Syria: is it a story without end or hope?

One of the people I follow on Twitter is a British-Syrian woman living in London.

She tweets as @RazanSpeaks and her daily updates are a depressing roll call of deaths. A typical tweet reads something like: “23 casualties today in Syria. 11 in Homs. 5 in Idlib. 5 in Damascus. 1 in Hama. I in Aleppo.” On and on, day after day. Just the locations and numbers varying.

There are other things, of course, her family life, her university studies, but the bloodshed in Syria is the overriding concern in her timeline. I can’t verify all her figures, but the pattern – especially the regularity – looks about right.

More of something that has already occurred many times before is, in crude media terms, not a strong “story”, and this is why 20 or 30 deaths a day in Syria can boil down to a passing item in the news headlines and a modest column on page 23 in the “quality” papers. Depressing, but true.

Which is why something like the Arab League monitors can be significant. This gives journalists a hook on to which a series of Syria stories can be hung. Whether the monitoring mission itself is actually going to achieve much … well, that’s a different story.

Personally, I’m doubtful. Let’s not forget, this small team of 60-70 people is in a 22-million-strong country to monitor Syria’s compliance – or otherwise – with an Arab League “peace” deal that is designed to end the violence. It has so-called “field access”, but not much else. It is not an investigative team. There are absolutely no independent human rights investigations underway.

And there is also the worrying fact that the head of the monitors is Lt General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, the former head of Sudan’s military intelligence service. Under his leadership in the early 1990s the military intelligence in Sudan was responsible for the arbitrary arrest, detention, enforced disappearance and torture of numerous people. How reassuring is that? Gen Dabi already seems to have “corrected” a monitor who said that he had seen with "his own eyes" Syrian government snipers in position to shoot at civilians.

There are conflicting claims even within different parts of the Arab League about whether the mission in Syria is achieving anything (listen to this Today programme discussion for example), but with a reported 150 – or possibly many more – killed in the short time they’ve been there, it’s hard to feel optimistic.

Actually, what little optimism I have would be greatly bolstered if the Syrian authorities announced that independent human rights monitors – like Amnesty, like the UN’s people – could join the Arab League outfit in the country. Short of that, the outlook is still extremely gloomy (sorry, not a very positive new year post this).

Meanwhile, RazanSpeaks recently said that, like quite a few overseas opponents of Bashar al-Assad’s government, she’s been the victim of a nasty cyber-attack where her image has been put on a pornographic website, apparently as a way of discrediting her. It fits with a pattern of harassing overseas Syrians who’ve criticised the Syrian authorities. Stand by for Damascus trying to undermine the credibility of the Arab League if it dares to voice criticism of what the authorities have been doing during these past ten months.

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