The Current

Despite years of war, this Syrian activist remains hopeful of her country's future

Noura Al-Jizawi, a Syrian revolutionary who risked her life fighting for democratic change in her country, says she came alive the moment she took to the streets to fight for the cause. She reflects on what’s happened since that uprising during the Arab Spring in 2011.

Noura Al-Jizawi was key figure in Syrian uprising during the Arab Spring

Noura Al-Jizawi played a key role in the Syrian uprising and served as vice-president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. She now works as a research assistant at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab. (Alexis MacDonald)

Story Transcript

A Syrian revolutionary who risked her life fighting for democratic change in her country says she came alive the moment she took to the streets to fight for the cause.

"I feel like the 23 years I lived before the revolution were nothing," Noura Al-Jizawi told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"It was unbelievable [to] challenge and confront the dictator face to face and to shout, to raise your voice while you are looking in the eyes of the security guards and security officers. They were holding guns and they were so afraid of our voices."

In March of 2011, mere months after the Arab Spring swept through Tunisia, Egypt and beyond, pro-democracy activists in Syria began demanding an end to President Bashar al-Assad's authoritarian regime.

As vice-president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Al-Jizawi played a key role in the country's uprising. Having been arrested several times, she also knew the dangers involved — but she didn't care.

"Back then, I believed even if the regime murdered me, hundreds of other young people and dreamers would be able to continue in this cause, and they [would] never stop," she said.

However, the demonstrations were quickly followed by violent government crackdowns. Now, nearly 10 years on, Syria remains embroiled in a complicated and seemingly endless civil war. Some estimates suggest half a million people have died as a result of the conflict, while many more have been displaced.

Continued support for revolution

Al-Jizawi now lives in Canada, and works as a research assistant at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, which focuses on interdisciplinary research and development. She came to the school through its Scholars at Risk program, which supports refugees and asylum seekers whose studies have been impacted by political change in their country.

When she looks back at that pivotal uprising in Syria a decade ago, it elicits a mix of emotions.

"We still have the belief in the revolution and in the [necessity] of change," she said. "And I believe that even more people, and more ordinary citizens now, they believe in the same concept."

Still, activists who took part in the uprising against the Syrian government live with guilt, blaming themselves for the human suffering that has unfolded in their country.

A boy holds a pre-Baath Syrian flag adopted by the Syrian revolution during the uprising, during a demonstration against President Bashar al-Assad's regime on Aug. 31, 2012, in the northern Syrian city of Marea. Al-Jizawi says many Syrians still believe in the revolution. (Achilleas Zavallis/AFP/Getty Images)

Al-Jizawi said the goal of the revolution was always to make life better for Syrians.

"We were happy to take the risk … as people participating in the movement. But when the regime's atrocity was expanding to target and attack the civilians, the children, the women and the vulnerable people, it was just crazy," said Al-Jizawi.

"And it was very clear that [it was] an attempt to make people turn against us and keep blaming the revolution for all of this tragedy."

To this day, Al-Jizawi finds it difficult to grapple with the reality that she cannot go home.

Speaking about democracy is a bit easy. But working towards making democracy real is a really hard job.- Noura Al-Jizawi

But it also motivates her to keep moving forward.

"There's a lot of other components out of our control, like the regional politics, the international politics," Al-Jizawi  said of the crisis in Syria.

What people can do is choose to keep working together, she added.

"Speaking about democracy is a bit easy. But working towards making democracy real is a really hard job."


Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Julie Crysler.

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