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Saturday, August 4

Rania Khalek's stunning revelations about how peace is coming to Syria

"The problem wasn’t the protests, it was sectarianism." 

The quote is from the first of Rania Khalek's two-part report on the Syrian-led reconciliation process in Syria, which have played the deciding role in bringing the Syrian war to end -- a little-known fact that is only slowly coming to light. The internet is now breathlessly awaiting the second installment (well, at least the part of the internet that pays close attention to the war) but the first one, published August 2 at Max Blumenthal's Gray Zone Project, corrects so many misperceptions it's already created an uproar in the Syrian War Twittersphere. 

The report is titled Meet the Mystery Fixer Who Negotiated Syria Out of Seven Years of War: "How a nearly unknown businessman named Khaled al Ahmad became Damascus’ secret liaison to the West and quietly dealt Syria’s grinding war to a close."

Ya mean it wasn't the Russians who did it? I did note the report corrects misperceptions -- although certainly the Russian government got behind al Ahmad's efforts and greatly aided the reconciliation negotiations, and of course it took battlefield victories to provide enough breathing room for the reconciliations to take place. The unwavering support  of President Bashar al Assad for al Ahmad's efforts is also a critical factor, as Khalek makes clear.  

But I find the overarching importance of the report is that it shows al Ahmad's approach, with intellectual assistance from journalist Nir Rosen (see the report), has implications for many conflict situations outside Syria. So it's a great irony that a country that has suffered so much from armed conflict is producing an approach to conflict resolution that can become a model for all nations to follow. As Twittersphere denizen EHSANI2 notes:
With all mixed reactions to @RaniaKhalek article below, it’s important to stay focused on the subject of reconciliation as a policy tool compared to the national land top down approach of Geneva that was pushed by a number of policy makers at the time. Small is beautiful
Indeed; al Ahmad's successes are a triumph for localism, a subject that is of great interest to me. So in this post I'll skip the revelations about his role to quote from passages in Khalek's report that describe her eyewitnessing of how the localist approach turned the tide in one Syrian region. Before the quotes, a couple notes:  

EHSANI2 writes that al Ahmad is an Alawite not, as Khalek speculated, a Sunni Muslim.

> The localism Khalek describes is obviously not based on  ethnic/religious or tribal or clan affiliations; it's about Syrians coming together as Syrians. But here I sound a cautionary note. Localism makes sense only within the context of a nation-state. How, then, to thread the camel of localism through the needle's eye of nationhood? Thailand's late king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, had the full answer but in one sentence localism must be grounded in self-reliance else it's faux localism; as such it's extremely vulnerable to balkanizing forces.

From "Meet the Mystery Fixer Who Negotiated Syria Out of Seven Years of War" by Rania Khalek:

[...]


What was most striking during my visit to Hammeh was the ratio of schools to mosques. I lost count of the number of mosques after I reached six. I asked Ebrahim how many schools were in Hammeh. He said five, but that includes just one high school. This was a noticeable pattern in areas of Syria that fell to the opposition—the mosques seemed to exceed the number of schools.
After 2000, when Bashar al Assad took over the presidency following his father’s death, he relaxed some of the country’s anti-religious laws and thousands of new mosques were built. A senior official with the ministry of public record estimated that 10,000 mosques were built under Bashar. This number does not include the Koran memorization schools the government sponsored during this time. Many of these mosques were funded by private donors from outside the country, mostly from Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Ebrahim and his friends explained to me the role of the mosques in the protests that erupted in their town and later the role of foreigners.
When the uprising began, boys would pour out of the mosques after Friday prayers to protest after being riled up by their local sheikhs, said Ebrahim.
“There were never any problems in Hammeh that I can remember until 2011,” he said, explaining how the conflict in Hammeh evolved. “When the protests started here, a lot of young men went out and protested. They usually went after Friday prayer, the imams encouraged it. The problem wasn’t the protests, it was sectarianism. Hammeh is Sunni. There are neighborhoods around it that are Alawite and Shia.”
Ebrahim continued, “In 2011 it was just harmless protests. But in 2012 it became sectarian. Within 10 days heavy weapons were coming in. In 2012, we also found foreigners here, they started fighting the Syrian army. There was a Jordanian man living in Hammeh. He fought in Iraq, then came to Syria and settled here. The Jordanian man played a role in arming the protests. Then there was the first agreement in beginning of 2013 for a truce and it lasted two years. We all left during this time, living outside Hammeh. We didn’t try coming back because it was too dangerous.”
[...]
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