In the months after protests first erupted in Syria in 2011, a soft-eyed native of Deir al-Zour province did two things -- one he is proud of and another he deeply regrets. As an expatriate living in Kuwait, he was energized by the thought of change back home; he spent his money, devoted his time, and rearranged his life around sending food, medicine, and supplies into suffering Syrian communities.
"We were not heroes [before], but placed in such unusual circumstances, we are somehow heroes," he said, recalling how he gathered bags of rice, pleaded with his friends for help, and negotiated with stingy drivers to lower the cost of driving the goods from Kuwait through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and into Syria.
But not long after the charity work began, he and fellow expats joined up with Kuwaiti donors, and a decision was made to help mold military brigades from the opposition. He shook his head and lowered his voice remembering.
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One night during Ramadan this summer, Hamad al-Matar, a former Kuwaiti member of parliament (MP), invited guests over to donate "to prepare 12,000 Jihadists for the sake of Allah," a poster invitation advised. Anyone could come to his diwaniya, a space used for weekly gatherings to talk politics and sip sweet hot tea. And many did come, their pockets open and their contributions generous.
"I think we raised 100,000 KD [$350,000]," he later recalled in the same diwaniya, a long room lined on the perimeter with ornate couches. "That amazed me. I was thinking I would collect a couple thousand KD. Never in my entire life did I get such an amount of money in my pocket in one day."
But what happened to that sum of money next, Matar said, he isn't certain. "I'm not involved actually honestly speaking in where this money goes, because there are so many people much better than myself. Even I didn't know the map [of Syria]," he explained. "Honestly I don't know actually" where the money went.
In June of last year, an American college student walked into the Apple store in Alpharetta, Georgia, to buy an iPad, chatting with her uncle in Farsi. The store clerk asked what language they were speaking, then refused to sell the young woman an iPad, citing U.S. sanctions against Iran ... although there is no law that prohibits U.S. companies from selling to U.S. citizens of Iranian descent. There was an outcry from the Iranian-American community, denouncing the incident as ethnic profiling.
But the story goes much deeper. Iranian-Americans, who are allowed under U.S. law to send money to elderly parents in Iran, cannot find any bank in the United States or Europe that will wire the funds. Charities that raised money for emergency relief in response to the devastating 2012 earthquake in northern Iran were turned down by dozens of banks as they tried to send the funds to Iran -- even though they had a license from the U.S. Treasury Department. Iranians attempting to download software, such as Adobe Acrobat or MacAfee AntiVirus, find the websites blocked. Pharmaceutical companies with contracts to sell medicine and medical equipment to Iran -- quite legally -- find that no shipping company will carry these goods, and no bank will accept payment from Iran.
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The news that Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi's wife and three of his children found political refuge in neighboring Algeria comes as no surprise given the country's long-standing effort to reaffirm its revolutionary heritage, drawn from 132 years of colonial occupation and nearly eight years of a war of national liberation. Yet this historically-rooted revolutionary struggle was long ago routinized. The resulting bureaucratically defined and elitist directed nationalist myth is intended as much to sustain the political status quo as to serve as an exemplar of peoples' revolt against hegemonic rule, whether foreign imposed or domestically conspired.
Algeria's reluctance to abandon its fellow revolutionary in Libya flows from an outdated yet still dominant ideological frame of reference through which Algeria sees the world and wants to be seen by it. It also reflects an unwillingness to accept the new geopolitical and strategic realities that the Arab Spring has brought to North Africa and the Middle East.
The decision by the U.S. Treasury to freeze the assets of Syrian businessman Mohammad Hamsho and his businesses has sent a strong message to a key part of the pro-Assad business community and opened up new possibilities for pressuring the Syrian regime. The Syrian business community is the key to the survival of Bashar al-Assad. Despite his brutality and widely perceived loss of legitimacy, Assad has not yet lost this critical constituency. The Damascus and Aleppo business establishment is still betting on Assad's political survival, while his crony capitalist regime partners see their fate as tied to his. Unless they change their calculations, Assad may still hold on to power.
Unlike the Egyptian uprisings which started in Egypt's main cities, Cairo and Alexandria, and then spread to the rest of country, the uprisings in Syria started in rural Deraa and then spread to major hubs like Homs and Hama. Mass protests, similar to the ones we have seen in Hama, have not taken place yet in Syria's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo. Without these two cities joining the uprisings en masse, the Assad family and their cronies will remain confident that they can withstand the crisis. But the Syrian business community is not a monolith, and has a variety of perspectives on the value of the current regime. What could change their course?
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Since February 11 when Mubarak stepped down, the Supreme Military Council, which has assumed leadership of Egypt's affairs until such time as free elections are held, has repeatedly and thus far unsuccessfully called on Egyptians to "return to work." It has even threatened to take action against striking workers in the name of national security. The civilian middle-class revolutionaries also seem to be insisting that the striking workers "return to work." Even Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, in his February 18 Tahrir khutba before hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, urged striking workers to go home, stating that it is impossible for all demands to be met immediately and counselling them to be patient.
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