When so-called ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) fighters were reported to have blasted and bulldozed the ancient Assyrian site of Nimrud into the ground last year, the rest of the world lined up to condemn its actions. One ISIS militant, engaged in the destruction of Assyrian antiquities in the Mosul museum, told the camera ‘we were ordered by our prophet to take down idols and destroy them.’
Many a time, they will reminisce about a pre-revolutionary Syria, albeit a romanticised version, from which they – due to a lack of knowledge, ignorance or quite consciously – omit that the country already was a rogue state at that time, characterised by arbitrary arrests, torture, oppression and discrimination.
One year ago, Heinrich Böll Stiftung’s Beirut office did a research on the European Neighbourhood Policy and its perception in Lebanon. Views from the region on the performance of the European Union are important and it is particularly beneficial to see how experts and activists on the ground perceive the impact of it and take their recommendations on what could be improved and how. Therefore this year, we conducted interviews with a number of researchers and practitioners in Lebanon on specific issues – discussing with them specific findings of the EU’s own progress report and the latest press release of December 2015.
It has been common to frequently come across assassination incidents in local Syrian news, which turned them into expected news. The daily killing and atrocities committed in Syria contributed to normalizing this phenomenon not only internationally but locally as well. However, the scale of these incidents and their significant impact on the local dynamics of the conflict make the assassination war in Syria stand out as an important issue that can’t be ignored.
Since February 26, a truce has largely prevailed in Syria. However, hardly any improvements to the humanitarian situation in the country can be observed to date. People continue to suffer starvation. That is part of the war strategy.
Of the 52 besieged areas mostly in rural Damascus, 49 of them are encircled by the Syrian regime, two by rebel forces and one by ISIS. Under siege, conditions are very uncertain—since starvation is being used as a weapon of war–therefore the situation in some of these areas could quickly turn into a critical situation if aid is completely cut off for a short amount of time.
The killing of Zahran Aloush, leader of one of the strongest rebel group in Syria — Jaysh al-Islam — on 26 December, by a Russian airstrike shows again that Russia is willing to do whatever it takes to tip the balance of the conflict in favor of the Assad regime.
Moscow is now preoccupied with bringing the strategy initiated by Bashar al-Assad to perfection: After the attempt to convince western states that the only alternatives to Assad are chaos and the “Islamic State” fell through, the powers in the centre are to be weakened and to be virtually driven into the arms of the “IS”.
“It's clear that Ahrar al-Sham have recruited the PR agency we've dreamed of for so long, ever since the beginning of the uprising.” This is what a Syrian activist wrote on his Facebook page right after Labib al-Nahhas, foreign affairs director at Ahrar al-Sham, published an article in The Telegraph on 21 July. The article followed another by Nahhas in the Washington Post on 10 July.
In 2011, Syrian people demonstrated for dignity and freedom. Nowadays religious extremism spreads all over country. How do these opposites go together? A conference organized by Sharq and Zico house in Beirut tried to figure out how deeply rooted religious extremism is in the Syrian society. In what way was Syrian society susceptible to the religious extremism that it is facing today? Did people in Syria become more conservative over the years? Or do other priorities such as security distort the image on what actually might be the future of Syria?
Fouad M. Fouad, Syrian poet, medical doctor and AUB professor, Dr. Bente Scheller, Director of Heinrich Böll Foundation (Middle East) and Christoph Reuter, journalist at Der Spiegel and ISIS expert, discuss the issue with Reem Maghribi.
Though the anger towards the Southern Front is still not alarming yet- as people are criticizing their strategy not the SF itself- this could be the beginning of a significant shift in its community support, which could be used by its rivals.
Some of the most devastaing attacks of the airforce killed scores of civilians last week: incendiary weapons were used in Daraya, and bombing Douma's market place killed over 80 and inured more than 100 people. What about the "safe zone" Turkey and the US have been announcing?
Objects are, depending on the situation you find yourself in, more than mere objects. For those who leave their home in a hast, who leave for good and to an uncertain future, something that they brought from home might be a line to connect them to their old life and habits, to their family and an environment that they are not part of any longer – or that ceased to exist. Photographer Marta Bogdanska met Syrian refugees and asked them to show her an object or a memory that still connects them to their former lives and share their stories around this object. Someone has a favourite sweater. Another one scars reminding him what he went through to reach where he is. Somebody else a trivial plastic lighter. The exhibition was first shown in Beirut in May 2015 and now is on display here.
