Weekly Media Digest May 22, 2020

SyriaUntold brings you the latest edition of our digest. We want to share with you the features, investigative pieces and long-form essays that we're reading this week.

22 May 2020


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Syria puts temporary travel ban on businessman Rami Makhlouf: ministry on Facebook (Reuters)

“A Syrian court has placed a temporary travel ban on prominent businessman Rami Makhlouf, a copy of the court order posted on the Ministry of Justice's Facebook page showed on Thursday, amid a high-profile dispute over his mobile phone company Syriatel.”

Family feud breaks apart Syria’s troika of power (Financial Times)

“The public dispute between President Assad and Rami Makhlouf, his maternal cousin, Syria’s richest man, has magnetised Syrian and Arab attention. During the two decades of his rule, the two men have formed a troika of power with Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother. Now, the traditional soap operas and melodramas of Ramadan have a real-life competitor: the tycoon versus the tyrant.”

After Syrian regime increases troops in Syrian city of Tafas, residents grow fearful (Enab Baladi)

Two key events in Daraa prompted the influx of forces. First of all, a group of former “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) fighters seized the “Tablin” checkpoint and detained all the Syrian regime elements, including an officer, in response to the regime’s attack on the city of al-Sanamayn on 1 March.

Secondly, nine members of the Syrian regime’s internal security forces were killed in the town of Muzayrib in Daraa Countryside on 4 May, after they were kidnapped from the Daraa Police Command by the former leader of the FSA-affiliated al-Karama Brigade, Muhammad Qasim al-Subaihi in retaliation for the killing of his son. The body of the latter was found next to someone else’s body on Ej Jaaile-Ibtaa road in the central countryside of Daraa province.

Kidnappings, cross-border clashes threaten increasingly fragile status quo in Syria’s south (Middle East Institute)

“In close-knit, quasi-autonomous tribal societies that value concepts of honor and fair fight, the actions of the Fifth Corps were never going to be forgotten. Unsurprisingly, cross-border attacks have followed — including an unprecedented armed attack on Busra al-Sham in late April.

Escalations have a rippling effect through the communities and geographies in which they occur. Acts of violence usually have consequences, spreading from one community to the next, even though those consequences may not be felt until days, months, or even years later. In ancient Greece, this dynamic was known as miasma; a societal pollutant, spreading like a contagion as violence was met with more violence.

Similar dynamics exist in tribal societies. Age-old tribal laws and societal structures are there to intervene and mediate in disputes, or else violence can continue. One such mechanism used by tribes across Syria is tribal reconciliation (sulha). In recent years, lawlessness in Sweida has also seen tribal structures formed along the lines of a tarsh al-dam (bloodshed) agreement meant to resolve cases of kidnappings, murder, and other violent crimes.”

Syrian TV drama uses photo of real regime victim to represent murdered woman (The Guardian)

"A new Ramadan television series in Syria has been met with revulsion by the opposition and diaspora community after a photograph of a 24-year-old torture victim who died in a regime prison was used to represent a fictional murdered woman.

In the detective drama An Interview With Mr Adam, an Egyptian woman who was pregnant by her rich employer’s son is apparently murdered by her lover. While the woman is played by an actor in flashbacks, in one scene when an investigator prints out a photograph of the body, the picture actually belongs to Rehab al-Alawi, whose death in a notorious Syrian jail was confirmed in 2014.”

Return to Contentious Politics in the Syrian Conflict: Opposition, Representation and Resistance (Carnegie Middle East Center)

“This compilation brings together scholars from various backgrounds to reflect on the opportunities to push for political change within Syria, the reaction by the Syrian regime this prospect of change was met with, as well as the possibilities for change in the foreseeable future. The volume covers the challenges faced by Syria’s opposition, beginning in its formative years and leading up to 2020. It discusses the obstacles this opposition faced as it grew more reliant on regional and international funding. It looks at the question of civil society and its potential role in Syrian-led priorities today. The compilation also sheds light on how local organization can block attempts by regime and nonregime groups (like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham) to control society. In addition to these topics, it examines the methods that the regime employs to consolidate its authoritarian rule, with a focus on how today's reconstruction process is instrumentalized to crush dissent. The idea of normalization under regime control is called into question as conflicting loyalties and sectarian divisions in cities like Homs demonstrate that durable peace and stability is not possible without a credible form of transitional justice. Overall, the compilation highlights how thousands of Syrians have worked and continue to work for a future that is more just, despite the obstacles they continue to face.”

Homs, a Divided Incarnation of Syria’s Unresolved Conflict (Jomana Qaddour, Carnegie Middle East Center)

“Over eight years into one of the Arab world’s most brutal conflicts, the Syrian government wants to create the impression that it will soon reassert control over all of Syria. The city of Homs, once hailed as the “capital of the revolution,” fell to forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in May 2018. However, enduring divisions affirm that the situation is far from being normalized.

Last June, Syrians were reminded of the unity characterizing Homs in the early stages of the uprising. Abdelbasit al-Saroot, a protest leader who later became an opposition combatant, was killed while fighting regime forces in Hama. Saroot, the goalkeeper of Homs’ Karameh soccer team, had led protests in 2011 alongside the Alawite actress Fadwa Suleiman. The image of a Sunni and an Alawite together had helped dispel accusations that the uprising was sectarian. Saroot’s death, however, opened a wound that many Homsis avoided acknowledging. It reminded them that the concord of the past was no more as Homs faces layers of unresolved tensions—with hundreds of thousands of displaced who are unable to return and a society so segregated it is unrecognizable even to residents. Although the military phase may be subsiding, developments in Homs underscore that we may only be entering a new phase of conflict."

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