When Farah said goodnight to her boyfriend one evening in January 2007, she had every reason to expect to see him the next day. Though she’d only been dating Omar for a month, the two students at Syria’s Damascus University already shared a special connection. Their first date had been over coffee. Soon, they were wearing matching clothes. “See you tomorrow,” they told each other that evening. But that “tomorrow” would not come for five turbulent years.
When Farah called him the next day, Omar did not answer. She looked for him in the dormitory and asked his friends, but no one would tell her where he was. She began to suspect that Omar, who was several years older and claimed to occasionally “travel,” had been playing games with their relationship. “I was angry, hated him a lot, and did not forgive him,” she recalled.
What she only learned later was that, in the early hours of the morning, eight Kalashnikov-wielding mukhabarat state police had arrested Omar in an Internet café where he had been chatting on MSN with a Syrian opposition member outside the country and e-mailing reports on detained students to international human rights organizations and Western embassies. At the time, Farah didn’t know he was involved in opposition activities, which had gotten him arrested before. Omar had so internalized his awareness of the regime’s reach that he’d kept this part of his life even from her. […]
Five years later, peaceful protests calling for Assad’s ouster turned to an armed uprising, with at least nine thousand killed so far, according to United Nations estimates, and opposition leaders calling for international intervention. For better or worse, Syria’s uprising may never have become what it is without the dedication of activists like Omar, and later Farah, who sacrificed for years, putting everything on the line to resist one of the world’s cruelest regimes. But their story also shows the perseverance of common human bonds even in the most trying circumstances, and the ability of Farah and Omar to rediscover their love, despite the turmoil that has permeated every layer of Syrian society, in one small but symbolic victory over the regime that would keep them apart.
Read more. [Image: AFP/Getty]
This is a beautiful, excellent story: ”And yet, for all the force of their love, it had taken an uprising to bring them together.”
An endless cycle of peaceful protest and violent crackdown has endured for now 15 months in Bahrain, the tiny Arab island nation where a U.S.-backed Sunni minority rules over a Shia-majority population. Less visible than the geopolitics (Saudi Arabia has sent troops in support of the monarchy, which it sees as a bulwark against Shia Iran), the complicated dilemma for the Obama administration, or the lives and struggles of the democracy activists who refuse to give up, are the children of Bahrain.
Human Rights First, a U.S.-based NGO that has worked heavily in Bahrain since the Arab Spring began over a year ago, recently launched a project called Through Children’s Eyes to check in with Bahrain’s children and attempt to understand how the country’s conflict is affecting them. Two local activists who work with Human Rights First — and who are now both in prison on political charges — “asked some children who had been directly affected by the crackdown to draw whatever was in their minds.”
[Image: Maryam, age 7, told activists that the drawing portrayed her and her sister running to help their uncle, who was shot in the head by security forces. Graphic images of his body were broadcast widely in Bahrain after the incident. The Pearl Monument again appears, frowning.]
TUNIS — Last November, dozens of young Arabs lined up for the chance to meet him. When he spoke of his struggles and triumphs, they hung on his every word. And when only one of the 50 attendees was chosen for training, some of the young Arabs grew frustrated and complained of being excluded.
A jihadist back from battling Americans in Afghanistan? A recruiter for al Qaeda’s North African affiliate? A Hamas member looking for volunteers to attack Israel?
No, the visitor was a Tunisian-American eBay executive who has worked for Apple and Oracle, and founded two Silicon Valley startups. His audience? Young Tunisian entrepreneurs and programmers who dream of turning this city into the Arab world’s Silicon Valley.
“There is a lot of potential,” Sami Ben Romdhane, the eBay executive, told me in a telephone interview this week. “I don’t see any difference between students who are graduating there and students who are graduating here and in Europe.”
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Nabeel Rajab, the man who comes as close as any to leading Bahrain’s revolution, was in a Manama coffee shop last March, holding his drink and casting an amused eye out the window at what appeared to be government-issued security cars lined up at the curb.
“I’m not hiding,” he said.
At the time, Rajab, the gregarious, grey-haired president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was one of a trio of prominent activists — including University of Bahrain professor Dr. Abdul-Jalil al-Singace and the BCHR’s founder, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja — who had become the most revered figures of the then weeks-old revolution.
Now, almost a year later, his two contemporaries have each received lifelong prison sentences, leaving Rajab — a 47-year-old building contractor by trade — the de-facto leader of Bahrain’s resurgent uprising.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Srdja Popovic is something of an expert on unjust societies, and in particular their rectification and reconstruction by nonviolent means. Just over a decade ago, Popovic was a student activist in Belgrade working to oust Slobodan Milošević. After that odds-defying campaign ended with the Yugoslav president’s one-way trip to The Hague, Popovic spent a few years in electoral politics before founding the Centre for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies, or CANVAS, and began training activists interested in copying the Serbian model of bottom-up regime change. CANVAS has worked with people from 46 countries, and graduates of Popovic’s program include organizers of the successful movements in Georgia, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Maldives. The young Iranians rioting against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009 downloaded 17,000 copies of Popovic’s guide to nonviolent action. The Syrians currently standing up to Bashar al-Assad are the latest in the long line of advice-seekers. With little fanfare, Popovic, who is 39, has become an architect of global political change. And no one is more surprised about this than Popovic himself. Read more.
