“Not all Syrian rebels are extremists” Interview with Journalist Mazen Gharibah

Photo Credit: FreedomHouse



Photo Credit: Mazen Gharibah
Photo Credit: Mazen Gharibah

“I was more afraid of getting arrested than getting killed. I had no problem with dying, because if you die, that is it – it is fate. I was afraid of getting arrested because I know what happens when you are arrested by the Syrian government security forces – things that are a million times worse than dying.”

It has been over three years since the beginning of the revolution in Syria. Yet there has been no solution, nor does it look like there is going to be a solution any time in the near future. Approximately 120,000 people have died since the beginning of the war, killed by the Syrian regime’s army as well as the Syrian rebels.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are about two million Syrian refugees outside the Syrian borders, seeking shelter in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey, and about 10 million Syrians in need of food, drink, and medical help; their situation ranges from very bad to tragic.

Mazen Gharibah is a 25-year-old journalist from Homs, Syria. Before the Syrian revolution, he was a simple, ordinary guy who had a dream of travelling abroad and finishing his studies, but several events changed his life, the Syrian revolution being the main one. He is now a freelance journalist, currently living in the Czech Republic; he has worked with news agencies such as AFP, Reuters, and France24. He has been in Syria several times since the revolution started.

“For 40 years we were never able to speak out loud or express our opinions. We had to ‘be quiet’ if we were to talk about politics, even in our own homes. We were always living in fear; we did not have freedom,” Mr Mazen said, when asked why he is against the Syrian regime.

For over three years now, we have seen horrific footage of what the Syrian regime led by President Bashar Al-Assad is doing to civilians and all those who are against him, but we have also seen what many people say are Islamic extremists fighting alongside the rebels in Syria, including Al-Qaeda. This raises the question: Should we be against the rise of extremists in Syria, or should we be against the dictator who has shown no mercy towards his own people and who is killing women and children for the sake of remaining in power?

Mr Mazen said that he, alongside many people of the opposition, “acknowledge” that extremists do exist in Syria, including Al-Qaeda, and many of them are fighting against the regime, but he insists that it does not mean all the opposition are extremists, as most of them are not, and that “extremism does not define the Syrian revolution”.

Photo Credit: FreedomHouse
Photo Credit: FreedomHouse

However, the way the news about Syria is being covered by European media is very different from the way it is being covered by Arab media. European media seem to cover only the news which interests the public, while Arabic media have been accused of being unprofessional and biased. News agencies such as Aljazeera, which was once the most trusted news channel in the Middle East, is now hated by many for its way of covering the Arab revolutions.

Mr Mazen thinks that European media cover the news according to what interests the European citizen and “grabs their attention”. He said they cover controversial news that would win them the best viewing rates, such as the news about extremists getting involved in the Syrian war, forgetting to cover other news such as the humanitarian and the civil work. “In general, the media coverage of the Syrian situation is unfair. The Syrian crisis is not getting enough coverage. They focus on specific topics and ignore the bigger picture.”

He moved on to talk about the Arab media coverage of the three-year crisis, saying that Arab news agencies such as Aljazeera and Al-Arabiya are non-objective and non-neutral: “They do not have credibility nor do they have objectivity; they take one side over the other. Therefore, they are a part of the problem.”

While the media play a crucial role in everything that occurs in the world now, it can sometimes have a negative effect on the news it is covering. “Take the focus on the extremists in Syria as an example. It led the world public opinion to look at the Syrians’ ‘right for freedom’ as an Islamic extremist revolution; therefore we lost a big part of the European public’s support, meaning the media had a negative effect on the Syrian revolution.”

Even though he had no previous experience in reporting or covering news, Mr Mazen was able to work with world-wide known news agencies such as AFP and Reuters. When asked how he was able to link to them, he said it was surprisingly “very simple”, seeing as at the beginning of the revolution news agencies were in need of someone from the inside to help them cover the news.

“I simply went on to their website, AFP that is, found an email address and contacted them. I said that I am a Syrian citizen living in Homs and I would like to cover the news.” He said a French journalist contacted him a day later and asked him to cover a certain story and send it to him. He added that Facebook also helped him as there were secret groups made by journalists and he was able to join some of those groups and make contact with journalists, and it developed from there.

You wonder if after three years there is a part of Mr Mazen that regrets the revolution and wishes it never happened. When asked that he answered immediately and firmly “no”, adding that the Syrian revolution was “destined” to happen, sooner or later, and that the Arab Spring only made it happen sooner rather than later.

“The Syrian revolution, in my opinion, was the greatest revolution in history in its first eight months, because it was a peaceful revolution. It turned to an armed revolution because there were no other options left. I do not regret the revolution, as it showed how brave and great Syrians are.”

Photo Credit: FreedomHouse
Photo Credit: FreedomHouse

When asked why he would risk his life to cover the crisis in Syria, he said: “I have many reasons. For one, I believe in the issue, even though I am completely aware that it is very complicated and I know the Syrian regime won’t fall easily.” He said he had made the decision to continue until the end, no matter what the result might be.

Mr Mazen paused a while before talking about his second reason, which is the death of his best friend who died while trying to treat an injured civilian. “When he died I then had a personal reason, a will my best friend left for me, to finish what he started.”

How long will this situation continue, and will the Al-Assad regime ever fall? Mr Mazen said he believes in the meantime there is no sign to suggest the end of the conflict is near, adding that he believes the situation will continue until the second half of 2014, and that the situation cannot be resolved unless the Al-Assad regime falls.

“It is impossible to have another solution – there is no other solution. Al-Assad will fall, because even though there is no unanimous agreement about it yet, he left no room for support; he does not have a way back – it is too late.”

Just because the regime will fall does not mean Syria will be the same, but the falling of the regime will be the first step towards “recovery”, Mr Mazen concluded.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.