Wednesday 20 March 2013

Only Just Begun

More than 50 people were held in the same cell, he said on his release the following morning, adding that he saw at least three other cells containing a similar number of people. Calling Othman’s detention a “mistake,” Abu Hafs’s spokesman said the authority apologized to him — after an outcry by activists in Aleppo and beyond. But Othman didn’t seem mollified. “They think the same way as Bashar. There is no difference,” he said, in reference to the Syrian president, as he stepped out of the hospital gates to be greeted by supporters, who had staged a small demonstration to demand his release.

Decisions by France and Britain to step up support for Syrian rebels threaten to leave U.S. on sidelines. But frustration mounts at the Syrian government’s lack of progress in defeating opposition forces.“Those people don’t represent the revolution. They don’t understand the revolution,” he said. “They have power, they have guns, but they don’t have support. When there are free elections, you will see.” Whether there will be free elections anytime soon is in doubt. Jabhat al-Nusra has denounced elections as anti-Islamic, and Abu Hafs and his spokesman refused to discuss whether there would be elections. 

With President Bashar al-Assad showing no sign that he is prepared to give way, the Islamists gaining ground in the areas he no longer controls and Western countries still refusing to arm more-moderate battalions, “Jabhat al-Nusra will grow stronger and stronger,” said Mohammed Najib Banna, an Islamist jurist who belongs to a rival effort to set up a judiciary in Aleppo that has been eclipsed by the Hayaa. Last month, the authority’s gunmen surrounded the courthouse where the United Judicial Council had installed itself, detained all those inside, including judges, note-takers and bodyguards, and imprisoned them at the former Eye Hospital.

They were freed the following day, and negotiations are underway to merge the two councils. But the talks have not borne fruit, in part because of ideological differences, the jurist said. “Their ideology comes from outside Syria, and, unfortunately, it is the same ideology they tried to apply in Afghanistan and Iraq. They failed there, and now they are trying here,” he said. In the dingy storefront in one of the Aleppo neighborhoods where activists still organize regular peaceful protests against the regime, Ibrahim, widely known by his nickname, Abu Mariam, dismissed the beating he received as “nothing.” It didn’t hurt, he said, because the pipe was thin, “like the ones used in a toilet. It was just a reprimand, a way of saying, ‘Don’t do it again.’ ”

And it won’t happen again, he said, because he and his fellow activists have since made peace with the local Islamist protesters whose attempts to usurp a demonstration by Ibrahim’s group prompted him to toss aside their flag. “We as Syrians feel it is more important to focus on toppling the regime,” said Ibrahim, a wiry, 30-year-old truck driver who joined the revolt in its first weeks two years ago. “It is not in our interest to open a second front in our revolution. We have one enemy now; we don’t want to end up with two.” “I think the real war will start after toppling the regime,” he added, reflecting the fears of many Syrians that their war has only just begun.

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