The day when nobody wanted to hear about “reforms” anymore: For decades the Assad regime had completely taken over Syrian lives, when finally in 2011 they stood up and showed that they won’t be silenced anymore. Ameenah A. Sawwan narrates about their arduous path towards a better future.
Friday, March 18, 2011, one of the first days of major unrest in the burgeoning Syrian Revolution, had been named “The Friday of Dignity” by activists and organizers. I was twenty at the time and it took me by surprise, this thing that now surpassed all our expectations and dreams. It hadn’t crossed my mind that we Syrians would ever find ourselves confronting our regional governors or mayors in this kingdom of fear. As for the president? Never.
The year had started joyfully, with the happy news from Tunisia of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fleeing the country. How could we ever forget the voice of the man chanting at night in Bou Rekba Street in Tunis, “Freedom for the magnificent people of Tunisia! You don’t need to fear anybody anymore, we’re free! The Tunisian people are free, Ben Ali ran away!” In Syria we followed the news day and night, watching the events unfolding in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and elsewhere across Egypt, as well as reports from Tunisia and Libya. Then, on February 11, Egypt’s President Mubarak stepped down! I still remember my mother’s reaction: she rushed to shut the window that overlooked the street, closed the door, then ululated over and over again as she hopped about the room in sheer joy. My own mother, who rarely showed emotion, was gazing at me with tears in her eyes.
In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the chants had called for “bread, freedom, dignity” (or in another formulation, “Bread, freedom, social justice”). Everything seemed to revolve around dignity.
As a young Syrian woman, dignity was a word I had rarely heard before the revolutions. Of all the ringing slogans we were made to chant at school, did any of them mention dignity? The Syrian regime saw no reason to raise the subject. For the regime, dignity was something ordinary Syrians had no need of.
We love you… not
I still remember the long wall that surrounded an empty lot facing the mayor’s offices in my city of Moadamiya. Baath Party slogans covered the wall, slogans which used to be an inseparable part of a public sphere in Syria that did not belong to us. They spoke of “unity” and “freedom,” of “socialism” and the “immortal nation,” and were accompanied, of course, by portraits of Hafez, Bassel, and Bashar al-Assad, all wearing sunglasses that hid their eyes from us ordinary people. In 2011, we returned regularly to this wall to write our slogans and cover the al-Assad faces with graffiti. We’d play a game with the security services whenever they wrote their expressions of devotion to Bashar al-Assad, including the most famous phrase used during the loyalist campaign of 2007:
“We love you.” No sooner were they done than we would add a “not.”
“We love you not.”
“The people want the regime to fall.”
We covered the wall with slogans such as these, my brother and I, leaving our house at around four in the morning, carrying the cans of spray paint whose very purchase and possession was an offense in itself. The morning breeze would brush our faces as we scurried from alley to alley through the empty city, chuckling to ourselves. The several times that we did this, I thought I was the happiest person alive. After my brother passed away in 2013, I found it harder and harder to think back to the wonderful times we had shared both before 2011 and afterwards.
Obaida was my champion. If it wasn’t for him, I would never have been able to outwit the surveillance of my parents, with whom we argued constantly throughout 2011 and 2012. They were terrified of our involvement—mine in particular—in the revolution. Obaida would help me get out of the house to join him. He helped me stand up to relatives and close family and society and the environment in which we lived.
Ten years later
How can we cross the ten-year mark of the start of the revolution and still keep our minds and hearts intact?
Every year, the anniversary of the revolution encourages us to remember, so when I first agreed to write this piece I was full of enthusiasm. But as the deadline approached I saw how hard it was going to be. I opened a blank document and for two whole days I could only stare at it. I had no idea what to write, as anything I wanted to say seemed beyond words. I had many questions and much uncertainty, first and foremost about the pain, frustration, and resentment that my words might cause. I didn’t even know how to feel. My mood was all over the place, but frequently it felt as though we had failed and failed utterly. Every March, I feel as though a part of my heart has been lost, but then again, as our friend, the activist Raed Fares, used to say, “The revolution is an idea, and ideas never die.”
I wish Raed was alive today so I could ask him: But what if we can’t think any more? What if we’re frozen, held in suspension while the rest of the world rolls on, indifferent? Do we exist by ourselves in a parallel world? But then I tell myself: if one thing is certain, it is that the revolution that transforms us as individuals never comes to an end. If we can ever see the revolution through, its greatest achievement will have been to change us for the better.
