Majed Al Alloush

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
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Interview Location: Turkey
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Majed Khaled Al Alloush was born in 1959 in the city of Deir Ezzor. He describes it as one of the biggest cities in eastern Syria, and one the biggest bordering the Euphrates River. It is also located near the Syrian desert, which caused its society to be influenced by the traits of the Bedouins as well as those of the townspeople. “The heritage of Deir Ezzor is very rich and is mixed with that of Iraq and al-Raqqa,” says Abdallah. “The region mainly depended on agriculture, livestock and the production of craft items but it started to face a real crisis after the 1970 coup d’état. At the social level, the city was no longer urban in its atmosphere, values, and activities but transformed into a sort of big village. At the political level, only the supporters of the governing authority remained. However, the biggest meltdown happened at the economic level, mostly affecting the eastern region where investments in the private sector were ceased and transferred to the hands of the government, whose failed projects were characterized by overstaffing, underpayment and corruption. In addition to that, the agricultural and livestock sector collapsed because of wrongful laws, such as imposing plantation areas, limiting the selling prices of crops, and problems with guidance units and agricultural associations. This injustice towards farmers resulted in their migration to cities and thus neglect of rural areas.”

He adds, “Even more dangerous than that is the spread of religious manifestations that created serious problems because those who appeared religious were the ones cooperating with intelligence services and receiving bribes. They showed their loyalty to the regime and a fake religious commitment at the same time.”

Abdallah remembers Deir Ezzor in the 1950s and 1960s as having all aspects and features of a city, most importantly its political, cultural and social activity. There were many political parties and currents, most famously the leftist and national parties. Although he doesn’t believe in the idealized view of the period that has developed since the oppression and injustice, he considers it a time of coexistence as well as electoral and party activity. Even during military coups, the opposing demonstrations were oppressed but protesters were not followed to their houses or residential areas. “Schools were widespread in most neighborhoods of the city and were either rented houses or old official buildings from the Ottoman or French period,” he says. “The illiteracy rate was dropping exponentially and teachers were more dedicated to their work. The city then turned into a big village after 1970, and the level of education started deteriorating due to lack of efficiency and devotion among teachers, or perhaps due to the general decline in moral standards and living conditions throughout Syria. Officials who were morally and professionally corrupt were appointed to positions such as school principals and even governors. This is what led the employees working at lower levels to become neglectful.”

Majed says that the tribal connections of the city’s people were not manifested in previous generations. “When I was a child at school, my colleagues and I didn’t know the reality of our tribal affiliation. This issue was nonexistent in the city as if the previous generations had left their tribal affiliations behind them, but this was systematically revived by the governing authority after 1980.

In 1987, Majed enrolled in the Philosophy program at Damascus University. The university at the time represented a microcosm of Syrian society, bringing together hopeful enthusiastic youth from different regions. However, the situation took a turn for the worse. Majed says, “The university employed great professors, such as Sadiq Jalal al-Azm, Badih al-Kasm and Tayyeb Tizini among others. Baathist manifestations then started to invade and, with time, most faculty members were replaced. Weaknesses appeared in the general education system, which adopted the rote-learning seen in elementary schools.”

In 1992, during his fourth year of college, Majed was arrested and charged with membership of a banned group that aimed to overthrow the regime by force - the Ba'ath Party, the national organization. “I was detained in the internal investigation branch in Damascus,” he says. “Despite all the atrocities we faced there, the branch was like a five-star hotel in comparison with the one in Palestine, where I had been arrested in 2008 and spent almost a year. In the Palestinian branch, every conceivable means of dirty practice was employed, from physical to psychological torture. In fact, the practices followed inside security branches in Syria were beyond the scope of what the human mind can possibly comprehend.”