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SYRIA: As protests get underway, activist says there's no going back

April 22, 2011 |  4:22 am

0415-Syria-protests_full_380For Syrian dissident Nahed Badawie, prison itself was not the worst part of her various confinements.

Rather it was being forced to watch Syrian state television, the only news channel available in the facility where she was held until a couple of weeks ago.

In mid-March, before mass popular protests broke out in Syria, Badawie participated in the very first demonstration, a rally outside the Interior Ministry in Damascus calling for the release of political prisoners. She was arrested in scuffles between demonstrators and security forces and detained for two weeks.

"We went down in solidarity with them," she recalled in an interview with Babylon & Beyond. "I saw the invitation on the Internet. Security forces were beating the girls because they were holding up photos and they were refusing to take them down ... so I came to help them out of the hands of the security, and they took me with them."

Badawie, arrested along with 33 others, was hauled into a bus and driven to a detention facility, where she shared a cell with 10 other demonstrators.

For an outspoken activist like Badawie, however, having to watch the mindless propaganda on Syrian state television was the worst part of being jailed. As protests and violence broke out in the southern  town of Dara, which has become the epicenter of demonstrations, Badawie and her cellmates were trying to understand what was happening in the south by reading between the lines of what was  said on government-controlled television.

"We tried to reach a conclusion from the statements carried on state television," she said. "We took the news and flipped it to try to figure out what was going on. But we knew there were casualties because they were portraying weapons."

The current street protests in Syria differ from those that took place when Badawie was a leftist activist in the 1980s. She spent four years in prison during her 20s. Today's demonstrations are not organized but spontaneous in nature and erupt from out of nowhere, Badawie said.

She expresses great admiration for the new generation and feels hopeful about change coming to Syria, but she is worried about the violence.

"There is this new generation who refuses to live in this old system and that wants a system that fits with their level of education and the communications age," she said. "They want a modern system -- not a system that is a relic of the Cold War. I'm optimistic but scared at the same time. I'm optimistic because the country will not be the same again. But at the same time I'm scared that there will be a lot of bloodshed."

One thing she is sure of: There is no going back to the old system.

"I'm not sure if we arrrived at the point of no return yet," she said. "But of course there is 'no return' because Syria can't go back to what it was like before."

--Alexandra Sandels in Damascus

Photo: Women attend a demonstration in Deraa on April 15. Credit: Associated Press