Carol Malouf talks to Syrian activist Hadi al-Abdallah about the silenced voices of the opposition

Forgotten Syrian Voices – Revolution betrayed by Western “Democrats”

1-12-2013 – Hadi al-Abdallah is a young Syrian activist who has been fortunate enough to escape death, and more than once. With more than 200,000 Twitter followers and over 300,000 on Facebook, he has become the voice of resistance in Homs and its suburbs over the last two years, including during the infamous Battle of Qusayr which heralded the official involvement of Hezbollah in Syria. In sum, Hadi al-Abdallah is the Arab media sensation of the Syrian revolution.

I invited Abdallah to come to Beirut and participate in a panel on social media and the Arab world. I thought to myself, who wouldn’t want to leave the devastation of war-torn Homs for the glamor of Beirut, at least for a couple of days. Instead, I found myself staring at my screen in awe when he replied, “Thank you Carol. I am honored, but I cannot leave the people of Homs. I promised to stay here till the end.”

For the first time, in a long while, I was listening to the true forgotten voice of the Syrian people. 

I have covered the Syrian revolution since the beginning. I met pretentious self-proclaimed opposition leaders – the ones who appear on television screens from the comforts of air-conditioned studios around the world – to bicker and argue over their best interests. A year ago in Doha, I watched an Islamist-elected member of the Syrian National Council (SNC) give up his seat to its leader George Sabra, after the latter was betrayed by his own block and lost his seat on the SNC Executive Committee. Once seen as the most likely core of an interim Syrian government, the SNC lost favor both in the West and with rebels fighting inside the country.

A few days later, I witnessed the unnatural birth of the Syrian National Coalition, a US-backed initiative to form a united Syrian opposition supposedly more representative than the SNC. Christians, Alawites, Sunnis, salafis, seculars, and former communists all got together to form the coalition.

Though representative of Syria’s diverse social fabric, the opposition-in-exile is perceived by most Syrians as a group of incompetent men and women who “wine and dine” in five-star hotels around the world, so far having achieved absolutely no political results that could solve the Syrian crisis.

“The coalition failed to speak for the people inside Syria,” Abdallah told me.

Today, the brutal Syrian regime wants the world to believe there are only two forces on the ground; a secular regime fighting against jihadi extremists.

It’s not true.

Speaking to Hadi al-Abdallah not only touched me, but also put things into perspective. He said that the real Syrian opposition has been silenced and vilified. He is right. Today we talk about beheadings and heart-eating fighters. We only talk about mass killings and chemical weapons.

Intelligence chiefs from the West, the Arab world, and Turkey meet to find a solution to the security situation in Syria. But how do they plan to stop the regime’s aggression against its own people, and how do they plan to stop ISIS from taking over?

Moreover, the West and its allies also fail to understand that the Syrian crisis today is a humanitarian issue and not a mere security concern. The Syrian revolution gave ordinary people like Abdallah the chance to turn the idea of liberty into a reality. But two and a half years into the conflict, the dream of liberty is becoming increasingly elusive for most Syrians. A life without censorship that preserves the freedoms of speech, expression, and religious practice remains out of reach, even if the Syrian revolution initially inspired hope in Abdallah and many like him.

There are thousands in Syria who, like Hadi al-Abdullah, refuse to leave their homes. Young men who make up the heart of the resistance, who by their mere presence in Homs today, and by the very fact that they are still alive and breathing, remain the only embodiment of the resistance.

They are neither tempted by imaginary positions in detached Syrian councils in exile, nor by money offered from foreign entities. They have taken an oath to liberate their country from oppression. Peaceful demonstrators who were forced to carry guns to defend themselves, their homes, and their families from the regime’s death squads are fighting for their lives today. They are besieged by regime forces, Hezbollah, and Iranian fighters in their hometowns, and their only option is to fight until the end. 

Amid daily aerial bombardments and artillery shelling, the Syrian resistance continues to fight not just the regime, but also religious extremists they are often mistaken for. “We are left alone to fight the world. We are fighting the corrupt war lords, the regime, Hezbollah, Iranians, Iraqi Shiite militias, the Russians, and extremists.”

“We will stay and fight till the end,” Abdallah says. 

Carol Malouf is a Political Communication Consultant and a Freelance Journalist based in Beirut. She tweets at @carolmalouf