For anyone who has kept up to date with Arab news or daily life, something they will of course be well aware of is the lack of freedoms afforded to populations, most notably freedom of speech. They would also be aware of the quite efficient security services which help enforce this suppression in a way comparable to the Stasi of East Germany. The particularly sinister and terrifying nature of the Syrian mukhabarat is something that must be understood to properly appreciate the challenges that have been faced by common Syrians in the past and will be in the coming weeks.
The best way to sum up this organisation is by mentioning that up to 20% of the Syrian population is rumoured to be on the Syrian intelligence agencies payroll. Yes, you read correctly, up to 20%. The notion of such an incredibly high figure both terrifies you and forces you to instantly reject such a ridiculous notion. But when you talk to Syrians and hear all the stories of family members they can relate to you, such a massive figure doesn’t seem so insane. Take a good friend of mine who recently travelled to Syria and whose grandfather happens to be a Syrian opposition figure. During his mandatory visit to the police station two weeks into his stay, a dossier was placed before him containing accounts of every time he had visited his grandfather as well as listing a whole load of facts about his life that made the file tantamount to a plan for his biographer. Want more stories? Some that you might be able to receive from a source you deem more trustworthy? Query any Syrian friend you may have and they will most certainly know a unique story about this secret service.
These rumours of course cannot be verified, despite all the rumours and speculation. However they don’t even need to be. Whether or not they are true, the reputation this sinister organisation has is more than enough to maintain a stranglehold over Syrian opinion and snuff out any vocal opposition. This is of course the trick to many organisations of its kind, however the trick is tried and tested and it has been shown to work.
This of course is without even touching upon what is said to be practised in the prisons where dissidents of any kind are sent. To detail exactly what goes on in jails like Tadmur military prison would probably be too graphic for this site, however the following statement from a prisoners report smuggled out of Syria in 1999 can go some way towards conveying just what these prisons are: ‘When death is a daily occurrence, lurking in torture, random beatings, eye-gouging, broken limbs and crushed fingers.. [when] death stares you in the face and is only avoided by sheer chance… wouldn’t you welcome the merciful release of a bullet?’
This brief comment on the Syrian security services is only meant to touch upon one of the challenges and fears that Syrians will need to overcome to win their freedom from what is the worst of all the Arab dictatorships, in-depth explanations and reports of human rights abuses can be found all over the internet. As always, Amnesty International is your guide here. Therefore when looking at quite why Syria has not seen protests take off quite as quickly and largely as they have in all the other Arab states, try to remember that the obstacles in their path are far greater than that of any of their brothers in the region. Let us all pray the country does not witness a repeat of February 1982.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East