The stronger the competing Islamist terrorist militias of IS and the Nusra Front become, and the more brutal Syria's civil war gets, the easier it is for the Syrian regime to portray itself as the sole force capable of protecting the country's civilians.
A no-fly zone is no solution for the conflict in Syria, but it would help save the lives of hundreds of people every month - and less people would be forced to seek refuge somewhere else. Read here one of the contributions to re-open the debate.
Watch the video of the panel "Refugees and the responsibility of the West", featuring among others George Ghali from the Lebanese organization ALEF - act for human rights, journalist Gabriele del Grande, UNHCR's Hans ten Feld and German official Christian Klos, with German journalist Kristin Helberg as moderator.
In her first documentary, Tamara Qiblawi together with Knooz Room explores the sealed memories of a teacher, a literature professor and writer and a DJ. While she takes them down to revisit the shelters and re-live the atmosphere, the protagonists take the audience on a travel through history.
In an attempt to limit Syrian immigration to Lebanon, visa requirements have been introduced - an absurd and moreover dangerous measure. This is a first in the history of the two countries. Before this change in legislation, it was sufficient for Syrians to present their ID card when crossing the border.
The regime is well aware of the impact of fear, of death due to random bombardment, on the life style of Syrians in areas outside its control, where everyone is too preoccupied with minute-to-minute survival to think of the future.
Syrians and their supporters who continue to cling to hope and believe in the justice of this revolution—that they still insist on calling a revolution— have other narratives which tell us that behind the map of warring fascist ideologies lies the truth that our country has never in its history done anything better than entering into this revolution.
If you cannot overthrow the tyrant, co-operate with him – after four disastrous years in Syria this seems to be the conclusion the international community has arrived at. While back in 2011 Bashar al-Assad’s days appeared to be drawing to a close, a growing number of people are now suggesting to see him as part of the solution, as illustrated recently by UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura in Vienna.
“It must be now clear to western defence chiefs that there is only one credible fighting force on the ground capable of fighting ISIS and that is the Syrian military. The Syrians [i.e. the Syrian regime] have held all the aces up their sleeve…” Such proposals are commonplace in diplomatic circles, but what is new this time is that this view is no longer limited to Assad’s supporters and allies.
Less refugees are crossing Syria's borders. Not because the situation is improving - but because less people have the possibility to flee. And some are determined to stay, even if it means risking their life. On internally displaced persons in Syria.
Amid the general helplessness in the West, voices to approve a cooperation with Bashar al-Assad are becoming stronger. Whatever aspirations one may have for a cooperation with the regime, neither an end to the war nor safety will be gained through it.
There's little hope for an improvement of the Syrian situation. Nonetheless, there are civil society activists who are still working on non-violent resistance and democratic change. Sarah Schwahn conducted interviews with many of them to see what motivates them to continue.
Generally speaking, Lebanon takes a relaxed approach to problems, either denying they exist or playing them down, only to draw up policies once reality hits home and the problem has reached crisis point.
Can the universal appeal of Ancient Greek drama render the current Syrian tragedy intelligible? Antigone of Syria – an eight-week theatrical workshop for Syrian refugee women from the Beirut camps of Sabra, Shatila and Bourj el-Barajneh – shows that it can.
On December 10th, 11th and 12th, their interpretation of Sophocles’ tragedy was performed at the Al Madina Theatre in Beirut. It unfolded stories of loss and despair which go beyond what seems bearable for the human soul – but even more so, it was homage to the courage, non conformism and revolt of these women. It was homage to their unabated hope for a better future.
Antigone of Syria is the latest project of the internationally acclaimed Syrian playwright Mohammad Al Attar. Can the universal appeal of Ancient Greek drama render the current Syrian tragedy intelligible? The Aperta Productions-team – director Omar Abusaada, actors’ trainers Hala Omran and Dina Mousawi – took the challenge: by offering an eight-week theatrical workshop, he gives a voice to Syrian refugee women from the Beirut camps of Sabra, Shatila and Bourj el-Barajneh.
ISIS has plenty of funding, but it does not live on material sources only: one of their most powerful weapons is to commit the most monstrous atrocities - and make sure everybody sees them. Unable so far to stop them, Arab activists at least try and mock them, and the French foreign minister tries to ban them rhetorically where they want to be least: in the letter soup. Instead of their self-chosen name "Islamic State" he from now on want to refer to them only by the acronym Daesh which they hate and try to ban by all means.