The boy who ignited the Syrian revolution

Sonia Farid
Sonia Farid
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“It’s your turn, doctor,” wrote 14-year-old Muawiyah Sayasneh on a school wall in February 2011 in the city of Daraa, clearly referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, originally an ophthalmologist.

Security forces stormed Sayasneh’s house and arrested him. They did the same with his three classmates that were with him when he wrote that. The people of Daraa took to the streets demanding the boys’ release and did so every single day until they did come back with shocking signs of torture, which angered the people even more.

On March 15, called the “day of rage” by revolutionaries, other cities across Syria joined Daraa in protesting against state repression and the local unrest turned into a full-scale revolution that demanded the ouster of the regime then evolved into a seemingly unending conflict.

While Sayasneh acknowledges the impact of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt on his decision to spray the wall, he admits that he had never imagined an actual revolution would take place in Syria. He actually says that he had never done that before.

“But we were full of anger. Sick of the repression and the torture,” he said in a phone interview with The Telegraph from Daraa on the occasion of the sixth anniversary of the Syrian revolution. Even though what Sayasneh and his friends did seemed no more than a teenage prank, the Syrian regime was aware of its danger at a time when uprisings had started sweeping the entire region.

This explains the severity of the torture to which the boys were subjected at the intelligence headquarters. “They beat me with cables, poured freezing cold water on me and electrocuted me many times. They hanged me by the wrists from the ceiling of the cell,” he explained. “It was very, very hard, I was just a kid.”

The search for Sayasneh was also another indication of the Syrian regime’s concerns over the repercussions of his actions. “They stopped everyone on the streets of Daraa, including children, to know who did that,” he said in an interview he gave on the fifth anniversary of the revolution.

“They first arrested the three who were with me while I managed to hide for three days. Then they knew where I lived and took me from my house.” While Sayasneh had accomplices in the regime’s point of view, he was still conceived as the most dangerous and that is why his release was delayed.

“They released my friends first while I stayed in detention for more than a month and half.” Sayasneh added that the police accused him and his friends of being “spies” and never believed that their action was not part of a bigger conspiracy against Syria.

Already becoming a national hero, Sayasneh joined the protests right after his release and continued to spray anti-regime slogans on the walls of government facilities. He left school and dedicated all his time to organizing demonstrations that were brutally suppressed by regime forces.

This lasted for two years until a major turning point that made him decide to change course occurred. His father was killed by a rocket attack and it was on that day that Sayasneh joined the Free Syrian Army and turned to armed struggle.

This struggle is, however, rife with complications since the group on whose side Sayasneh fights is no longer the only party fighting against the Syrian regime, but is rather becoming a minority group in the midst of the numerous parties currently involved in the conflict.

“Each group is fighting for its own interests and agenda,” he said. “Meanwhile, civilians are living in deplorable conditions and are being bombed by Syrian forces”.

Sayasneh never left Daraa even though most of his friends are either dead or in jail. He is still in his family’s house, which was damaged by airstrikes and partially rebuilt, with his mother and siblings who all live off a salary he receives from the Free Syrian Army. He said on several occasions that he does not plan on leaving Syria at all and that he will stay there until victory or martyrdom.

“I am no longer a kid. I am a fighter now and I will remain so,” he said. “Victory is coming eventually. I might be alive or dead then, but what I am sure of is that one day I or another Syrian youth would come back to spray the same walls with news of this victory.”

Sayasneh and his fellow-revolutionaries, who all amount to 15, are all part of a group that came to be called “The Daraa Children”. Those children, who followed Sayasneh’s suit and started spraying walls with anti-Assad slogans, are given credit for ridding the Syrian people of their decades-long fear of the regime”.

“Bombings that target Daraa are always interpreted as the regime’s retribution against the children of Deraa. Every year on the anniversary of the Syrian revolution, their story is told and the commemoration of the revolution is at times referred to as “a tribute to the Deraa children.”

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