In our house, Mother’s Day, March 21, was an occasion shot through with sadness and painful memories, and the melancholy songs that Syrian TV played on loop only made it worse. More than forty years ago, my father lost his mother in a tragic car accident. I had never known her, but every March I would sit with him while he told me stories of Ameenah, who had worked hard to raise her seven children, skipping sleep to ensure they had everything they needed in difficult circumstances and in a society that made everything more difficult still. Her husband, my grandfather, had injured his back as a young man and could no longer work as an agricultural laborer, and society at large refused to accept my grandmother going to work “like a man,” as they put it, always coming and going. She had to confront first her family, then endless gossip.
In our sitting room there was a large portrait of this powerful woman, a woman I had never met, and who hovered around us every year at that time. It used to fill me with happiness whenever my father compared me to her. Sometimes I’d tell myself that it was better she wasn’t with us, so that she didn’t have to witness the arrest of my father, two of my uncles, and a number of her grandchildren. It used to be said that losing loved ones was the only thing that would break her heart.
In general, I found Mother’s Day depressing, commercialized, and unpleasant. I just wish that that was all. Every Mother’s Day, I would remember the students from the occupied Syrian Golan who were studying at the University of Damascus; I’d remember the way they would mark this day, dozens of them standing in the Syrian district of Ainat al-Teina, right next to the municipality of Majdal Shams in the occupied Syrian Golan, shouting to their mothers over loudspeakers and waving handkerchiefs in the air. The most tragic possible way for anyone to celebrate their own mother.
But the worst thing about Mother’s Day was the doing of the Syrian regime. Decree 104, 1988, determined that Mother’s Day was to fall on the same day as Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year. Prior to this decree, Mother’s Day was May 13, but it was changed by Hafez al-Assad as part of his regime’s efforts to eradicate the culture, identity, and narratives of Kurds in Syria. Even after the day was declared a national holiday, the security forces would exploit the emergency laws and violently disperse gatherings celebrating Nowruz. Even when gatherings were permitted, any overt indications of Kurdish identity were forbidden. As my Kurdish friend told me, “Nowruz has been transformed from a festival that represents us into a family picnic.”
On Mother’s Day in 2011, we heard news reports about demonstrations being held elsewhere in the country. As we were preparing lunch and getting ready to make a fuss over our mother, we heard unfamiliar voices outside. When we all went outside to see what was happening, we were stunned. The first demonstration to be held in our city, Moadamiya, lasted no more than five minutes before buses filled with security forces arrived. The demonstrators were beaten and many were arrested, while a few managed to escape unscathed. Among those detained that day was my sixteen-year-old cousin, who was dragged by his hands along the ground while I screamed, “He’s young! He’s young! Let him go! He has nothing to do with it!” My mother pulled me away and put her hand over my mouth to keep me quiet. The scene will never leave me. Even now I can recall the faces of the two members of the security forces who beat and arrested my cousin. At the time, it was the most flagrant violation and humiliation I had ever witnessed. I didn’t yet realize what was in store for us, from the Syrian regime itself and from other parties, too.
My cousin was released a few days later. There was never a joy like it. I remember his smile after being released, head shaved smooth because of lice. I remember his first visit to us, and him telling me, “Look at that! God curse them, I lost all my charm after I shaved my hair. What do you say you make me a makdous sandwich? I love my aunt’s makdous…”
He was rearrested in 2012, and again came back to us just a few days later, but this time as a corpse we could barely recognize. Sometimes I wish I had never laid eyes on him that time. Isn’t it better for the dignity of our loved ones if all our memories are of them being happy and beautiful? But even this was taken from us. All we want is a memory unspoiled, unbloodied: a photograph of the whole family, with no one missing.
A flood of memories
Many of my memories from the twenty-three years I lived in Syria are associated with violence and fear and uncertainty. The feeling that under the lowering, oppressive ceiling of my homeland, a girl my age must push through dozens and dozens of layers before she gets to what and where she wants. I could not shake the sensation that so many of my questions were met with silence, evasion, or no answer at all. I was a very talkative child, my constant questioning exhausting my mother, who often became impatient:
“Don’t you ever stop? Next you’ll be wanting to know which came first, the chicken or the egg.”
