Abu Zeid was a 24-year-old tour guide offering camel rides to tourist in the ancient site of Palmyra when the Syrian revolution began last year. His story, as reported in the New York Times on Monday, illustrates how many Syrians’ lives have been affected by the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Abu Zeid belongs to a Bedouin family; he was raised in a tent with his eight siblings and was familiar with the tourist industry from an early age, living as the family did close to one of the most historic sites in Syria, the ancient roman city Palmyra.
At the age of four, Abu Zeid was selling postcards until he got his camel “Casanova” when he was 11. Casanova became his main bread winner, giving rides to tourist in Palmyra which is where the young man picked up five different languages.
On April 10, 2011 Abu Zeid’s life changed dramatically when his neighbor, a conscript, Mohammed Awab Qanbar was killed in the southern city of Dara’a after refusing to shoot on protestors, according to the New York Times.
A few days later Qanbar’s funeral took place in his home town in Tadmur, the main city closest to Palmyra. The funeral turned into a massive protest which ultimately brought Abu Zeid into the forefront of the revolution. But it was the witnessing of a death of a 17-year-old girl by security forces in Tadmur in August that turned Abu Zeid from peaceful protestor to revolutionary fighter.
Abu Zeid and about 20 friends quietly started arming themselves. They camped at a desert oasis and called themselves the Grandchildren of Zenobia, the queen of ancient Palmyra. The armed group soon grew to several hundreds, joining other armed groups in the region, stealing money from convoys of rich businessmen and rifles from military outposts. The money would later be distributed to Syrian refuges or used to buy more weapons in order to protect demonstration from Assad’s forces.
Abu Zeid also described his encounter with a security officer to the New York Times. He kept in touch with a security officer from his tribe in Tadmur, kidnapped the man and beat him until he decided to withdraw from Syrian forces.
After losing hope and his beloved Casanova, Abu Zeid fled to a neighboring country where he now awaits his visa to France, where he hopes to go live with his French girlfriend who he had met on her visit to Syria as an Arabic student. Abu Zeid says he is torn between leaving his violent and thieving past behind by escaping Syria and the region completely or continuing his long struggle against Assad’s regime.