huge number of the Palestinian youth before it is too late for him. Abbas in the eyes in an ever-growing number of Palestinians has proved that he is not different from his Arab predecessors as he continues to follow their steps even in the way they tried to quash protests and silence dissent. As a matter of fact, both Ben Ali and Mubarak were his closest allies. The parallels between the Arab western-backed dictatorships and the PA are striking and unmistakable. However, the PA has become a fully-fledged western-backed dictatorship now, before the state it is meant to rule over has even come into existence.

As the first protest was quelled, another protest, this time against police brutality, was planned; but, completely ironically, it was met with even more police brutality. During a third protest, the youth marched to the PA compounds known as al-Muqata’a and sharply and unequivocally chanted against the PA’s collaborationist policy and against Saeb Erekat as the head of the Palestinian negotiating team and, most significantly, against the Oslo Accords. It does not matter for how long the protests persisted. The fact that the turnout was not particularly massive is not relevant also. What matters is that the people — a considerable number of them — have finally spoken up, nowhere but in Ramallah, and not only against the Israeli occupation, but most significantly against the Palestinian Authority and its collaborationist policy. The first barrier of fear has been shattered for good, and that is what truly matters. Standing up against the PA is no longer an improbable scenario. Things will never be the same for the PA establishment.

“Where are the Palestinians?” – Picture from Eye on Palestine by Ahmed Mesleh

My friend has a story

My story on openDemocracy as part of the Gaza Voices column:

This isn’t my story. But it could have been, and it can be the story of any young Palestinian living in this small besieged part of the world. Only that it bears much more painful profundity being the story of that particular man who chose to be nicknamed “Awsaj”— the Arabic equivalent for Lycium, which is some kind of a thorny shrub that bears red berries and is used sometimes for hedging.

Awsaj is my new friend whom I have met only twice, the first meeting lasting for no more than a quarter of an hour at a mutual friend’s, and the second born out of my initiative to venture out southward to the far eastern areas of Khan Yunis near ‘the Green Line’ (a phrase which refers to the demarcation lines marking the lines between Israel and other territories including the Gaza Strip occupied by Israel in 1967). Awsaj is an intelligent human being. He is an angry young man with such a variety of contradictions which, though they can be seen almost everywhere in Gaza, would make any description of him sound like the figment of an eccentric writer’s imagination. To be painstakingly interested in perfumes, to hold a degree in IT studies, and to voraciously read such a fussy amalgam of Jubran Khalil Jibran, Edward Said, Karl Marx, and Marquez, these are all signs of a human being with an especially sophisticated interest. To be, on top of this, a self-sustaining farmer absolutely adds up to an unparalleled elegance.

We arrived at Awsaj’s farmland where, in perfectly farmer-like style, he was diligently ploughing the land with a shovel, and as we hailed him from a distance, he looked up, waved back to us, and wiping the sweat off his brow with the back of one hand, placed the shovel aside with the other, and walked in our direction to welcome us. “He can’t be a farmer,” I said to myself, “he’s trying to look like one!”

Soon he was chopping small pieces of wood to add to the small fire he had just built in order to make us some of his special manually-ground black coffee. I had already formed a considerable admiration for Awsaj, both inspired by and jealous of his exhaustive knowledge, his avidity for reading, his ardent passionate talk and angry criticism of almost everything. We shared several targets of scathing criticism. We were particularly sarcastic about “our” buffoon politicians. These, we agreed, are complete morons whose very presence in the positions they occupy is only a matter of fortune, or the arbitrariness of fate, or, as some would say, demonstrative of the injustice of this world, a world in which it is hard to believe there is any logic at work. It is their job to lead the “country” (a word we use almost always cynically) down the road into, well, the abyss. They are an untouchable gang; mostly silly, possibly educated but unquestionably unthinking, blinded by an absolute loyalty to the party they belong to. “Morons, indeed!” he sighed. They are of two sorts: the openly treacherous, base and self-interested collaborators and, most annoying, the completely delusional. Although they are one step away from, probably unknowingly, following the exact same steps as their lousy predecessors, they never stop indulging in self-aggrandizement and claiming the moral high ground and relentlessly bore you with their unexciting oratory. “You know what,” Awsaj told me, “I have no problem with the first kind of politician. It’s similar to working like a prostitute: although everyone else knows they are one, the prostitute is still okay, possibly even proud, about being one. As simple as that, my friend!”

He was unorthodoxly and harshly critical of parents as fosterers of hypocrisy, mental impotence, personal insecurity… Though at some point, a fiery debate erupted between us over his unwarranted criticism of how people’s relationships are no more governed by affection, care and mutual respect for the other, but rather largely dominated by private interests where, in the normal state of affairs, it should be presumed that hate pre-exists any human communication. Nevertheless, our personalities were largely drawn to each other, and Awsaj made such a favourable impression on all of us.

