Safwan Jamo

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Turkey
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Safwan Jamo was a young boy when he started going the library at the Cultural Center in Armanaz city in the Idlib countryside. He didn’t leave one book unread. “In the early 1980s, I was about 13 years old and some teachers in our school were arrested for belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and for terrorism,” he says. I was more aware than many of my generation due to my early readings. So, I realized that they weren’t criminals but the Ba’athist teachers wanted us to believe that they were. I became even more curious about the truth and wanted to know more about the regime governing the country.”

In 1982, Safwan heard about a radio station called “Radio Free Syria” broadcasting from Iraq on shortwave radio frequency. He found it on the radio and started listening to different ideas and points of view on the events that were unfolding in Syria and particularly in the city of Hama. “My political awareness started forming when I understood the period in which we were living and the injustice that was practiced in society. This injustice was manifested in what happened to the teachers in our school, some of whom were released after 15 years of imprisonment while the others were killed.”

Safwan studied electrical engineering at the University of Aleppo, but he discovered that the university’s academic level wasn’t what he had expected. “The university failed to keep up with the times,” he says. We started university in 1986, when the country was suffering from economic pressure and crises. Many university professors traveled to Arab and non-Arab countries to look for better job opportunities. Thus, there was a lack of professors in universities, especially in our faculty. The solution was to recruit military professors from al-Assad Military Academy. This situation lasted for about 2 years before those who had traveled to pursue higher education abroad came back to fill the faculty shortages, and they were mostly Alawites.”

Safwan graduated in 1992 and worked at Aleppo’s Directorate of Awqaf (religious endowments) and in the private sector before being assigned to work in Idlib’s Awqaf in 1997. He says, “Corruption was present in Idlib’s Awqaf but at very low levels because the institution’s resources were limited despite the significant size of its assets and property. This was due to low investment possibilities as well as the existing tenancy laws that reduced the actual rental income generated from the real estate owned by the Awqaf.”

Safwan says that job applications received by the Awqaf, whether to religious or other positions, were reviewed according to a detailed system. They would be sent to several security branches before being agreed upon. “An applicant for a job as an imam or a mosque preacher would be summoned to the security branches and lectured about how the job was a national task that required him to be the regime’s eyes and ears and report to the security services about every single thing that happened in the mosque. This explains why a huge number of those who led religious observances and worked in the Awqaf supported the regime under all circumstances.”

Safwan moved between many departments and fields within the Directorate of Awqaf in Idlib. He was Head of the Waqf Department for several years, then became Head of the Technical Office before working in the Department of Property, among others. “The Waqf in Syria is a burden on the government instead of being a complementary part of the state,” he says. “Had the enormous potential and real estate owned by the Ministry of Awqaf been properly invested, it would have been able to foster the advancement of society. The Waqf in Islamic countries that are not totalitarian, such as Turkey and Indonesia, greatly contributes to health, education and other sectors because its role is not restricted to providing a place for prayer. In fact, positive law has weakened the Waqf institutions, making them a burden on the government.”

The salaries of religious practitioners, such imams, preachers and servants of mosques, were very low and less than those of the administrative staff at the Awqaf because the religious practitioners were not covered by the Basic Law for state workers. They were also deprived of vacations: “The reason for paying low salaries to religious practitioners was for them to stay poor and destitute - a policy that had been in place since the early 1970s.”

Alongside his government job, Safwan worked in other fields like trade because he says the salary was in no way sufficient to meet basic needs:This practice is wrong. When employees are forced to work somewhere else to earn their living, they aren’t able to give all of their time and effort, and will never excel while working in two different fields at the same time.”