June 20, 2002 Special Dispatch No. 392

Syrian Authors Criticize Syrian Government Over Dam Collapse

June 20, 2002
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 392

When the Zeyzoun Dam, located in Syria's Hamat province, collapsed on June 4, 2002, five villages were destroyed and many inhabitants drowned. The economic damage led Syria to request aid from the UN as well as from Arab countries. Following the collapse of the dam, two Syrian authors published articles in the Syrian online opposition newspaper Akhbar Al-Sharq which were sharply critical of the Syrian government. The following are excerpts from their articles:

Mahmoud Al-Mahamid, an author from Aleppo, wrote the following in Akhbar Al-Sharq: "Anyone familiar with the situation Syria has reached since rule was handed over to the Ba'ath Party 40 years ago is aware of the extent to which corruption has spread across the country, through all sectors. Talk of corruption comes from the man in the street, the journalist, and the politician, and is not restricted to opposition circles which no longer show any consideration for the situation of Syria 'which stands on the front line facing the enemy.'"

"People tell each other funny/sad stories regarding this matter, like the one told by Patrick Seale [Hafez Al-Assad's British biographer] who could not be suspected of belonging to the Syrian opposition. In his book Assad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East, Seale told of the Al-Thawra newspaper building and how it was changed from 20 stories - as it was in the engineering plans - to a mere 10 stories, as [Ba'ath Party Deputy Secretary] Abdallah Al-Ahmar was forced to do, due to the amazing disappearance of the funds allocated for the project."

"…The professional literature states that dams are [meant to be] the strongest of structures. The projected life span of a dam is 50 years, after which it may lose its ability due to a rise in the silt level, not due to the weakening of its walls and low resilience. These statistics raise questions regarding the [Zeyzoun] dam, which was five years old. How was it constructed? What happened to the millions allocated for it?"

"…Many, inside and outside Syria, are raising questions regarding the resources of the Syrian government, which is incapable of managing a minor crisis that led to the deaths of dozens and swept away five villages, according to the official version, and therefore was forced to turn to the UN with a request for help."

"Questions also arise regarding the ability of the Syrian Ba'ath government to engage in battle against the enemy, the same battle in whose name freedoms were rescinded, emergency laws imposed, and tens of thousands of [Syrian citizens] murdered or expelled, on the pretext of preparing for it over the past 40 years. In an interview broadcast by [the Qatari television channel] Al-Jazeera on June 5, 2002, one viewer who called in claimed that the disappearance of 15,000 citizens was justified because of the pan-Arab battle waged by Syria."

"[During] the disaster's coverage by official Syrian television, the anchorman could not hide his amazement at the wretchedness of the services provided. They brought in a group of ambulances from all over Syria which halted quite far from the site of the disaster. They cried out on Syrian television that they did not understand why they were sent there. They did not rescue anyone because they did not enter the disaster-struck villages from the outset. It is obvious that an old ambulance is not capable of getting close to the water, not to mention, say, reaching those trapped on the roofs of their homes."

"The question we must ask is: Where are the security forces? Where is the army, for whose arming Syria spends 50% of its annual budget… and which was meant to use its aircraft, armored vehicles, and troops to help rescue the victims?! This army used all its ground and air forces 20 years ago for 'domestic missions' known to all [a reference to the 1982 Hamat massacre]."

"The media coverage of the disaster was both funny and sad. The media persisted in talking of the 'gesture,' in the form of a $200 grant for each family [whose home was] damaged, and $1000 for the families of the victims. We know that Syria does not have the economic resources of, say, Libya (which is to compensate the families of the victims of the Lockerbie disaster with $10 million each); but the government could afford a few hundred thousand dollars (the amount dedicated annually to the celebrations marking the anniversary of the Ba'ath Party's founding and many other events)…"

"In light of the fact that there is a lack of even the most rudimentary elements to handle such a crisis (not even a situation room was established for locating the missing and damaged), there is no point even talking about the possibility of the prime minister resigning, or even the minister in charge of public works."

"In Tunisia's recent elections, in which the prime minister won 99.95% of the votes, the Tunisian Interior Minister answered all who wondered about this result, 'Only those who do not know Tunisia well are surprised by this outcome.'"

"Only those who do not know Syria well are surprised by the dam affair, and by the affairs that preceded it, and those still to come!" [1]

A few days later, Abd Al-Raouf Haddad, also from Aleppo, wrote: "The Zeyzoun dam collapsed, 22 were killed, and four are missing (according to official statistics, but there are many more, according to the information leaked from the region); thousands of families lost their homes; vast areas of land were swept away; crops were ruined; and water was lost… All this is nothing as long as the government is doing well!!"

"…It is very difficult to monitor the corruption because it encompasses the entire regime… Point your finger at any official from the first, second, or third rank and you [will] find a den of corruption…"

"The 'leader's gesture' of modest compensation to the families was followed by pleading [for money] in the international arena by invoking the disaster. This in itself arouses amazement and disgust. The sum that the state would receive as a result of this disaster could be easily borne by any individual of the ruling echelon. Weren't billions of dollars smuggled out to [Syrian] officials' bank accounts in Europe?"

"The administrative corruption, moral corruption, political corruption, economic corruption, 'security' hegemony throughout the country, discrimination among citizens, the spiriting away of people to prison or to the sands of the Tadmor desert, or their expulsion abroad - all these are the sinister faces of the falsehood [i.e. the Ba'ath regime] that is strangling Syria…"

"The dam that was expected to be used for irrigation collapsed. When will come the collapse of the dam [i.e. the regime] that stands as an obstacle between the nation and its values, between the people and its liberty and honor…? When will this accursed dam collapse?"[2]

[1] Akhbar Al-Sharq (Syria), June 10, 2002.

[2] Akhbar Al-Sharq (Syria), June 16, 2002.

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