In any case, attitudes at home towards questions and answers, towards anything, in fact, were kinder by far than elsewhere. I acquired a deep loathing of school and anything associated with it, and took those feelings with me all the way to Germany. I hate exams and I hate attending classes. And although life here is different, I still feel a great weight on my chest. Life here is different, and yet I can’t quite say how. Is it the respect shown to us as students? Or how we are treated as human beings?
We needed the revolution because we were in dire need of a rebellion against the layers and years of accumulated injustice, abuse, and corruption that took place everywhere in Syria: injustices that began when we were schoolchildren, when the whole class would be punished for a single student’s mistake, or when the informants given the title of “class prefects” would write the names of classmates they regarded as troublemakers on the blackboard in order for them to be punished.
In the fifth grade, my teacher beat me because I had styled my hair in a way that broke the school rules. In the ninth grade, my English teacher insulted me in front of the other girls, slapped me, then took me to the head teacher’s office for the crime of getting full marks on an exam. She accused me of cheating: the questions were too difficult, she argued; it should be impossible to get full marks. My worst experience came in the tenth grade, with my physics teacher. This man spent most of the lesson speaking ill of his wife with disgusting sexism, then turned his ire on us:
“You’re all donkeys. None of you have got a future. Actually, donkeys would be insulted if I compared them to you.”
The worst punishment I experienced was at the hands of our philosophy teacher, who used to force us to write out our lessons one hundred times. On one occasion the only way I could think of to avoid this was to skip school for a whole week. The geography teacher would dream up new ways to humiliate us. She ordered my friend to stand behind the classroom door and put one foot inside the bin “because she was no different from garbage.” When I told the teacher that this was unacceptable and that my friend had done nothing wrong - that she had merely asked me to explain a poorly written word on the blackboard - the teacher made me stand outside in the freezing corridor until I caught a cold.
Our crisis was not limited to the behavior of certain individuals within Syria’s educational system, but went back decades to the foundations of a patriarchal society that treats authoritarianism in all its manifestations - in politics, in family structures, in educational institutes - as sacrosanct.
Honestly, this endless stream of terrible experiences could make me laugh, then ask myself how we Syrians ever survived our time spent studying in those state security branches known as “schools.” How did the regime manage to construct this vast apparatus that destroys our humanity and dignity and sense of self-worth? People from my generation made it through twelve years of basic education, then four years at university (over which I will pass in silence), followed by ten years of revolution. But did we really make it?
“We’re the ones who said: He who kills his people is a traitor, whoever he may be…” The song Ya Heif (“Shame”) came out in late March 2011, telling the story of the children in Daraa who scrawled, “Your turn is coming, Doctor!” on the walls of their school, leading to their arrest and torture at the hands of the intelligence services. This event was the trigger that unleashed the inexhaustible rage and disgust of Syrians at the multilayered injustices in their country.
Sometimes I wonder whether we were dreaming when we used to believe that “we died at our brothers’ hands,” as the lyrics of that song described. Brothers? Since when? How could we have believed that we would overcome forty years of the al-Assads’ efforts to divide us and fill our hearts with fear of other people? But the song did say one thing that rings true even ten years later, and will remain so even after one hundred years: “He who murders his people is a traitor, whoever he may be.” And this includes not only the Syrian regime, but all the other parties to the conflict.
I avoided Ya Heif for years, because it reminded me of things I didn’t want to remember. The first time I got a copy of the song was in April 2011, when my friend sent it to me via Bluetooth. We were sitting on the bench outside my house, next to my mother’s pretty flower boxes, and listening to the song with the volume turned low. When my mother appeared with coffee for us, she heard the lyrics and was appalled. She told me to delete the song from my phone and we argued about it for ages. It was perhaps the mildest of my fights with my parents. Neither of them supported my brothers’ involvement in the revolution, so they were hardly likely to welcome their twenty-year-old daughter taking part. Throughout 2011 and 2012, my mother and I were constantly locked in battle. I had to slip out behind her back if I wanted to do anything, and I was lying all the time. She usually saw through my white lies. “You’re trying to give me a heart attack,” she’d say.
On one occasion, I was late coming home and she called me. She knew I was at a demonstration, of course, so what did she do but come and pluck me out of the crowd and take me home. Naturally, at the time I was furious at the way she grabbed me and raised her voice in front of my comrades, but when we talk about those times now, my mother and I laugh a little and weep a lot. We weep for who and what we have lost.
