Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Zabadani, Jabal al-Zawiya, and Bab Amro have been liberated – Sheikh Anas Airout | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Although he fled Syria for Istanbul in August 2011, the youth of the Syrian revolution still fondly recall Sheikh Anas Airout, Imam of the al-Rahman Mosque in Banias. They recall his fiery rhetoric denouncing the Bashar al-Assad regime and the leading role he played during the early days of the Syrian revolution. Many remember 11 March 2011 as the day that the Syrian revolution was born, with protests and demonstrations taking place in different Syrian cities demanding reform, including following Friday prayers at the al-Rahman Mosque in Banias. The following Friday, Sheikh Anas Airout called for the toppling of the al-Assad regime, whilst demonstrations and protests broke out across the country. It was his words that were repeated by the demonstrators’, such as his most famous quote “even if you kill us, our spirits will rise up from our graves and demand freedom.”

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat from Istanbul, Syrian National Council [SNC]-member Sheikh Anas Airout acknowledged that “the protests in Syria were launched from the al-Rahman Mosque, and the first demonstrations calling for the toppling of the regime took place in the streets of Banias where the unarmed youth confronted the blind killing machine of the regime and the violence of the Shabiha [militia].”

He added “the al-Assad regime called for my head, they wanted me, dead or alive, and they gave me the nickname ‘ras al-fitna” [head of the chaos]…therefore I had no choice but to leave the country.”

The al-Rahman Mosque Imam said “they gave me this nickname, but God protected me” revealing that he was present in a Banias house that was raided by Syrian security forces, but was able to avoid arrest.

As for the situation in Syria, and how he remains in contact with the revolution from Istanbul, Sheikh Airout told Asharq Al-Awsat that “there is daily communication and coordination with the [Syrian] revolutionaries via the internet, whether we are talking about the Syrian coastal area, including Banias, Tartus, Latakia, and Jabla, or the rest of the Syrian cities.”

The al-Rahman mosque imam also stressed that many Syrian districts and cities have been “liberated”, including Zabadani, Jabal al-Zawiya in Idlib, and Bab Amro in Homs.” He said “the youth of the Free Syrian Army [FSA] are in control of these areas, and the Shabiha [militia] and the regime’s forces are not able to enter.”

He clarified “on the ground, one can say that some cities are outside of the control of the regime, like Deraa, Homs, Idlib, Zabadani, and others are on the way. The extent of the division means that the Syrian regime army is no longer capable of suppressing all of these cities, in light of the terrible crime being committed by the Syrian regime and its security apparatus and Shabiha [militia].”

Sheikh Anas Airout told Asharq Al-Awsat “let me repeat that we began [the revolution] with God, we launched and took action with God, and we are not relying on anybody except God Almighty. We will continue and never back down, relying only upon God Almighty, and even if we are killed our spirits will rise up from our graves to demand freedom! We are not frightened of being arrested, and they [the Syrian regime] will never be able to weaken our resolve, because they are not fighting against a people, they are fighting against what is right!”

As for the claims of sectarian discrimination in the city of Banias, Sheikh Anas Airout confirmed this, saying “we have suffered from sectarianism for the last 40 years. For example, the high ranking posts in the oil companies [in Banias] are guaranteed to Alawites, whilst only a handful of Sunnis work in such companies.”

As for whether he had a message to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, he said “I continue to say to President al-Assad: as you were [previously] bold enough to label the protesters terrorists, be bold enough today to acknowledge that in Qardahah [home of the al-Assad family] there is an armed gang who are even better equipped than the Syrian security or intelligence apparatus, and they are working under their cover.”

He also stressed that “the protests in Banias, and the rest of Syria, will continue to demand freedom” regardless of any suppression or violence.