Syria: The Revolution Is Alive, But Buried Under Rubble

Gabriel Levy reports on a recent event in London organised to discuss the situation in Syria. 

The Syrian revolution is “still there, but it is buried under all this rubble”, the writer Yassin al-Haj Saleh told a London audience on Tuesday.

The situation facing Syrian civil society was formed in layers, Saleh said.

The first layer was the first two years of the revolution (2011-13), when there was an explosion of collective community action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Protests in Syria on the “day of rage” on 14 October

The second layer was the struggle of regional powers including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey who feared the spread of popular rebellion.

The third layer was the intervention in Syria of American and Russian forces in 2014.

The world had stood by when the Assad regime launched a chemical attack on civilians at Ghouta in 2013: after that, Syrians had felt “isolated and betrayed”, Saleh said.

Those who had participated in the revolution were “exhausted”, he continued. A quarter of the population had been displaced, many of whom were now living outside the country.

The regime was being restored, with the support of the international powers, but none of the economic and social problems that caused the 2011 uprising had been solved. Even Syrians who were not opposed to the regime wanted their lives to change for the better, and no such change is likely.

Outside Syria, Saleh said, groups of activists are working in the field of culture, and on human rights issues.

“We are still in struggle. We are not pessimists”, he said.

Saleh was speaking over skype to a meeting on Tuesday organised by the Syrian Society of students at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He is a long-standing radical political activist, a political prisoner under the Assad regime (1980-1996) and the author of The Impossible Revolution, published this year in English.

Saleh argued that the Syrian revolution faced three “monsters”: the Assad regime (“fascists in neckties”), the Salafist militia (“fascists with beards”) and the “world order” headed by the USA and Russia.

Saleh responded passionately to a question about whether any of the sides could be regarded as a “lesser evil”.

“It’s disgusting and unethical to talk about a ‘lesser evil’. It’s despicable that the great powers now base their Syrian policy on Bashar al-Assad, who has been responsible for 90% of the destruction and responsible for gassing his own people.”

These evil actors on all sides had to be confronted. The Syrian people had resisted both the regime and the Islamists, “and we were betrayed”, he said.

The meeting on Tuesday, addressed by Saleh and researcher Husam Al-Katlaby, was held to highlight the case of four Syrian community activists, victims of forced disappearance: Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hammadeh, Samira Al-Khalil and Nazem Hammadi.

The four were kidnapped in December 2013 from their workplace, the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC), in the city of Douma. There has been no news of their whereabouts since.

The VDC monitors human rights violations committed by all actors in Syria. The four were all active participants in the revolution, and, before that, in struggles against the Assad regime.

Razan Zaitouneh, a human rights lawyer, defended political prisoners in Syria since 2001. She helped establish the VDC and co-founded the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs), among other organisations.

Samira Al-Khalil is a long-time political activist, and had been detained by the Syrian authorities as a result. She worked to help women in Douma support themselves by starting small income-generating projects.

A mural in Syria supporting the Douma 4

Wa’el Hamada was an active member of the VDC and a co-founder of the LCC network.

Nazem Hammadi is a Syrian human rights lawyer and poet, who played a crucial role in providing humanitarian assistance to besieged civilians.

In his opening talk to Tuesday’s meeting, Yassin al-Haj Saleh – who is the husband of Samira Al-Khalil and a good friend of the other Douma 4 activists – spoke from a personal standpoint about the effect of forced disappearances on the victims’ families.

“Death dies – forced disappearance kills”, he said. While the effect of the loss of a loved one who has died gradually reduces over time, the suffering of the families of people who have been forcibly disappeared grows over time, he said.

Researcher Husam Al-Katlaby, the chief executive of the VDC, also addressed Tuesday’s meeting. He said that, in total, the number of victims of forced disappearance in Syria is estimated at between 75,000 and 85,000.

On Saturday at 6.0pm, London-based Syrian activists will hold a vigil for the Douma 4, and all advocates for freedom, at Trafalgar Square. GL, 7 December 2017.

■ Commemoration on Saturday in Trafalgar Square, London.

■ Yassin al-Haj Saleh’s blog

■ Violations Documentation Centre

Some other recent links on Syria

A letter to Rami Suleiman, a Syrian political prisoner, from Dellair Youssef

Russian soldiers in Homs, reported by Syria Untold

Letter of women of Idlib to the world

On People & Nature

Here are the voices of Syria’s revolution. Let’s listen July 2017.

“Tyrants know now that they can maintain their power through mass slaughter” – interview with Leila al-Shami December 2016.

About the picture. The Day of Rage protest was held on 14 October, in areas of northern Syria outside the government’s control and across the world, to protest at the regime’s violence. A report here.

Gabriel Levy blogs @ People And Nature


  1. I started eating this and then gave up....there never was a 'revolution' in was all part of the greater plan to destabilise the middleceast in Israel's favour and restrict Iranian influence.

  2. There was a peaceful uprising for democracy and freedom in Syria as there were in countries all over the Middle East and North Africa region in the Arab Spring of 2011. The uprising was savagely repressed by the Assad regime and then morphed into a sectarian civil war and proxy regional war with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey as major actors. To say, as Niall does, that "it was all part of the greater plan to destabilise the Middle East in Israel's favour and restrict influence" is the politics of paranoia and conspiricism with no supporting evidence whatsoever. I find this article to be well constructed with good evidential support; a welcome antidote to the absolute drivel spouted on Syria by some commentators on this weblog.