The first cry, the first chant
I’m often asked about the first time I chanted at a demonstration, and I always try to explain, though I never manage to give the scene its due. That Friday, April 22, 2011, I’d had no intention of joining the demonstration, which was to be the largest one to date in our city. The demonstrators were going past our house, huge numbers of them. When we saw this, my brother and I ran to join, I still in my pajamas and flip-flops, and together we began to chant, the tears filling my eyes as we cried, “The Syrian people will not be mistreated!” I was almost jumping for joy, but I never finished the march. A few hundred yards on, as the demonstrators passed an intersection, regime forces opened fire directly into the march, killing three and wounding dozens. One of the city mosques was converted into a field hospital, and other mosques put out the call for blood donors from their minarets. Much blood flowed that day, not just in Mouadamiya but in other regions in and around Damascus and other Syrian cities. There were killed and wounded everywhere. Things happened that day that will never be forgotten, such as the destruction of the statue of Bassel al-Assad in Deir Ezzor, and statues of his father in Hujeira and Ariha and Shuhayl, acts that were a clear sign that the fear was gone from people’s hearts.
I do not believe that I, or any Syrian, will ever forget that day. I don’t know if I can speak for all Syrians, though—maybe just a majority of Syrians. The rest were busy celebrating the victory of the security forces and the Syrian Army over the “all-embracing conspiracy” and “fifth-columnist, foreign-funded demonstrators.” That day marked a turning point. There was no going back. From that day on, no one was interested in reforms and empty words in “presidential speeches” about conspiracies and fighting terrorism.
The crown on my head
In 2012, a video clip was widely shared on social media, showing a man in his forties in Aleppo. In the video, the man has just been beaten and detained by soldiers of the Syrian Army, and he is pleading with the soldiers to let him say goodbye to his children before he is killed. “Where are your kids?” one of the soldiers asks, and the man replies, “At home with their mother.” Another soldier then says, “Will you let me fuck your wife if I take you home to see them?” and the man answers, “God no... She’s my soul, my wife, the crown on my head.” The clip ends with the man being executed and his corpse dumped at the side of the road.
This clip has never left my thoughts in all the years since I first saw it. It is just one among many examples of degradation and destruction that our minds were barely capable of processing yet with which we had to live every day in Syria. This humiliation was particularly evident in the use of family, and women in particular, to blackmail and abuse male detainees, with the security forces threatening rape and sexual violence against the women.
There is one incident I will not forget. It happened to a friend of mine in mid-2011, after security forces had dispersed a demonstration in Mouadamiya. Many of us had managed to escape, but some were not so lucky. My friend and two other young women were trapped in a dead end and, as usual, the security forces began to insult and abuse them in the vilest possible terms. When they were done, one of the men asked my quaking friend if she was married, and she said she was. He asked if she had any children. Her heart was pounding as she replied, “Two daughters.” “So,” he went on, “do you want us to bring your girls a bundled-up body? What do you say we give you back pregnant with a brother for them?” He cackled. The three girls started pleading with the men to let them go, claiming that they hadn’t been demonstrating, just in the area by chance. The officer ordered them to get on their knees and kiss his boots in exchange for letting them go on their way. My friend wept as she told me. We never talked about it again.
Whenever I think back to those days, I am astonished at those people who ask why we held a revolution in Syria when things were much better beforehand. As though we Syrians have no right to any option other than the al-Assads. Like regime loyalists liked to write on the walls: “Al-Assad or no one.”
A journey through olive trees
In late February of 2012, I fell ill for a few days. My friend and her brother came to visit me and suggested we take a trip to the Mouadamiya olive tree plantations, which are particularly beautiful in the first few days of spring. As we drove there, we passed a group of people standing in one of the plantations. We pulled over and got out of the car, only to see two bodies sprawled out on the damp soil. It was a pair of men in their late thirties or early forties, staring in astonishment at the sky above them. My skin still crawls when I remember the scene; it is as though my heart has dropped down a deep hole. One of the men had his arms raised and rope marks were clearly visible on his wrists. The other man had rope marks around his neck. We later learned that the two men had been briefly detained by the regime-backed armed popular committees before being tortured and dumped.
No one knew who they were, nor where they came from. They were buried as unknown victims. For a long time, all I could think about was the lost identities of these men. Did they have partners? Children? Their loved ones would have no idea whether they were dead or alive. The men had simply disappeared, without any goodbyes, no last words, without even a grave for the family to find and visit. I think about them often, and I ask myself what happened to their families. Through everything that has happened to me, all the moves and changing circumstances, the faces of those men have stayed with me.
