A few days ago I posted an update about Syria, adding a few reflections. A few days after that, I met a Syrian.
Amin Kazkaz is a lawyer from the city of Hama, one of the flashpoints of the uprising. He had been working in the United Arab Emirates but returned to participate in Syria’s revolution.
Participation for Kazkaz meant armed revolt. On the eve of Ramadan 2011, one year ago, he was arrested in his city – with weapons. This information was volunteered and there was no hesitation in his voice.
Hama, reminded Kazkaz, was not the lead city in the revolution. Residents remembered the crackdown by Syrian authorities in 1982 during an insurrection led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet when other cities such as Deraa began meeting resistance for their peaceful protest the people of Hama felt compelled to join in as well.
Kazkaz spent twenty-five days in jail before his wealthy grandfather was able to intercede. A landowner, he bribed prison officials with 1.5 million Syrian pounds ($23,000 US) to free his grandson and erase his name from the national database. The warden opened Kazkaz’s cell and told him he had six hours to leave the country or risk re-arrest.
Immediately, with only the clothes on his back and items confiscated by the prison, he hired a taxi to take him to Damascus. From there he hired another taxi to cross the border into Amman, Jordan. Once settled, he arranged for his family to send him his private belongings.
In Jordan Kazkaz sought medical treatment for injuries suffered during combat and imprisonment, but then returned to the United Arab Emirates where he maintained residency. By this time, however, the UAE was rejecting Syrians within its borders and his residency was denied.
On a formal level the UAE and several nations of the Gulf condemned the Syrian regime for its crackdown and broke off all relations. This included agreements allowing freedom of movement between its citizens. On an informal level, however, Kazkaz stated that a major pro-regime Syrian businessman was active in the UAE and worked behind the scenes to keep Syrian dissidents out as well.
Kazkaz was forced to return to Jordan, but finding it too expensive he transferred to Egypt. This was five months ago; Egypt continues its policy of easy entry for Arab nationals. No visa is required but his passport is stamped with three month validity.
Egyptian policemen, he notes, are very sympathetic to the Syrian cause. At times he, like other Syrians, is questioned now that his residency has expired. Police look at the passport, note the nationality, hear the story, wish him well, and send him on his way.
For the last two months in Egypt Kazkaz has assumed responsibility to oversee the ‘Syrian tent’. The tent was erected at the Qasr al-Nile entrance to Tahrir Square during the ongoing revolutionary activity following the resignation of Mubarak. It serves as a point of awareness and support for cross-pollination in the Arab Spring. Syrians in Egypt visit regularly.
So do Egyptians; though I wondered for what purpose. A day or two earlier Syrian television announced the death of two Egyptians in a suburb of Damascus, where fighting had been intense. What were they doing there?
That evening the family of the Blind Sheikh was hosting a press conference at their open sit-in outside the US Embassy. My article on this event is here. In previous visits to his family I witnessed their fierce prayers against the Assad regime of Syria. Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya – the Blind Sheikh’s organization – has forsworn violence as a tool of Egyptian political change. Yet I wondered if they would encourage, or at least be aware of, Egyptians to go to Syria to join the jihad.
‘Of course there are’, said Mohamed Omar Abdel Rahman, the Blind Sheikh’s son. ‘But al-Gama’a has nothing to do with them, though it supports the Syrian cause morally. They are individual Muslims – Islamists – only.’
As the sit-in location is only five minutes from the Syrian tent I paid them a short visit first, meeting Kazkaz and hearing his story above. Upon mentioning the names of the two Egyptians, which he didn’t know, his response was quick.
‘I have met 200-300 Egyptians at this tent who have inquired how to join our fight in Syria,’ he said. ‘But we do not allow any foreign fighters in our revolution.’
Kazkaz explained the Syrian revolution was a Syrian cause, but furthermore, involving foreigners would be counterproductive. Not only would it damage their legitimacy but also foreigners do not know the lay of the land. They would be killed in their ignorance and perhaps take Syrians with them.
The only foreigners he has seen are five Iranian snipers he helped capture in Hama.
Yet Kazkaz’s final words, though not at all contradictory, suggest there may be ways for foreign fighters to infiltrate. There are for foreign media.
He offered me personal escort across the border to take a first-hand look at the fighting and to meet the leaders of the Free Syrian Army. All I would have to do is get a visa to Turkey, and he would coordinate everything. He plans to return to Syria within a few weeks.
The time with Kazkaz was insufficient to ask him the following questions:
- How did you obtain your weapon? How long was peaceful protest underway before you started to use it?
- To what degree is sectarianism a part of the Syrian revolution? What do you think should become of the Alawite community?
- To what degree are Christians participating actively on either side?
- What role do you wish for Islam in a free Syria if you are successful?
- Are foreign powers equipping you with weapons and support?
- Do you desire intervention from NATO or an Arab transnational force?
- What did you do with the Iranians you captured?
As I have mentioned before, it is too difficult to understand Syria through the media alone. Kazkaz’s experience is partisan and that of only one man, but it is first-hand. As such, it is the first I have received.
- Christians in Syria – July 25, 2012
- The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria: Covenant and Charter – July 3, 2012
- Making Sense of Syria – July 9, 2011