On the Ground in Syria: Five Minutes with Syrian Professor, Refugee, and Social Media Activist Amer Doko

Syrian social media activist, political refugee and Associate Professor of Information Technology Amer Doko recently sat down with the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs to share his experiences during the Syrian Revolution. He was imprisoned twice by the Assad regime and put on a targeted list of anti-regime activists before escaping the country. GJIA: Since you were involved with the Syrian uprising in the earlier days, could you give us a sense of what you think the status of it is right now and where you see it going over the next few months or year?

AD: The Syrian Revolution started as a peaceful revolution and it was a brilliant move by Syrian activists that helped mobilize people to jump on board so that it became a country wide revolution. The aggressive and overwhelming response from the Syrian regime however forced Syrians to carry weapons to defend themselves and their families which eventually militarized the revolution.

Syrians capacity to bear a huge number of martyrs reached unbearable limit. They weren’t able to see their wives and daughters being raped in front of their eyes, their homes being demolished and their lives destroyed. So they were forced into carrying weapons to defend themselves against a regime that is supported by a number of regional and international powers who are standing hand in hand with the regime against the Syrian people. This is obvious when we see the flow of political, financial and military support that keeps the regime running.

Some people would call this a civil war, but I would prefer to call it genocide. The Syrian regime is using all its military capabilities to kill its own people. It has been firing missiles; bombing towns with tanks and shelling cities from warplanes. This army was funded by the Syrian people who are being killed by their own army now. We have reached a deadlock where neither party in the conflict seems to be capable of finishing the job and winning the war. The international community has reached a deadlock with the Syrian case too after the Russian and Chinese veto in the UN Security Council. A lot of countries, specifically countries allied with Syria, are not taking a courageous move to end the conflict although they are capable of if they want.

GJIA: What type of policies would you suggest within the U.N. or by other countries like the U.S. to pursue in order to support Syrians, either through intervention, humanitarian assistance, etc.?

AD: I don’t think the international community is willing to pursue military intervention because of the complexity of the geopolitical situation of Syria. At least, I don’t see such action in the foreseeable future. What I see is that the Syrian rebels and the Syrian regime will continue to fight and eventually I believe the rebellions will win because they are now advancing into many parts of Syria and freeing those areas as well. We are seeing the opposition forces attacking military airbases in the northern and other parts of Syria and gaining some really important military ground from the regime.

What the international community can do is support the formation of the new government in exile that will run the country after Assad regime falls. The international community can support Syrian civilians by recognizing the opposition and helping them organize better and providing them with appropriate support to defend themselves and rebuild their country.

On the humanitarian side, the catastrophe is just appalling. We have over one hundred thousand causalities, people killed for no particular reason other than participating in peaceful demonstrations. Also we have over two million refugees from Syria in surrounding countries and over five million internally displaced people. Those people need shelter, food, medical supplies and so on. The humanitarian aid is certainly a huge component to the Syrian crisis that needs to be addressed urgently.

The international community should not turn the Syrian case into a mere humanitarian crisis however. They need to attack the crisis at the roots and help get rid of this regime. Over 130 countries (friends of Syria) agreed that this regime should go, but they do not want to take any step to help the Syrian opposition in achieving this goal. The communication tools support and the humanitarian aid support are necessary but not enough. It would keep the crisis on-going and not actually stop the suffering of the Syrian people.

With respect to specifically rebuilding Syria, this will be a huge project too. There are now efforts by the Syrian communities to form local administration councils capable of running the country in the absence of the regime and after the fall of the regime. There are ongoing efforts preparing for transitional justice also in order to create a state that respects the rule of law above all else. In all of these regards, the international community can help.

A good example is my hometown Daraya, which is around eight kilometers away from Damascus city center, became an important site for both the opposition and the regime to gain grounds. A local administration council was recently formed in Daraya in order to run the city and organize opposition activities. The council is very well organized and it is the secret behind the continuing resistance of the city against Assad army and militia. The council was able keep control of parts of the city. International support for such efforts would help tremendously in encouraging such initiatives and empowering them to provide an alternative for the regime.

GJIA: What are some of the strategic implications for the Middle East if the Syrian regime remains in power or is overthrown?

AD: The Assad regime stay poses a lot of threats to the region because it is a criminal regime. It can create more chaos and instability in the region by sending its criminals to bomb cities in surrounding countries. We have seen the beginning of such interference in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. Everybody knows the regime will do whatever it can to remain in power, even if the outcome was a total destruction to the whole region. So it is in the best interest of the international community to get rid of this criminal regime and help create a more democratic Syria and form a Syrian government that is elected by the Syrian people and that works towards the wellbeing of the Syrian people.

I would like to add one comment about the social media component of this revolution. When the revolution started, we thought that if we can convey the message to the world, if we can show the world what is happening in Syria, our voices might be heard and our aspirations will find some ears. We thought that if we show the world what’s happening in Syria, we would gain international community support to help us transition from authoritarianism to democracy. This did not turn out to be the case. We were able to convey the message but we did not see any response. What the Syrian people have been most frustrated with is the lack of an international response to their crisis. Not only that, the frustration is also magnified by the continuing support from Russia and Iran and Hezbollah to Assad regime up till this moment. We have reached a point where social media activism is not enough. It cannot be the very core element putting an end to this crisis.

Amer Doko is a Syrian refugee who escaped Syria after being imprisoned by the Assad regime. He most recently was Associate Professor of Information Technology Management at the Yarmouk University in Damascus and is the co-author of  The Arab Spring Book (Columbia University Press, forthcoming). He has managed projects for the International Rescue Committee, the International Medical Corps, Cisco Inc., the UN Development Program and the Enab Baladi Revolutionary Newspaper. He is currently a student at The Georgetown Public Policy Institute.

Amer Doko was interviewed by senior online editor Matthew Sullivan.