Syrian Activists in Beirut: Waiting in the Shadows

January 29, 2012
By: Serene Assir
Published Sunday, January 29, 2012

Independent Syrian activists seeking refuge in Beirut are hedging their bets on whether the Assad regime will fall. Meanwhile, they suffer from uncertainty and struggle to retain hope in a city whose residents’ opinion is divided on the anti-Assad uprising.

Beirut – There is little glamor in being an independent Syrian activist in Beirut. Historically a safe haven for Arab political exiles, the Lebanese capital has in recent months become a refuge for scores of Syrian activists fleeing their homes. But rather than giving them safety and freedom, the city has the opposition here living underground.

Some young men are in Lebanon to avoid military conscription and the near certainty of being deployed to suppress ongoing protests. Among them is 22-year-old artist Yousef Ismail (not his real name).

Once politically active in Damascus, Ismail was among the core of protesters who took to the streets first to demand reform, and ultimately the fall of President Bashar Assad’s regime. "When I first participated in a protest on April 15, there were very few of us,” said Ismail. "But over time the number of people taking part multiplied.”

The more the protests grew, the harsher the suppression became. "My friends say God protects me, because I was fortunate enough not to have been arrested,” Ismail said.

But his luck ran out when he was on what was supposed to be a short visit to Lebanon some months ago. While he was out of Syria, the feared intelligence services visited his friend in Damascus, asking about Ismail. "I decided not to return to Syria. Ever since, I have been in Beirut,” he said.

Ismail would likely have been happier if he were able to assist the revolution from Beirut. But today, the Lebanese capital is no friend to public protests in support of the Syrian revolution.

In Beirut, the last protest in solidarity with the uprising against Assad’s regime took place on 31 December 2011. "People fear protesting in Beirut because we have frequently faced attacks and beating by civilians who come in support of the regime,” said Mustafa Haid, a Beirut-based Syrian human rights researcher and activist.

"The Lebanese Army protects us during the protest. But you can’t know what’s going to happen to you after the protest is over,” said Haid.

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