To be equipped with a critical mindset and a desire to learn and read is enough, at least in our eyes, to make someone worthy of being held in high esteem by their interlocutors. But that’s not the case in a local community that is concerned, first and foremost, with outward appearances and thus can be easily manipulated and mind-controlled, a society that no longer has the slightest appreciation for complaining, outspoken and ungovernable personalities, a society that is highly polarized in politics, social convention and religion and every other field of life, and a society that has no understanding, acceptance or tolerance for the other, or the different. “I am right, and everyone else is wrong. Things should be done my way. This is when victory will come your way. This is when you can liberate Palestine!” Awsaj furiously and succinctly reproduced this doctrine of fanaticism while we both continuously shook our heads in sympathetic agreement.

To have to face these things, however — or, more precisely, to tell yourself that you do — and to display, on top of that, some interest in politics, to steer most of your conversations toward politics in Palestine, essentially saying nothing about the conflict more than stating its most obvious facts (like, for example, ‘not every Jew is a Zionist!’), to always talk to your international ‘friends’ about how Palestinians are craving to live in peace and to simplistically speak of “peace”, time and again, as the solution to ending this conflict as though “peace” per se was not the problem in the first place and as if there actually was unanimous agreement on the meaning of the darned word. Moreover, to have the kuffiyeh wrapped around your neck or flung over your shoulders every now and then, and to stress to your interlocutors the fact that you run a blog, never mind how infrequently you update it or the sort of stuff you post on it, and you are then the very guy who is likely to be identified here as an activist, which is an appealing personality, largely regarded as a promising peace (and potential human rights) champion by roughly everyone working in the field here, particularly by a bunch of foreign journalists with whom you engage in seldom profound, political discussions and who you might win over, but by no means does your knowledge about Palestine, Israel or politics match theirs.

Awsaj is of this type, for which so little space has been left in our society. There is still something much more characteristically appealing about him, i.e. (what he boastfully dubbed) his wide-ranging experience and “history of struggle”. And out of this history, there is one specific experience which Awsaj found himself narrating to his guests that, listening to, we agreed must uniquely underlie this man’s personality, at which I insisted that it would not go unrecorded.

Almost every Palestinian must have been in direct contact with Israel, and by ‘Israel’ I mean Israel as it is referred to by ordinary Palestinians, the occupation and its actual manifestations, its war machine, the military establishment, its rogue army and every other Israeli atrocity it inflicts upon the Palestinians; and every Palestinian, therefore, must have been a direct victim of Israeli crimes. There is no such thing as an indirect victim within the context of the Israeli occupation and its ubiquitous oppression of the Palestinian people, being essentially a conflict between a state (i.e. Israel), on the one hand, and individuals (i.e. Palestinians) on the other. Israel as a state and in the above sense is an enemy of every Palestinian as an individual, as far as they are its direct victims. It’s no big deal therefore when I am told that this old man had spent twenty years in Israeli prisons; that this little boy’s parents were killed during Israel’s last airstrike in Gaza, this old woman’s son was assassinated by Israel in the 1980s; these two kids were traumatized during a night raid by heavily-armed Israeli soldiers in Nabi Saleh, or this student from Gaza has lost their scholarship because they were not allowed to travel, and so on and so forth…

The weighty significance of Awsaj’s experience, I believe, resides in the fact that it encloses within its narrative several Israeli actualities. Whereas most of the endless Palestinian encounters with Israel lose an extremely large share of their actual significance once the real encounter is over and is narrated time and again as a past experience, Awsaj’s experience seems to have acquired vitality and a renewed reality each time he has narrated it since. During his powerful narrative, Israel would borrow such a physical existence that it was no more an abstract entity but had become embodied in the Israeli soldier, the Israeli jeep, and the female officer’s broken Arabic phrases, the Bedouin collaborator, the scars across my friend’s back… The reason? It definitely lies somewhere in relation to Awsaj’s human passion and dramatic eloquence. During the course of his narration, Israel becomes one single intimidating and repulsively antagonistic entity that one will have to face with nothing but piles of pent-up anger and extreme hatred, both securing the last vestiges of their almost lost humanity.

The sun having sunk, we head towards our friend’s home, having already chatted for what seemed to be ages. Straight backed, we walk, gossip and whistle, leaving behind neatly-queued, graceful thyme saplings, four scattered coffee-soiled plastic cups, a dying fire, and several untold stories.

Observing the Arab Uprisings

The famous Naji Al-Ali’s caricature: “Revolution until Victory”

My post on openDemocracy as part of the You tell us column:

Not that I am angry with myself for not being able to express myself as perfectly honestly as I should on so sensitive a subject as the ‘Arab Spring’, but I always thought, as a Palestinian, I would not think twice before I make it clear to anyone and everyone that I am a person who unwaveringly supports all the revolutions in the Arab world from Bahrain through to Syria and all across the region to Tunisia.

