“Part of the mechanics of oppressing people is to pervert them to the extent that they become their own oppressors.”
- From the film Crips and Bloods
A girl I semi stalk on Instagram had the above quote on her bio, it made me think of cute bunnies swimming in a bathtub full of hummus. Jk… That quote actually instantly made me think of Syria (shocker!)
But really though, that quote got me think of family members, childhood friends I grew up with, next-door neighbors, and a good chunk of ordinary Syrians who vehemently stood with Bashar Assad since the start of his bloody massacre to hang on to the chair he inherited from his dad. I am not talking about people who argue that Bashar is the lesser of two evils, nor those “grey area” asshole Syrians who decided not to “take sides” (you can’t NOT take sides on crime). I am talking about actual human beings that have the “feels” for Bashar Assad, about ex-decent people who cheer on his mass slaughter, white-wash his industrial terror and experience erections every time they see YouTubes of him launching Soviet-era ballistic missiles with an accuracy of half a kilometer on concentrated population centers across Syria.
There is something both eerie and sad about such people, one would almost feel bad for them, or wish that they got professional help. Anyway, today I want to talk about one of these people, my teenage best friend, whom I’ll call Gabi in this post. I’ll tell his story because he is the perfect case of people who stood by Assad, despite being direct victims of his regime.
When Gabi was 13, security forces jailed and beat up his dad for a few days, they stripped him of his wealth, confiscated all his assets and barred him from doing contracting business. His fault? He had a project with an ex-Gov official who later became a corruption case scapegoat and had to go down with him. The official was later found suicide-ed in his house, but that is not the story. After that, Gabi grew up proper poor, he never had money, the only new clothes he got were passed on from his older brother, and if we didn’t invite him out, he simply could not go out. You have to understand, he really had it worse than poor people, because he tasted being rich, he lived it. He vividly remembered being wealthy, and yearned for that life as he went from living in a mansion with servants and cars into being permanently broke and cramped with his entire family in a one-bedroom basement. We used to pass by his old mansion, hating on the new family that lived in it. We never got to know or see the new mansion occupants, but we referred to them as el 3arsat. There is no equivalent for that word in English, but it roughly translates to ‘low-class assholes’.
By 7th grade, he had to stop going to our private English school, khalas his dad could not afford it. That meant he had to drop out of school altogether, Gabi studied in English and in private schools since nursery, he had zero Arabic, Quran, or Qawmeia (Nationalism) education or any of the other Baathi public schools prerequisites. His life was ruined; he spent the ensuing years hanging out with bad people, blaming ekhwat el sharmouta, the ‘brothers of the prostitutes’ in the government for his miseries.
By the time Gabi was 18, he dodged conscription, was wanted by the regime, and had to live incognito for a while until he somehow found a wasta (government contact) that fixed his situation. His wasta was able to changed Gabi’s official status to “expatriate in the GCC”, which made him eligible to pay the $5K needed to pay El Badal– the “substitute” you pay the government if you have a good excuse to avoid military service. I only knew how he got the $5k years later, you will know too by the end of this post.
By age 20, he found out his mom had cancer. Long story short: public hospitals expedited her death; his family did not have the wasta to enjoy the “free public health” system, and between not affording chemotherapy and malpractice, she was gone. By way of background: Syria’s hospitals are so bad that if you have the means and happen to contract anything more serious than the flu, you would drive an hour and a half to Beirut to get medical help.
At that point Gabi’s life just got exponentially shittier. Uneducated, unemployed, unexperienced, poor, he had nothing going on his life but hardcore drugs. Gabi kept blaming the government for all his woes up until 2011, I guess.
I stopped being friends with Gabi when we were 18 because of a series of colossal backstabs despite being there for him at all times. But over the years, I kept checking on him every year or so out of curiosity. In 2011, and after one of the regime’s massacres in Homs, I read a Facebook post by Gabi that said: “Burn Homs and all its inhabitants, annihilate any city that bites the hand that feeds it, Assad or we burn the country.”
I knew Assadists came in all colors, shapes and sizes, but I really didn’t expect Gabi to be one. Later on I found out that a few years before 2011, Gabi started hanging out with wlad mas’ooleen (sons of Important/gov officials), they let him drive their cars, shoot their guns and would take him out here and there in exchange for brown-nosing and ego-massaging services. By 2011, he had drank enough “resistance” Kool-Aid that he was reporting people who show signs of opposition on social media to Shabbeeha.
Given his situation, that was the only way he could eat and live.