Skypeing Syria

January 30, 2012
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Every Saturday, many of London’s Syrians put aside their work to travel to Belgrave Square, where they donate clothes and other supplies, bang drums and raise their voices in protest at the Syrian embassy across the street. For those who fled Syria because of their politics, it is a chance to express their disenchantment with the regime.

Basel, one of the protestors, tells me many of his relations have been jailed for five years or more for their dissident views. His own family moved to London 11 years ago to avoid a similar fate. “I grew up in an antigovernment regime. Even if I had to be quiet, not saying it out loud, it was still voiced in the home.”

Basel has kept in touch with his relatives back home thanks to online media such as Skype, which is harder to tap than ordinary phone lines. Nevertheless, joining the protest was a significant moment for him. “The moment I stepped on this pavement outside the embassy I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to Syria under the current government and I’d have to stay here until there was a change.”

Several of the protestors come from Idlib, a province in the north of Syria closely associated with the rebel Free Syrian Army. Balkis, a tall young woman who has grown up in Britain, described how she read about her relative’s death on a news website. “I saw his picture, I saw the video, I heard my cousin screaming, I kept replaying it. So that was a really big shock for me. But, sad to say, I’m a bit numb.” Balkis has lost over 30 members of her family in the uprising.

For others, this has been a political awakening. Bushra, a SOAS student sporting a freedom headband, was born in Britain. Her family had never been political. “You knew there was a tyrant, you knew there was a dictator, but you never discussed it.”

Yet since the protests began in March, she is in touch with revolutionaries on the ground, translating their reports and attempting to get their reports heard in the media. She says that all this activity has made her feel more Syrian. It has also brought her family closer together. “They come here with me to protest. We’re all working together, as a family. It’s probably the one thing we can all agree on.’