In the years since then, there have been endless reports about thousands of unknown victims and missing persons, but when you see one of them with your own eyes, when you see the marks of torture and the staring eyes, the sight of it will pursue you, and make you remember them. All of them: the victims who know no justice, no elegy, no gravestone to bear their names and dates of birth and death.
My memory is scattered and my stories all return to the same glitching timeline
From Mouadamiya in 2012 to February 2021 in Koblenz, Germany. On the bank of the river there sits one of the Higher Regional Courts of the state. We stood there since the early morning, waiting our turn to attend the trial of Eyad A., one of the main defendants in what is variously known as the Al-Khatib or Branch 251 trial.
At six that morning, as we waited outside the court, there were discussions taking place about the economic situation in Syria and what the concept of justice meant to Syrians within Syria. We were talking about Egypt and Syria, about the revolution, about how the Arabic word eish can mean both “life” and “bread,” when I suddenly remembered a novel by Aziz Nesin that I had read several times as a teenage girl, titled Yahya Exists and Does Not Live, a play on the two words for life. It made me think: do Syrians live, or do they only exist?
Once inside the courtroom, I looked around. I saw a few people I knew, then I looked over at the wall behind the judges’ bench. There were hundreds of files, sorted and stacked by color. At that moment, hundreds of questions were swirling around my mind. I was feeling on edge and didn’t want my tension to show. What is justice? Was this trial a step towards justice? What was the justice that we were after? Should I be optimistic because this was happening, or should I feel frustrated because it had taken ten years of ongoing violations before we had taken even this short stride forward—bringing a single operative of Syria’s vast security apparatus to trial?
I remembered! That was it! A decade had passed since the revolution began. Then my forehead began to drip cold sweat and suddenly I was unable to cope with the mask and the acrylic barriers dividing us members of the public from one another. I had a desire to weep. To hug someone. As we sat there in the courtroom, I was thinking about the crimes that were still being committed in that other, parallel world where millions of Syrians still live.
The judge entered and the court rose. She gave her verdict, then sat to read out the details that had led to this four-and-a-half year sentence for Eyad A. She spoke of the violent repression of demonstrations, the torture of demonstrators, assaults on cities and towns, electricity and internet blackouts, and all of the regime’s many crimes. She mentioned Douma, then Daraa. My heart pounded every time she uttered a city’s name.
For three straight hours, the judge listed the crimes of the Syrian regime. The sheer density of detail, which I usually try to avoid thinking about but which never completely leaves me, was exhausting. As the debate raged between Syrians over the trial, I would tell myself: there’s so much being said on the verdict, but to listen to these things with your own ears, and in a place like this, it’s impossible not to feel that something has been achieved, even if it’s only one small step forward.
All that morning, I was haunted by the vision of those two anonymous victims from my hometown. Were they trying to tell me something? I wondered why memories of those who had left us could be so insistent. Was it a sense of responsibility, perhaps? Survivor’s guilt? Was it just the dogged specter of our trauma? Or all of the above?
What is justice?
Much of what is said revolves around justice. We are not used to thinking about it. I have never attended a trial in my life; I couldn’t tell you what a Syrian courtroom looks like. My father did know, and his attempts to obtain justice over the course of twenty-five years ended in failure. The short version: for years, my father was trying to buy a plot of land and build a house. In the end, as a result of a perversion of justice, the court ruled that, while the building was ours, the land itself reverted to its former owner, who took possession of it by forging documents through bribery and nepotism. At least we had somewhere to live and call home, even though we didn’t own the land it was built on.
Many, many Syrians live and die still dreaming of owning a house of their own, in which to live in dignity—however it comes. Some don’t even own the price of a grave to hold them when they are gone. It’s a great irony that, although we didn’t own our house outright, my father had bought a grave plot two years before the revolution, in a new cemetery close to al-Sumariyeh and the military airport of Mazzeh.