It made feel good just to align myself with the people’s demands for freedom and social justice; it was such an opportunity to speak out against the despicable corruption with which our ruthless elitist establishments are rife! It answered a deep desire to join my voice to the acts of these brave people. I feel at home in the scene of massive protests mingled with beautiful chants streaming out of the mouths of the masses. In fact – and many from within the revolutions have already made the link – the Arab revolutions were in large part inspired by the Palestinians’ struggle (particularly the two intifadas) against the Israeli occupation which, until the eruption of the revolution in Tunisia, was the sole large-scale, organised or spontaneous, sustained form of resistance in the whole region in which, not only Palestinians, but Arabs in general, took pride.

The rest of region, it was said, had fallen into a deep, undisturbed slumber, and only a man burning himself to death could vehemently shake it out of an ages-old subservience.

Things are not that simple, though; and I was mistaken. In my first talk about the Syrian revolution with a friend who comes from South Lebanon and who is, as one might have expected, a huge supporter of Assad’s ‘resistance regime’, I enraged him it seems by my blunt yet futile attempts to point out the hypocrisy in what he said about the uprising in Syria. As he merely parroted Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s statements – I don’t have to repeat it all here. He put an end to this by pretending to ignore what I was saying, shaking his head and mimicking the pro-Assad chants “Allah, Souriyya, Bashar w bas!”

This was a man who was incredibly warm and friendly when he first discovered that I am a Palestinian from Gaza. And was even more friendly than before, after that altercation. He soon realized that he had behaved imprudently (to say the least) and apologized to me, saying he did not really mean what he said, especially when it came to uttering those chants. For my part, I had just wanted to highlight the need to be honest and objective when we talk about these revolutions. My statements were not categorically anti-regime, and I desisted from making any awful comments about Nasrallah’s hypocrisy. In fact, I was careful to list Hezbollah’s merits before I dared to mildly criticize Nasrallah’s stance with regards to Syria. I even talked somewhat favourably of the Syrian regime saying things I myself have never been convinced of in order to make my final point that now Bashar al-Assad and his regime are nothing short of a bunch of criminals and they have all got to go.

Most importantly, I (naively probably) insisted that sectarianism should be completely left out of this calculation. I assured him that I supported the uprising in Bahrain as genuinely as I supported the one in Syria, and I explained to him that supporting al-Assad’s regime and calling the Syrian uprising an American plot is an irresponsible position, since similar accusations are already made to discredit the uprising in Bahrain and justify the crackdown on the Bahraini protesters.

But recently something happened to me which made this guy’s extremely unyielding stance more understandable. It was during a protest outside the Egyptian embassy that  I had a most revealing and disconcerting conversation about the Arab uprisings. It started when I asked a 47-year old man if I could have a picture with the new flag of the Syrian revolution fixed on the back of his car. When he found out I was a Palestinian from Gaza, he was keen on assuring me that this whole uprising is definitely going to be in the best interests of all Palestinians, and that “Palestinians might have fallen prey to the regime’s propaganda in the past, but that in fact they had no interest in supporting the Assad regime.”

We talked about the Arab uprisings, and it did not take me long to note the profoundly sectarian tone in which he was unbending in framing the revolution in Syria. This was hugely upsetting, and I had to, as politely as I could, listen to what he, as a native Syrian, had to say about the uprising in Syria, pretending to be utterly unaware of the sectarian dimension that has been on the rise for quite a while, and considerably longer than the moment when it became visible worldwide in the Houla massacre. In short, I came to the conclusion that this man is short-sighted and poses a threat to the real revolutionaries in Syria. He presented a very distorted image of what the revolution is about, its real intentions, its dynamics and proceedings. Despite being Syrian, he by no means represents the people on the ground. Although, when I asked whether the people in Syria thought the same way he did – he said yes they did. This of course could be taken for a trick question, since the Syrian opposition is deeply wracked with divisions and there are many disagreements within the Syrian political landscape even amidst the Syrian protesters, with regards to the demands which reflect different understandings of the conflict. Nevertheless, he maintained that everyone agreed with him.

He went on to speak of the “hypocrisy of the Bahraini protesters” who would protest outside the Bahraini embassy in London for hours on end, and when their protests finished and the Syrian protests started outside the Syrian embassy which is right next door to the Bahraini one, they would refuse to join the Syrian protests. My question to him was whether he would join the Bahrainis in their protests? And if not how does that make him (or us) different from the hypocritical Bahraini protesters? He did not have a reasonable answer. Instead he carried on ranting about the protests in Bahrain, and completely discredited the uprising there, saying it was not even worthy of  the name.

What I concluded was that he was actually one of these double-faced types of people to be found amongst leaders like Hassan Nasrallah and the Saudi government, who, refusing to extricate themselves from their sectarian backgrounds and dominated by their political strategic alliances, discredit whatever revolution they claim to speak for.

I decided from this that though sectarianism exists, and is on the rise, and while regional alliances continue unabatedly to shape the uprisings, I will continue to commit myself to a simplistic understanding of all the uprisings, seeing them in their own right as the people’s revolutions, wholly owned by them, for freedom and social justice, and against the age-old tyrannical rule of their dictators, and now murderers.