The third installment of the Qatari al-Watan‘s series on George Sabra, president of the Syrian National Council and acting president of the Syrian National Coalition, was published on November 15, 2012 (Arabic here). Here is my translation:
Tales of George Sabra (3)
by Ahmad Mansur
George Sabra finishes his stories by saying, “Here let me say that Qatana in the month of May, 2011, departed from the control of the authority and came into the control of the rebels, and there no longer remained in it police or guard or party men or the army. The regime wanted its people at that time to commit stupid errors so that the army would come in and level it upon the heads of whoever was in it, but the people had sufficient awareness of the administration of the city. When I said to the youths, ‘We are the owners of the revolution, and our language is the language of the Qur’an, and not the language of abuse and insults, therefore you must clean the walls of the city from abuses and insults to the Alawites.’ The next day the city’s youths got up and cleaned the walls of the city from the insults.”
George Sabra asked me while he was speaking, “Do you know, Ahmad, what is the thing that amazes me with this revolution?” I said, “What is it?” He said, “For nearly forty years, the generations have been raised on the view of the Avant-Garde (a newspaper linked to the ruling Ba’ath Party), one view and one organization, namely the Ba’ath Party, and one man who was sanctified, namely Hafez al-Assad. And despite all that we have found before our eyes an astonishing generation which takes their lives in their hands and goes out to destroy the idol whose worship they tried to impose upon the people throughout forty years.
“Indeed, I have not forgotten my Muslim neighbor who had four children, and in the demonstrations at the beginning of the revolution I heard her say to her four children when they were wanting to go out together to one demonstration, ‘I hope you will not all go out to one demonstration. Let each pair of you go out with someone, so that all four of you won’t die in one day.’ The greatness of that woman makes me cry, for she certainly knew that her four children would die, but she desired that the fall of the blow upon her would be light.
“And there is another story which a young man named Muhammad al-Hariri from Dar’a recounted to me. He told me that he was at work when the first demonstration broke out against the regime in the city of Dar’a. She said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said to her, ‘I am at work.’ She replied to him saying, ‘What work do you have that you must return to immediately? All of your brothers have gone out to the demonstration and you have to catch up with them and participate with them.’
“People have witnessed perhaps dozens of demonstrations in which children participated with their fathers and mothers. All went out bare-chested before tanks and guns and aircraft, seeking freedom and the fall of this corrupt regime which has brought down woes upon Syria and the Syrians. The metal intrinsic to this people has appeared out of this revolution, so that the solidarity and compassion between people in this revolution has no limit.
“And here I will mention that at the beginning of the revolution one of the Christian clergy met me and said to me, ‘The Christians are afraid.’ I said to him, ‘What will remove the fear from the souls of the Christians, joining the revolution and society and union with the people, or joining a failing regime? We Christians must join the revolution and the people.’
“And I remember that when I came out of prison on May 10, 2011, after they arrested me the first time, Easter had been in the middle of April, after which I found that the priest had ordered a guard of youths for the church to protect it from attack against it. So I went and said to him, ‘From whom are you protecting it? It is the Muslims who built this church!’ And that’s a fact, for at the building of the church of Qatana in 1998, a delegation of the church went to ‘Awad ‘Amura, the owner of one of the largest aluminum companies, to purchase aluminum for the doors and windows of the Church. The bill was huge, so the company employees asked the delegation, ‘Is this quantity of aluminum for a housing project?’ They said, ‘No, it’s for the church.’ And the owner of the company vowed, and he was a Muslim, that he would not take a single penny and that all of the aluminum would be a donation to the church. As for the contractors and builders, they were all from the Muslims.
“Indeed, Syria has lived according to pluralism and religious toleration for many centuries, and I remember when I came out of prison the last time and went back to my house, I found young men standing around my house. So I went out and asked them if they wanted something. They said, ‘Master George, we are from the youths of the revolution and we are responsible for guarding your house around the clock. We take turns in guarding without your knowing.’ I said to them, ‘Who made you responsible for this?’ They said, ‘We made ourselves responsible, and no one else assigned us.'”
He will finish on Saturday.
Whether I finish translating the last installment of al-Watan’s series on George Sabra from last November by Saturday remains to be seen. In the meantime, it is interesting here how Sabra presents himself as reigning in sectarianism against the Alawites and answering the concerns of his fellow Christians as voiced by a priest. It is especially interesting that he rejected sectarianism by saying, as a Christian, “our language is that of the Qur’an.” Also interesting is the presentation of the pre-revolution days as, on the one hand, a period of intense Ba’athist brainwashing through periodicals like the Avant-Garde (الطلائع) in support of Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current president, and on the other, a haven of diversity and religious toleration. Undoubtedly, Sabra blames all that is wrong with Syria before 2011 on the Ba’ath party and the al-Assad regime, while the Muslim-Christian cooperation is presented as “how Syria has lived for many centuries”.
In the paragraph about Muhammad al-Hariri from Dar’a, either the identity of his female interlocutor is omitted through an accidental omission, or the feminine pronouns are being used of “demonstration” (تظاهرة), surprisingly understood to be a collective noun for the protesters. I have not come across this latter usage, so I have presumed the former, but it could be interpreted otherwise.