May 24, 2013

Jouan Yousef is a former member of the opposition Syrian National Council who resigned because he believed the Council diverted from the revolution’s goals. A former political activist, Yousef was arrested and imprisoned from 1987-1994 for participating in the Communist Labor Party. In April 2011, one month after the Syrian uprising began, he helped to found the Coalition of Sawa Youth. Yousef is also a founding member of the Kurdish Committee for Human Rights. He currently lives in Switzerland and works for Radio Sawa and Free Syria Radio. Yousef explains to Nuha Shabaan why such violent displays will ultimately harm the revolution and serve the regime.  

Q: On what grounds are the people in these videos ruling Syrians?

 A: First off, we must remember that the revolution started as a popular act. It resulted from people’s suffering and a long suspension of political and cultural life in the country. Those involved in prolonging the revolution have different projects and desires, but they all seek footholds in the transitional era and the future of Syria. Bashar has bet on the internal conflict among the forces that claim to represent the revolution. It seems he’s succeeded in achieving that. Conflicts among the armed battalions have started to appear, and the Salafist forces’ participation in the revolution was a major part of his wager.

The [vigilante sharia law] video you’re now referring to is new. Tens of videos of human rights violations were leaked. They show that the conflict has taken a different direction that tarnishes the revolution’s reputation and delays its victory. The Salafist battalions have caused decreasing international support for the revolution.

The religious moderates in Syrian society do not agree with those who have assigned themselves [to enforce laws] by the military force they have. There are several question marks on these battalions, their role in the revolution, and whether they’re about different agendas than freedom and dignity. I think these practices have made the international community and some parts of the Syrian population abandon the revolution.

Q: What is the purpose of making this executing this punishment in front of people? How would the ones receiving the shameful punishment react?

A: This method of violating people’s dignity comes from the Middle Ages. It aims to terrify people and make them worry about the future of Syria. I repeat; it serves the regime’s agenda. The regime was less savage that this.

Q: If these acts continue, won’t most people prefer going back to the regime’s days?    

A: Yes, of course and we have started to sense that in some communities and political groups, and that’s their right. They demanded freedom and dignity, which were violated by al-Assad regime, but they’re not willing to replace that with something worse and more brutal.

Q: As a Syrian, do you fear there will be rule like this in the future? As a journalist, what is your national duty [responsibility] towards these acts?

A: I think the ethnic, sectarian and ideological complexity of Syria doesn’t allow for a rule like this to take place. These groups will not be able to thrive under normal conditions. Now they can operate because we’re living through exceptional conditions in Syria, so they are taking advantage of people’s moral and material needs and their desire to topple the regime as a primary objective.

Journalists have a difficult political mission at this stage. It’s the duty of every journalist to observe all parties and expose their practices and violations. We must focus on the revolution forces because the regime has lost moral, legal and political legitimacy and become part of the past.

As a journalist, it’s my duty to expose the violations of revolutionary forces so that these violations don’t become systemic in the future.