Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lessons in Democratic Freedoms and Equality

"They act as if we exist to serve them. They brought these hardships on us and now they want us to suffer while they take the choice goods."
Samir Kazaz, Aleppo, Syria

In Aleppo, the lines are long for civilians hoping to wait as long as it takes to get their share of bread outside bakeries. Those long lines have been targets in the past for Syrian regime fighter jets, strafing areas where they know the Free Syrian Army is ensconced. Assuming that the people of Aleppo support the rebels, the regime air force gunners feel that people awaiting the delivery of their daily bread are fair game.

What had Mr. Kazaz voice his angry outburst was the need not to respond, but to keep his head down when a member of the Free Syrian Army marched to the head of the crowded line outside the Military Bread Factory. Everyone else in that line-up shuffled back a pace, heads down, no attempt at complaints. The FSA has taken control of local grain silos. They hoard the grain, delaying deliveries to bakeries to drive up prices and profit by that.

"Spending all night in line for bread doesn't endear me to the FSA. It just makes me want to return to the quiet we had before the revolution", said Mr. Kazaz, grimly.  And then there is the FSA's penchant to arbitrarily stop and arrest people. Where civilians are detained at checkpoints on the slightest whim; if a FSA member doesn't like the look on someone's face, that someone is detained and taught a lesson in civility by rebels who couldn't spell 'civil'.

People whisper among themselves about stories they've heard relating to extrajudicial killings, torture. "My cousin is in the army" volunteered a man known only as Mustafa. "(The FSA) caught him in Homs and beat him with chains as they showed him pictures of their martyrs."  The FSA has received notice from human rights groups that they must cease such abuse.

Their recruitment of teens who have been popping up at the front carrying Kalashnikov rifles is another distracting source of resentment. Youth recruitment is occurring across the country. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted the "United Nations has received some credible allegations of the recruitment and use of children by armed opposition, including the FSA and other armed groups."

These and other large and small irritations and impositions, humiliations and violations have inspired civilians to view a regime they were so ready to condemn to violent overthrow not all that long ago, as a wistfully recalled time of relative peace and stability.

And so grain and bread shortages are in shorter supply. It takes longer for bakeries to obtain the grain they need to process into bread, and the line-ups become longer and people wait longer. "We wanted an end to the regime, to its abuses and the intelligence services that scared us every day. But now we see the FSA will not change things. It is doing most of the same", said Khalid Hubni who had welcomed their entry to Aleppo in July.

Once the FSA came along, thugs from villages surrounding the city entered "like locusts", taking possession of all the luxury cars available. They're now driving BMWs and Mercedes. They walk away with canned goods from supermarkets, on the credit of their association with the FSA. "They come in and clean off my shelves and offer only promises of payment when they 'liberate' the city", explained 53-year-old grocer Faris Kindi.

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