When regime violations in Mouadamiya began to rise and the number of martyrs with them, and as it became impossible to access this cemetery from the city, another cemetery was built among the olive tree plantations and called The Martyrs’ Cemetery. My brother Obaida was one of the young men who volunteered to help clear the ground and set up a basic infrastructure so that the victims of bombardments and snipers could be buried. The cemetery was frequently targeted by the Syrian Army’s “Chemical Division,” whose headquarters are located in the same plantations, and whose gunfire twice wounded my brother during the construction of the cemetery. Both times, I asked him, my heart pounding, “Obaida, how can you keep doing this? Isn’t this too much for you?”
“The least we can do for people who die is give them somewhere to be buried in dignity,” he would say. “Maybe we haven’t yet secured our right to live in dignity, but we can try and die with dignity, at least.”
Obaida buried five of my paternal cousins, one after the other, and then a maternal cousin. The day of one of these burials, I was standing in a corner of the field hospital, filming my father as he led mourners in prayer. Obaida was in the background of the shot, in the row behind him. Today, I am watching the video in Berlin and unable to take in the reality of how things were. I can see my cousin in the coffin, his white burial clothes glowing dimly in the few rays of sunshine that could penetrate into the converted cellar of the hospital, its gloom only heightening the pain of the scene. Watching the footage today, it is like a film played by people I do not know, in locations I’ve never been to before.
On August 29, 2013, my brother Obaida, his wife Mariam, and his six-year-old son Ahmad were all killed in the 4th Armored Division’s artillery bombardment of Mouadamiya. Obaida, Mariam, and Ahmad were buried next to one another in the very graves that Obaida had dug himself, alongside my cousins and other friends and loved ones.
I have never visited their graves, a source of intense pain to me. The last time I was in Moudamiya, the cemetery was the target of bombing runs and artillery bombardments. My family visits from time to time. They plant flowers on the graves and tend to them; they take photographs for me, leaving me to dream that one day I might stand at my brother’s grave and talk to him. I’ve thought a lot about what I will say to Obaida, Mariam, and Ahmad when I visit. I play the lines over and over in my head; one day I will be there.
Sometimes, I tell myself that at least we have a grave to visit. I will never forget the dear Mariam al-Hallak, that great activist and mother of the martyr Dr. Ayham Ghazoul, who was tortured to death in the prisons of the Syrian regime and whose family received nothing but a piece of paper notifying them of his death. For years, Mariam has been fighting for a grave to visit.
Where are we today?
Two days ago, I read a quote by the activist and lawyer Razan Zeitouneh, who was abducted by Jaysh al-Islam rebels in 2013 and not been heard from since. Here is a summary of what she wrote: “The most beautiful thing about my friends is ... that they never stop expressing their wonder at themselves and others and celebrating freedom, and freedom is still an ongoing project, to this day.”
Freedom is still an ongoing project in Syria, for Syria’s citizens and detainees. After all that has happened we can admit that we are broken by failure and tired. Ten years have passed, years that have drained and exhausted us, but freedom is still possible as an ongoing project, in all its many layers and aspects. Maybe we will only reap the results a generation from now, or two, or three…
Author: Ameenah A. Sawwan is a Syrian campaigner and activist, based in Berlin since 2016. She has experience in advocacy and campaigning, communication and media, and has spent the last eight years working on Syria for a range of NGOs and media outlets. Ameenah A. Sawwan is also a member of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement. She currently works for the human rights and advocacy group The Syria Campaign, where she leads their work on justice and accountability in Syria.
Translation from Arabic: Robin Moger is a translator of Arabic poetry and prose based in Cape Town, South Africa.
Curation: Sandra Hetzl (* 1980 in Munich) translates literary texts from Arabic, among others by Rasha Abbas, Mohammad Al Attar, Kadhem Khanjar, Bushra al-Maktari, Aref Hamza, Aboud Saeed, Assaf Alassaf and Raif Badawi, and sometimes she writes too. She holds a Masters in Visual Culture Studies from the University of the Arts in Berlin, is the founder of the literary collective 10/11 for contemporary Arabic literature and the mini literature festival Downtown Spandau Medina .
This essay is part of our series "Reminiscence of the future". To commemorate ten years of revolution in North Africa and West Asia, the authors share their hopes, dreams, questions and doubts. The essays indicate how important such personal engagement is in developing political alternatives and what has been achieved despite the violent setbacks.
In addition to the series we also address the ongoing struggle against authoritarian regimes, for human dignity and political reforms in various multimedia projects: For example, our digital scroll story "Giving up has no future" presents three activists from Egypt, Tunisia and Syria who show that the revolutions are going on.