It was when the content of the Facebook page Syrian Revolution 2011 was sabotaged when its administrator, whose identity had hitherto been concealed, posted a video in which he condemns what he believes is a hacker attack. Shortly after, the video, which is now posted on Youtube, is removed when the problem turns out to be caused by a technical error. The identity of the administrator identity turned out to be Fidaaldin Al-Sayed Issa, a Swedish citizen living in Eskilstuna, a medium-sized town close to the capital Stockholm. The Facebook page that Issa administers has over 170 000 members and has been identified as the most influential social networking tool in the mobilization of protestors against the Syrian regime.
As a follower of Syrian affairs, and fellow Swedish citizen, I decided to track Issa down and ask him a few questions. After some initial complications I managed to acquire his mobile phone number; what follows is an excerpt from a telephone interview in which Issa discusses the organization of the opposition, the recurrent efforts by the regime to discredit his name, and the imperatives and strategies of the opposition network.
Issa, who is called “the Imam” by members of the Eskilstuna Mosque congregation because of his knowledge of Islam, is currently studying for a PhD in Innovation and Product Design at Mälardalen University and is active in the NGO Sweden’s Young Muslims. He was born “in an Arab country” (he does not want to tell me which) and moved with his family to Sweden at a young age.
Is it correct that you are the administrator of the Facebook page Syrian Revolution 2011?
I’m the spokesperson of network that consists of at least 250.000 members and in which the Facebook is one part. We preside over 7-8 different social networking outlets.
Do you know anything about the nationalities of the members of the Facebook page?
We cannot know exactly where people are coming from because the people in Syria log in through “proxy servers” which means that it might look like they are in South Africa when they are in fact in Syria. We have analyzed the IP addresses of our users and about 35% are Syrian residing in Syria, 50% are from the Syrian Diaspora around the world and the remaining 15% are other Arabs in other Arab countries. [Joshua writes: Of my 108 friends who have joined Syria Revolution 2011, 18 are none-Arab US citizens.]
The Syrian Revolution 2011 has been called the most “influential” in the mobilization of the anti-regime supporters. Would you agree?
We keep a wide focus. The Facebook page is indeed the most influential but it is only the multimedia section of the wider activities of the network which also consists of people on the ground in Syria. We guide young people down there. When we called for a Friday demonstration, people take to the streets – everyone follows. We determine the dates of the demonstrations with the help of people on the ground.
What does the internal organization of the network look like? Who is pulling the strings?
From the very beginning we have worked together in a democratic manner. We have different committees and different departments dealing with different aspects of our activities. I work with the multimedia part. The Facebook page is run by around 10 members while about 350 people are working in the network, around 250 in Syria and 100 around the world. We have people down there filming, collecting information on deaths, etc. Our business is not just about organizing the protests, but also to act as an information platform – a source – where media, such as Al-Jazeera, BBC, CNN, Al-Arabiya can retrieve information.
How has your activism affected your own situation? You risk never to able to return to Syria, right?
As an activist, I have had many problems with the regime. They have named my name on television several times, they say that I’m no longer a Syrian, that I have betrayed my country. They have phoned me and sent letters saying that they know where I live, what my wife and my son’s names are. But all that will not prevent me and my brothers to stop demonstrating. I’m not afraid, I’m sure that what we do will help our country and our children in the future. They say I belong to groups that I don’t, that I’m a Salafi and what not. We are tired of these lies, the kind of lies we’ve been hearing for 48 years. I’m just a Muslim, that’s all. My father was himself a Syrian activist and, therefore, our family was thrown out of the country 35 years ago.
How do you see the situation unfolding?
Everyone is sad at the moment, everyone is angry. When you see your Mom or Dad, brother or daughter getting killed, frustration will mount. We want the regime to listen to the people; we want elections and new solutions. People down there are positive and determined. They will go out on the street again and again until the government listens to their demands. Before, you were afraid to say what you wanted, afraid to tell the truth, now the barrier of fear has been crossed. We are happy that after 48 years of tyranny and injustice, people have had enough, they have woken up. First it was mostly students and young people but now old people, women, housewives, Christians, Muslims – everyone wants change.
*Adam Almkvist is a freelance journalist and as a project assistant for the Syria Research Project at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, Sweden