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Ausama Monajed

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The sharp-talking man in a well-cut suit seems like the antithesis of a revolutionary but make no mistake: Monajed is a man fervently devoted to the cause of freedom. In many ways, he represents the intriguing new face of freedom protests – the strategic thinker rather than gun-toting guerilla.

In many ways, the centre of the tornado that has been whirling through the Arab world in the last couple of years is Syria.

It’s a military dictatorship with the longest-running state of emergency in the world, imposed in March 1963. It has no free media. It’s a one-party state.

And in the last year-and-half, as protests against the Bashar Al-Assad regime have sparked off a strong retaliatory wave from the dictator, thousands are rumoured to be brutally tortured and killed, and 45,000 people been thrown into jails for interrogation.

And Ausama Monajed has been at the heart of it all.

He knows better than most why Syria matters. “It’s not about oil in Syria, it’s geopolitical. Syria is on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, it’s the gate of the European Union to the Middle East and the Arab world, and a key ally of Iran in the region – Syria supports Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, which explains the tremendous support the Iranian regime is giving to prolong the life of Bashar Assad. Then, Syria is perhaps the last remaining ally of Russia in the Middle East. Russia has the only marine base in the Mediterranean, which is in Syria. It’s a very, very strategic country,” he said in an interview to PBS’ Frontline.

As a student in Syria, where he studied Economics and Management at the University of Damascus, Monajed was always politically aware. His engagement with the resistance to ongoing dictatorship started young, and he was arrested and interrogated multiple times by security forces. He knows exactly what detainees today are subject to. “A cell is about 2 or 3 metres by 2 or 3 metres and there are 40-50 people in it. There’s no room to sit, detainees all stand. And they offer meet extreme torture techniques. There are 17 security branches in the country and about 250,000 security personnel for a country of 22 million – one of the highest per capita rates for security presence – but despite that, they only have a few minutes to extract information from every detainee. That’s why they use extreme force and brutal techniques.”

The last time he was interrogated, in 2004, it was made clear to him that he had to leave the country or be silenced by force. He moved to London, becoming a core organiser of the protest movement among the millions of Syrian diaspora. Today, Monajed is executive director of the London-based Strategic Research and Communication Center and a member of the newly formed Syrian National Council.

It’s a two-pronged strategy to create a truly national opposition movement.

The Center provides research, analysis, policy recommendations, and commentary in various fields in Syria to Media, governments and other institutions, as well as documenting the details of the uprising in Syria – events, stories, videos and images. According to Ausama, they have built up a bank of documentary evidence that chronicles the devastating brutality of the regime. “What makes the story so powerful is that the story is not being told by one outlet, by one journalist, but by multiple people, recording through their own angles and own emotions. Perhaps the single most important way that people are telling their stories is through clips on YouTube. And activists have learned that for this information to be credible, it must be properly dated and documented. And they are hoping that one day, these videos may be used to bring the regime to justice,” he said while addressing the Oslo Freedom Forum in May this year.

The second, equally critical aspect is the creation of the Syrian National Council, for which Ausama serves as spokesperson. It’s the first cohesive opposition platform in Syria – crucial because so far, Western intervention has been sketchy in the absence of a clear alternative to Assad.

With the formation of the 300 member SNC, though, that has changed. Representing all facets of Syrian society, the creation of the SNC has been seen as a landmark step in toppling the regime – it’s recognised by locals, Syrians abroad as well as the international community. As spokesperson, Ausama is putting his degree in Political Communications to good use and travelling around the world, engaging with governments and institutions to talk about the SNC’s goals. He writes prolifically for the New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, The Independent and Foreign Policy, among others, and makes frequent appearances on CNN, the BBC, AFP, Reuters and Al Jazeera. Earlier, he has been founder and director of Barada Television, a Syrian opposition television network.

He’s not unrealistic about timeframes but Ausama is entirely confident the end of the regime isn’t too far. There, too, he’s relying on the strategic approach rather than the violent one. “Foot soldiers might be holding on for ideological or sectarian reasons, but many of those in charge are driven by greed. We are not dealing with jihadists; these are businessmen and economists. Defections would not be hard to achieve,” he believes.

When freedom does come to Syria, you can bet that Monajed will, once again, be at the heart of it.

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