  3. agree with niall, usual guff about conspiricism and paranoia from barry, altho sayin that, the zionazis are listening to us. and before u come at me with the usual anti semitic claptrap, this former israeli minister dusnt think im anti semitic so i dont give a jewish foreskin for anything u mite accuse me of.

  4. Niall,

    nothing is ever so simple. Too often in the search for an easy explanation and a demon we look at outside influences and do not pay enough attention to internal dynamics factors. I think Sean Bres has done a good job elsewhere in brining light to bear on external inputs but given the brutal regime of Assad it is too much to think that there would not be opposition to him. And at that juncture.

    I know Gabriel Levy quite well and have long found him an incisive reader of events.

    My one line appraisal of Syria is that the evil has become the lesser of evils, but that never made it good to begin with. Politics is the art of the possible not the likeable.

  5. has nobody heard of yinon plan. its been acted out before ur eyes this long time.

  6. Yawn. Gilheaney believes the WMD's that saddam didn't have were then supplied to Assad to mount a counter productive chemical attack on his own people. Nuff said. Btw, a lot of the above article is factually wrong eg 90percent of the distruction is attributed to Assad. Think you'll find a great number of his army lost their lives I.e in their tens of thousands. Hardly a one sided fight? P.s standby for the 'dictators' in Iran to get the Libyan and Syrian treatment.

  7. Actually, I do not believe that Saddam Hussein had a WMD capacity in March 2003. Not that i expect Wolfe Tone and Grouch to to have sufficient capacity to distinguish evidential fact from prejudice and bigotry to acknowledge that.

  8. im dreaming of a white phosphorous christmas

  9. AM,
    The so called 'Arab springs' were all conjured up by external influences who no longer felt that those in power were swaying to their rhythm...there is always a degree of angst within society to the current regimes / governments in control but it takes a lot to turn it in to 'revolution' and look how much regime change the Springs created....
    Contrary to popular belief, Assad and his regime, yes bloody monsters in their own rights, but they still carried the support of the majority of Syrians and were up until the initial unrest and that developed in to the civil war, were rendering (torturing) people for the Americans and the British....then the relationship changed due to the growth of Iranian influence in Iraq and else where...the Syrian people who wanted democracy were used, they were a means to an end and look at them now, abandoned, even the Yanks and the Brits have sought different channels to establish relationships with Assad again....there was never a genuine revolution...just political machinations by external forces. And look at the protests in Iran now. I wonder who is behind that?...let's just see how that pans out in to a 'revolution'.
    I read Levy also but don't know him and most times I agree with what he writes but not always....even people like Levy can be blinded, well may be not blinded but certainly visually impaired.

  10. Niall,

    the problem there is that when so many people fight an oppressive regime and tell you they are doing so for particular reasons, it is prudent not to dismiss them as dupes of external powers. Carrying the support of the majority is not what determines the legitimacy of a rebellion against you - the Hutus carried the support of a majority of Rwandans but Hutu Power was a fascistic movement.

    There is no doubt that the Syrian people were used ... and abused by external forces but that does not mean they never wanted more rights and freedoms in the first place. If we ever have to be in the strategic proximity of these people let us at least hold our nose , sup with a long spoon and not rinse out the bad taste it leaves in our mouths just in case that in doing so the memory goes with the rinse

  11. Gilheaney, 'you don't believe saddam had WMD capacity'? Mmm? Your Facebook page stated differently at one time? Please pay attention to your lies. When you are on here wailing about the rights of countries that happen to oppose Eurocentric interests then I might take you seriously rather than view you as an eejit that still thinks the BBC is an impartial 'news' network. It's not your fault; you know nothing else.

  12. Wolfe Tone.

    We can always change our minds, opinions and perspectives with new evidence. In my case it was the Chilcot Report (Do not forget Halabja and the Kurdish Anfal though; there were good reasons for suspicions about Saddam Hussein's WND capability). It is a pity you lack the same capacity. And it is the rights of oppressed peoples and individuals that I care about not dictatorial regimes pro or anti-Western.

  13. WND means weapons of non-destruction, is that right?

  14. Gilheaney, in your case the 'chilcot report'? Seriously, another British govt propaganda report and yet you are citing it as gospel or even impartial? Truthfully you need to pay more attention as to how these govt psyops work you really do. Anyways it's becoming childish debating with you but again to try and defend your belief that saddam had wmd's away back in 2003 would be cringe in itself but to even give it credence as far back as a few months ago is idiotic. Like wtf, did you think Hans Blix was telling lies when he said at the time that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction? Or perhaps he was part of a worldwide conspiracy to dupe the west too, whilst saddam sat back and stroked his cat? You've been watching too many James Bond films which by the way are fictional you do know?

  15. Leaving aside the WMD arguments, both Saddam Hussein and Bashar Al-Assad deserved to end up at The Hague for genocide and other crimes against humanity (the Gouta sarin gas attack and bombing of hospitals and aid convoys being just three that can be attributed to Assad). i cannot understand your beef, Wolfe Tone, with Chilcot, as he clearly condemns Tony Blair for waging a war of choice before Hans Blix and the UN weapons inspectors had finished their work thereby vindicating anti-war arguments. But it is reasonable to ask the question: why did Saddam not publicly declare at any time between 1991 and 2003 that he had destroyed his WMD stocks? May have saved a lot of lives lost to sanctions in that time period.