Raed Hamod is probably the most famous man in Jarjanaz. For over a year and a half he has been what Syrians call the “Qashoush” of his town. It is a reference to Ibrahim al Qashoush, the man who first sang “yalla erhal ya bashar” -- come on leave Bashar -- before his throat was cut and his body thrown in a river.
For over an hour, I watch Raed, standing up on a huge speaker, microphone in hand, inciting a crowd of fasting men under the killing heat of a Friday demonstration.
This week’s slogan was “arm us with anti-aircraft missiles.” The mood is cheerful and light, and so are the slogans, until suddenly he strikes a pose and tells the crowd they should chant that the people want the return of the Islamic Khilafa. Which they do.
The clean shaven young man in the white Polo doesn’t strike me as an Islamist, but when I ask him about it, he tells me he is a Salafist and that he is only allowed to sing and to shave his beard because it serves the goals of the revolution.
Raed gives me the same rhetoric I have been hearing since our arrival to Idlib. The Syrian people feel the world has conspired against them, and that God only is on their side. This has increased the religiosity of already conservative communities.
He says that in earlier demonstrations and during the first six months of the revolution, all the slogans he chanted cheered for the peaceful revolution. Guns emerged with the rise of Islamism, making the Free Syrian Army relatively better armed, even if it was not better organized.
But with time, the young man who had sung in nightclubs joined the FSA along with five of his brothers. His tune began to reference guns and religion. He became a student of Sharia.
I ask him why he wants the return of the Khalifa to Syria, he answers because God had said it. However, when I ask if he would fight against a non-Islamic state elected by the people, he says he wouldn’t.
Calmly, Raed tells me how his 31-year-old brother, Anas, was killed just a day earlier when he mistakenly came across an army checkpoint. He is one of five men that Jarjanaz had lost this week. The four others were killed in Salaheddine, where they had joined the fighting in the battle for Aleppo.
As we speak, a truck carrying half a dozen young men armed with guns passes. We learn they have just come from Kfarnebol, which they say they have “liberated.” The FSA fighters were able to take out the army’s checkpoint and to confiscate their weapons.
Back in Sarakeb, we heard Kfernebol was being heavily bombed. None of our Syrian companions was surprised. No one was surprised either when three bombs flew over our heads and exploded somewhere nearby as we ate Iftar after sunset.
Our crew rushes over and see there are no casualties or damage, so return to our meal, eating chicken and discussing where the bombs came from. Each of us say it felt like they came from behind.
We do not need to discuss how people in their “liberated” cities know they can be hit by a bomb any minute, but I cannot help thinking about it. I keep trying to make up my mind what’s better: adapting to the idea that security is an unattainable luxury, or allowing this same idea to dictate measures that offer no real guarantees. The people of Sarakeb have obviously voted for the first option.
After tarawih prayer, a demonstration starts roaming the city’s streets, with children taking the lead chanting the slogan. Elias, a seven-year-old, is the most famous amongst them. He’s been doing this since he was five, and I can’t help thinking what kind of career this talented child will end up having.
More children surround me, and as I asked why they are demonstrating when they should be in bed, their answers spill out cheerfully, with most of them saying they want freedom, and many making jokes about Bashar Assad. I am all laughs, and then a small truck loaded with gunmen cuts into the crowd, almost hitting a dozen people. We learn later this was an FSA ambulance, taking three seriously wounded men to a nearby hospital after they were ambushed at a checkpoint.
At the hospital, gunmen, all heavy bearded and many overweight, occupy the lobby, waiting to get news about the wounded. Just outside, children continue to play. This is all a madhouse, but it is still making sense.
It is almost 11 in the evening, and the day isn’t near over. At the media house where we are staying, Abou Trad, the head of the Sheikh Assaad Hilal Katiba, arrives unannounced. We start talking about the FSA, and he says his biggest fear is the delusions that the world is getting about the resistance.
“It’s really a free army -- everyone is free to do what they want,” jokes Ahmad, a younger member of the Katiba.
I ask Abou Trad what’s FSA’s biggest achievement, and he answers that it has managed to keep the army out of the towns and impose some kind of control. He also admits that violations are taking place, and when I ask him to what extent he thought the FSA takes credit for the bombing that killed the security leaders in Damascus and the deserting of the Prime Minister, he says 30 to 40 percent.
He has a theory about who really was behind those acts, but prefers not to share it with me. “Journalists are now capable of coming here. That was impossible not too long ago, and that is for sure an achievement of the FSA,” he says.
But what guarantees do you have that the army will not invade again and neutralize this achievement?
“None,” he says.
(Alia Ibrahim, Senior Correspondent for Al Arabiya TV in Beirut, can be reached at: email@example.com)