Mohamad Dibo

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
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Interview Location: Lebanon
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“Syrian writers have to rely on literary tricks and use subtle language to express their perspectives and ideas.”

Mohamad Dibo was born in the town of Al-Anaza, part of the city of Baniyas on the Syrian coast.

Mohamad says that the prevailing outlook toward communism in his village, and in Baniyas in general, was quite negative. Before Mohamad was born, the number of Baathists in the village was barely more than ten, and most people were either Communists or Nasserists. After the Baathist coup, however, almost everyone became a Baathist. Mohamad sees this as indicative of two things, firstly, that people’s partisan affiliation at the time wasn’t sufficiently strong enough to compel them to defend their positions. Secondly, that the Communists must have belonged to the less educated classes. It is inconceivable that the government would have been able to change everyone’s mind, no matter how great the power of the State or the authoritarian nature of the regime. Communists therefore must have not had the requisite awareness to be able to defend their viewpoints or beliefs, making them Communist in name only.

Once, Mohamad managed to unearth one of the bags his family had kept hidden from him, which contained books on communism and socialism. They had once belonged to his father, who had died before Mohamad ever got to know him. Books with red covers, with photos of Lenin on the front. No more than fifteen years old at the time, Mohamad didn’t quite understand the contents of those books nor the words used within, but still, he would leaf through them from time to time.

Mohamad was also influenced by his older sister, who described Lenin as a man of great seriousness. Together, in secret, they listened to tapes that had lectures by Sheikh Imam and Martin, as well as some communist songs. This led Mohamad to start thinking about things differently, and he started on a path that would ultimately converge with his father’s, whom he resembled greatly.

His mother, however, objected strenuously, fearing that she might suffer a repeat of the hardships her husband had had to endure, including the time he spent in prison during the 1960s, and the way in which his whole life had been given over to his political involvement at the expense of his family.

During the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Mohamad was a teenager, and those events spurred him into action. His first attempts at writing were shared with his sister, who encouraged him and expressed her admiration for his work.

“One of the things that really pushed me toward writing,” says Mohamad, “was that I began reading at an early age. Among the first to encourage me was a friend of my father’s, also a communist. He gifted me with my first set of books as a reward for my good performance at school. I read them with such pleasure, and  it was a reason for me to begin thinking about becoming a writer.”

Mohamad discovered a youth magazine called Shabablak; inside, the editors had put out a call that they were looking for new writers. He promptly wrote an article and sent it to the editors, who published it. Mohamad felt deeply delighted at seeing his article in print, and more so when the magazine asked him to prepare a special report on his university, its students and their problems. They published this article as well and paid him for it. Mohamad realized that writing wasn’t simply a personal pleasure, that it was possible for him to earn a living from it. He decided to pursue writing in earnest and embark on a career in journalism.

“I don’t really like journalism,” says Mohamad. “I hope one day to be able to devote myself entirely to creative writing. But this is very difficult, because you can earn money from journalism, even though it is far from what I studied at the Faculty of Commerce and Economy.”

Mohamad participated in a number of cultural and literary contests during his time at university, and also traveled to several different countries, including the Sultanate of Oman, South Africa, Morocco and Lebanon. In each country he found himself introduced to new ideas and different popular struggles at various stages, and he compared them to what was happening in his country. This allowed him to envision ideas beyond the ideology and worldview of the Baath Party.

Alongside his work as a journalist in Damascus, Mohamad also wrote poetry and published many of his poems in newspapers. There was a literary contest to celebrate the naming of Damascus as the Arab Capital of Culture in 2000, and after submitting some of his verses, Mohamed won the poetry prize. The poem was subsequently published in a book published especially for the occasion.

Mohamad refers to the publishing of a book of short stories under his own name as a pivotal moment. The book, published in Beirut, dealt with the subjects of human rights, imprisonment and arrest, all of which are considered taboo subjects in Syria. After it came out, Mohamad truly felt like a writer, and knew without a doubt that he would continue writing, despite a swift invitation to the State Security headquarters in Tartus, where he was subjected to questioning—one of the many types of control imposed on writers in Syria.

“Syrian writers have to rely on literary tricks and use subtle language to express their perspectives and ideas,” says Mohamad.

When Mohamad moved to Damascus in 2001, he became more involved politically, working with civil society organizations and attending seminars and discussions organized by opposition groups. He made a group of friends who were former detainees, all of which paved the way for him to join the revolution when it erupted in 2011.