[Image: Fabrizio Giraldi/Luzphoto]
In this short documentary produced in March, Getty Images photographer John Moore describes his work in Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya earlier this spring. Customs seized all his equipment as he was entering Bahrain, so he bought an inexpensive Canon Rebel camera, cheap lens, and laptop so that he could keep working.
Rebel forces in Libya have made significant advances in recent weeks, according to NATO officials. They’ve taken larger control of the northwest, including parts of Brega and Misrata, and are currently engaging forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi in the western city of Zawiya, home to Libya’s only functioning oil refinery. With these advances, rebel forces are now closing in on Qaddafi’s stronghold of Tripoli, seizing approaches to the city, while NATO forces dominate the skies and Mediterranean coast. (NATO aircraft have conducted more than 7,200 strike sorties since June.) Qaddafi remains defiant in the face of attacks and global diplomatic pressure, and his forces continue to exact a heavy toll on rebel forces and civilians.
Above A Libyan embassy employee steps on a portrait of Muammar Qaddafi outside the Libyan Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, on July 25, 2011, after the Libyan diplomat in charge of consular affairs staged a coup at his country’s embassy declaring it was now siding with the anti-Qaddafi forces. The embassy’s chief of consular affairs Ibrahim Al-Furis, with other diplomats, took over the embassy building in Sofia and announced their allegiance with the rebel Libyan forces. (AP Photo)
Just in case you forgot that, y’know, there’s a war on. See more photos at In Focus.
The rebels don’t like it when you call them rebels. That’s Qaddafi’s term, they say, and prefer Reagan’s: freedom fighters. This matters only for public relations purposes, because among themselves, members of anti-Qaddafi militias don’t speak English, but rather Arabic and Amazir — the Berber language — and call themselves thwar, which roughly means revolutionaries. Fair enough, it’s their war.
In April, the thwar based in Libya’s desert interior attacked a border crossing 300 kilometers southwest of Tripoli; found it inexplicably lightly-defended; and seized it, opening an escape route to neighboring Tunisia. Over the next month, more than 60,000people drained from Libya into Tunisia, according to Kamel Derich of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, who runs that agency’s efforts near the crossing. Three refugee camps, one run by Derich’s UNHCR team, one by the government of the United Arab Emirates, and one by the kingdom of Qatar, housed fewer than 10,000 Libyans, he estimated. The majority found private shelter with families in Tataoine, a rural town on the edge of the Tunisian Sahara.
“It is a Muslim obligation,” said Ehmansouva Naouifel, a clerk in Tataoine’s city Commerce Department, while shopping in a grocery store downtown. “We wish to help, but also, you must help.” Since March, Tataoine families have been hosting the 60,000 of more than 400,000 Libyans who came to Tunisia since February, often in spare rooms vacated by family working abroad in Europe.
Read more at The Atlantic
[Images: Libyan refugees cross the border into Tunisia / Reuters]
When Maryam al-Khawaja and I first met in March, in a dingy hospital hallway in Manama, Bahrain’s regime had just tear gassed hundreds of its staunchest detractors, shooting them with rubber bullets and live ammunition while they slept and prayed. The dead and wounded were brought to Salmaniya medical center, where their loved ones were met by an energetic girl in jeans and a head scarf, hopping from floor to floor directing foot traffic, doling out information to worried families, and escorting aid workers.
Around 3 a.m., with the screams of a grieving mother echoing down the corridor, Maryam delivered a denunciation indictment of the U.S.’s silence on what was going on around her, calling Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s criticism of the regime a mere wrist slap. By May, she had found a bigger audience, having left Bahrain for the U.S. and Europe, her anecdotes and big brown eyes humanizing Bahrain’s faltering opposition for a West that did not fully understand it.
From Brown University to the Oslo Freedom Forum to Voice of America, she preached the gospel that had been violently muted on Manama’s streets — the regime, she repeated, was doing grievous things, and the U.S. and its allies needed to step up their rhetoric.
Last week, her work took on a new urgency, when father Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the country’s best-known opposition activist, was marched into a closed-door military tribunal and sentenced to life in prison for anti-government propaganda.
That a 24-year-old girl has become the face of one of the most repressed Arab Spring revolutions comes as a surprise only to those who don’t know her lineage. Maryam’s was born in Denmark to then-exiled Abdulhadi and his wife, Khadija, who had been banned from Bahrain in the mid-1980s. They lived in Denmark until returning to Manama in 2001, as soon as they were allowed re-entry. Maryam was 14
Read more at The Atlantic
[Image: Maryam in Manama before leaving the country / Twitter]