06/10/2011versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

One of the icons of the revolution might not even exist, but thatís not the only point of uncertainty

A resolution for sanctions against Syria presented to the United Nations Security Council by Great Britain has gotten the go ahead from the US and it seems unlikely, now that the original proposal has been somewhat diluted, that China and Russia will exercise their veto power.

Meanwhile Turkey has announced that at least 1600 refugees fleeing violence in Syria have come across its border in addition to those already escaped to Lebanon. According to opposition sources, since the beginning of the uprising against the government of Bashar al-Assad more than 1000 have fallen victim to violence by the Syrian army, special forces, and police.

International public opinion is with the protesters. But as in all cases where reason mixes with strong emotions, many of the facts on the ground (or what we have been told are facts) are clouded by uncertainty. Two things are very clear. First, the Assad regime is dead set against freedom. For decades, they have suppressed the opposition and the rights of everyday citizens. And second-people in Syria are dying.

Complex forces at work both inside and outside the country deserve closer consideration. A number of different parties have an interest in destabilizing the Assad government, which represents the Alawi religious minority, close relatives of the Shiites and so closely allied as well to Iran and to Hezbollah in Lebanon. With the creation of the Mediterranean Union in Paris in 2008, French president Nicholas Sarkozy gave Assad the perfect opportunity to abandon his ties to Teheran and return to being a fully integrated member of the Western block.

Assad was in a very weak position at the time. Syrian influence in Lebanon had collapsed following the murder of ex-premier Rafiq Harrari in 2005 and the bombing of a Syrian building that Israeli intelligence claimed was a nuclear site. A UN Tribunal accused Assad and his clan of the murder of Hariri. At that point, it seemed like Assad was ready to abandon Iran and Hezbollah. But then something happened.

Popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt set off protests among Arabs in a number of other countries from Morocco to Iraq. These movements have met with uneven support-some more some less-by the US, the UN, and the EU. But that was to be expected. For many years, Washington and Brussels have decided to pay attention to, or ignore, human rights violations around the world in accordance with their own political agendas. An illegal embargo in Gaza or the massacre of Shiites in Bahrein isn't as important as the protection of civilians in Libya. The accusations against Syria-labelled a "rogue state" by ex-US president George W. Bush-are no great surprise. But it's unclear whether the recent uprisings are entirely homegrown.l

The latest mystery has to do with Amina Abdallah Araf, a lesbian blogger with dual US-Syrian citizenship. On June 6, her cousin posted an appeal to the world: the Syrian secret service had abducted her. Appropriately enough, worldwide mobilization soon followed. Everyone was fascinated with her story and her amazing picture. Unfortunately, it looks like the person in the photograph is someone else.

At least according to some of the most important news outlets-The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal-and leading journalists like Andy Carvin of National Public Radio in the US. No one who has actually met her has contacted the media, which continues to cover the story. Sandra Bagaria, a Canadian woman who told the BBC, The New York Times, and al-Jazeera that she was friends with Amina, now says she has never met her in person.

CNN interviewed her, but only via email. Carvin says he was contacted by another Syrian lesbian who says Amina doesn't really exist, that it's a fake name. And that the famous photograph that appeared in various publications is really an English woman named Jelena Lecic. From the moment the authenticity of the photograph was questioned, all pictures of Amina/Jelena have disappeared from her Facebook page.

Another interesting development that went unreported in the mainstream media is the resignation of leading journalists at Arab news networks. It's no surprise that al-Jazeera and al-Arabyia have fully embraced the Arab revolutions. But it's another matter when their enthusiasm leads-as it has in the case of Syria-to the manipulation or exaggeration of facts and figures (claims about the number of mass graves, for example, seem to come and go in an instant). At least according to Zeina al-Yaziji, a correspondent with al-Arabiya in Syria; Abdel Harid Tawfiq, director of al-Jazeera in Damascus; and Gassam Ben Jidada, who worked in the Beirut office of al-Jazeera. All three have stepped down after accusing their networks of exaggerated and unverified reporting. Did Damascus pressure them to resign? It's possible, but then why didn't they wait to leave the country before making their allegations?

One marked difference in the Syrian uprising is the role of Damascus as compared to, say, Tunis or Cairo. Damascus has been largely absent as protests continue to play out in Homs, Deraa, and Banias-smaller cities on the border with Lebanon and Jordan with their Sunni majorities. No journalist can exclude the possibility of a Saudi Arabian military invasion-Saudi Arabia is a sworn enemy of Iran-aimed at destabilizing the Assad regime. Of course it's impossible to verify any of this given the stubborn resistance of the Syrian government, which refuses to issue visas at a time when it might actually gain from reporting on possible international interference.

But that doesn't give the international media a right to promote any particular political agenda, whether it comes from Damscus or abroad. For now only doubts remain (for instance, at the beginning of the protests, why send gunmen to victims' funerals in Deraa after having removed the governor responsible for repression?) and a feeling that, in Syria as in Libya, the forces behind the uprisings-while complicated-are less clear than in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen. The only thing we can say for certain is that the events taking place in these countries will make history. And there's no shortage of reporters who want to write the story.

Christian Elia

Translated by Gary Cestaro