(N.B. this interview was done on 17 March 2005, but has been pre-dated so it doesn’t appear in the news listings)
1. Why did you start your blog?
I wanted to take control of the dialogue about my country. It belongs to me, not someone in Washington or Paris. Commentators and politicians on the outside don’t have the right to ascribe concerns and hopes on me.
2. The blog is in English rather than Arabic, why?
Before the Iraq War most Westerners didn’t even know where Syria was. And now we’ve become the substitute Saddam Hussein, we hear the same language being used to describe Syria. What’s better, for a foriegn correspondent to learn everything they can about Syria, come to Damascus, file their report and leave. Or for someone who lives here to communicate directly. It takes out a whole level of misunderstanding.
Blogs are a chance for Arabs to express views they feel are under-reported in the West; that explains the explosion of Syrian blogs in the last eight weeks – nearly all in English. It’s like another window to the West has opened in the Arab World, after Al-Jazeera flung the door open.
3. What kind of impact do you hope your blog will have?
I hope it will transport people to the streets of Damascus, even if they never set foot outside their country.
4. Do you do think Middle Eastern blogs, in general, can have an impact in the region?
5. If so, what would that impact be?
Arabs have given up on Governments: local puppets and international ones alike. We’ve realised that the only way to change the Western interference in our land is to talk directly to the people of the West. It assumes that people in different countries can understand each other, even if their governments can’t, it’s an optimistic view of the world.
It’s only an elite who can read and write blogs, so we shouldn’t take it as representative, its no ‘new democracy’.
In the battle for control of the dialogue of the Arab World, the biggest fear is outsiders purporting to be Arabs writing fake blogs. Some are easy to spot (‘Iraq the Model’), some less so. The problem is that there’s no electoral roll or ID cards for bloggers.
6. Do you have any concerns about your blog getting you into some kind of trouble with the authorities in your country?
We don’t live under a Soviet Regime, there are no thought police. In Syria there are satellite dishes on every roof, mobile phone lines for $20, and internet access at $2 an hour.
Assad is a reformer. He’s also been President of the Syrian Computer Society (some people joked that’s the only thing he’d led before becoming President), so he’s keen on the internet revolution: he wants to give a computer to every student. It’s also a way for the new generation (like him) to suck power away from the old guard who cant get their heads around the internet.
The streets are fresh with the air of debate, and the internet’s just another part of that. If people can demonstrate on the streets of Damascus and Beirut calling for reform without fear of arrest, then we can put pen to paper with clear consciences.