Marwan Abdul Razak was born in 1954 in the city of Masyaf in Hama governorate, but hails from the village of Maryamin in the district of Afrin in rural Aleppo. His family moved a lot because his father worked in the police force.
Marwan’s family settled in Aleppo in 1965, when he was in the third grade, but they would spend their summers in Maryamin and go back to Aleppo during the winter.
In the early 1970s, when Marwan was in high school, the political scene witnessed the rise of the Palestinian resistance as well as the effects of the October Liberation War. Against the backdrop of these events, many young people from the village of Maryamin became interested in political activity, and some of them joined leftist Palestinian organizations, such as the Popular Front and the Democratic Front. Marwan started engaging with this educated class of youth, who were many years older than him, and started reading about the Popular and Democratic Fronts.
“Maryamin was characterized by its brilliant and educated young people, and was close to the diverse city of Afrin. So, there was no religious radicalization in the village,” says Marwan.
In his second year studying Engineering at the University of Aleppo, Marwan joined the Arab Socialist Action Party, which was established by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine as its branch in Syria. However, the party did not last long, and ended its activity in 1977.
Marwan and a group of students formed what they called “student committees”, which criticized and exposed the practices of the National Union of Syrian Students and the regime that was intervening in the union’s elections. A group of student activists was arrested. As a result, Marwan and his friends started to publish statements demanding the release of the student committee members, the holding of fair union elections without any intervention from the government, and the release of student political prisoners. However, these statements weren’t supported by the university because of the need to work secretly in order to avoid getting arrested.
With the unstable security situation, Marwan tried to keep a low profile, so dropped out of university for 2 years and resumed study after the leftist prisoners had been released. “In 1980, the regime released the leftist prisoners, hoping that they would take its side against the Muslim Brotherhood,” he says.
The regime’s plan for the leftist parties didn’t work because many of them announced their support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore, the wave of arrests returned. In 1981, while Marwan was visiting Beirut, he was arrested for old charges pertaining to the distribution of opposition leaflets. He was detained for around 8 months in the security branches in Damascus then moved to al-Mazza military prison.
Marwan explains, “Al-Mazza prison was a two-storey building. The ground floor contained Muslim Brotherhood prisoners and few Iraqis accused of possessing weapons, while the second floor contained leaders of the February 23rd events, including Salah Jadid and others who were part of the 1966 coup d’état against former President Amin al-Hafez.”
“I stayed in al-Mazza prison for 3 years without trial,” he adds. “It was reasonably comfortable because I used to communicate and have discussions with the detainees, but heard about the torture and execution of the prisoners downstairs.”
Marwan was released 3 years later without trial. He couldn’t believe he was walking the streets of Damascus as free as a bird. He headed his friend who welcomed him with joy and surprise.
After this experience, Marwan felt that he lacked knowledge. His previous readings were consistent with his political stance and ideas. So, he applied again for a high school diploma then enrolled in the Philosophy program at Damascus University, in parallel with his new job as a civil servant in Aleppo.
In 1989, Marwan quit his government job and opened his own engineering office, but it didn’t go well because of the corruption in dealing with the Order of Engineers. He says, “Some powerful members of the order forced us to pay up to 60% of our profits, so I had to search for another source of income. Thus, I started working with my brothers in auto spare parts trading.”
As a holder of Marxist political views, Marwan found that he didn’t belong in the world of trade. The country at the time was going through a phase of political stagnation that lasted until the year 2000. After that period, there was more scope for freedom of expression via forums, lectures, and so forth. However, this didn’t last long, and the situation started to decline after the Damascus Declaration and the subsequent arrest campaign against activists.