News / Middle East

Syrian Expats Lend Support to Protests From Abroad

Jeff Swicord

For many Syrian dissidents scattered around the world, the anti-government backlash in Syria is bittersweet.  They support political change at home, but they are horrified by the government's brutal crackdown.

From the basement office of his home in the U.S., Ammar Abdulhamid does his part to support what he calls the Syrian revolution.  Like many Syrian expatriates, Abdulhamid keeps in regular contact with people inside the country, following events and forwarding what he learns through his blog: Syrian Revolution Digest.

"Our job is to basically make sure that the international community and Obama administration and the people in Congress understand what the protesters want," said Abdulhamid.

In 2005, after writing articles critical of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Abdulhamid and his family left Syria.

"The question was whether I [was] going to end up in a coffin or prison," added Abdulhamid.  "But the brother-in-law of the president gave me a third alternative, which was to leave the country."

Today, supporting the protesters from abroad is a family enterprise.  Abdulhamid's wife is currently meeting with Syrian expatriates and officials in Europe, while he lobbies Congress and private organizations in Washington.  

"This is not an Islamist revolution, or a socialist revolution or a capitalist revolution.  This is basically very pragmatic," Abdulhamid noted.  "This is about living conditions, about dignity, about the desire to be empowered, to take part in the decision making process in the country."

Abdulhamid also talks with the activists inside Syria about the importance of avoiding sectarian violence.  Syria has a wide array of religious groups: Sunni Muslims, Christians, Alawites, Druze and Ismaelites.  Many fear that if the Assad regime falls, the country could descend into sectarian violence like Iraq.

"There are mistakes for sure," said Abdulhamid.  "There are problems for sure, but I think the protest leaders inside the country have proven exemplary to keep this revolution moderate and on the right track and peaceful."

Through his blog he advocates regime change, and draws distinctions with other uprisings of the Arab Spring.

"We don't want a military coup like Egypt or Tunisia because even though this might reduce the suffering a little bit.  But it might also saddle us with the continuation of the regime by other means," Abdulhamid noted.

He says the difficult part is becoming emotionally attached to the people inside Syria he meets in chat rooms and on Skype.  He fears for their safety.

"Really, it is a heart-wrenching reality that you have to deal with day after day," said Abdulhamid.  "Not only our family but all Syrian expats who have developed these contacts with groups inside.  We never know who is going to disappear."

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