"In August 2011, my older brother Yassein—a businessman who is in no way politically involved—was praying inside the Mustafa Mosque in Daraya, southwest of Damascus, while a protest was happening outside. Security forces moved in to disperse the demonstration, arresting Yassein, who had not been participating. After his arrest, he was taken to the headquarters of Syrian Airforce Security. (Airforce Security is known for brutally torturing dissidents; it was responsible for the mutilation and killing of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khateeb at the outset of the uprising last year.) My brother has been held incommunicado ever since.

That I have been spared Yassein’s fate—indeed, a fate perhaps even worse than his—is only because I left Syria years ago, after years of active political opposition. My current distance from my country has undoubtedly preserved my safety. But it has not at all changed my assessment of the Assad regime’s terrors: Instead, it has only made me more determined in my opposition to Assad’s rule, and more hopeful that its end is near. Indeed, I am confident that my difficult personal journey—from domestic political reformer to leader of a government-in-exile—will one day tell a tale of redemption.”

- Radwan Ziadeh, The Making of a Syrian Dissident: A Personal Journey

Photo of Yassein Ziadeh courtesy of Flickr

Meet the freedom-fighting smugglers on the Syrian border:

As violence has intensified in Syria, the human smuggling business has boomed—in both directions. Syrian civilians employ smugglers in hopes of getting out of harms way, while journalists, aid groups, and human rights organizations hire them to gain access to the front lines. It can be an expensive proposition: Sources confirmed that smugglers have asked for upward of $20,000 for a single trip. But, increasingly, smugglers are giving a free ride to international journalists, or anyone else who promises to spread the word about the stakes in Syria. Indeed, perhaps the most telling aspect of this burgeoning market is that it’s informed by a calculus that’s not strictly economic.

- Erin Banco and Sophia Jones, Meet the Freedom-Fighting Smugglers on the Syrian Border

Photo courtesy of the Daily Beast

Why did anyone believe Bashar al-Assad’s promises of a ceasefire to begin with?

"Among the things the past year has taught us is that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a master of diversion. He is well-practiced at navigating the loopholes in international and domestic law, and acutely aware of the opportunities presented by repetitive non-binding statements. Unbacked by action, diplomacy has only ever provided cover and additional time for Assad to pursue his brutal goals. In that way, as long as the Security Council refuses to make a credible promise of force—endorsing and enforcing a strict deadline for a ceasefire—its efforts are unlikely to result in peace in Syria."

- Radwan Ziadeh, Why Did Anyone Believe Bashar al-Assad’s Promises of a Ceasefire to Begin With?

Photo courtesy of UPI

Why do dictators have such strange pop-culture tastes?

"Apparently, the Syrian dictator is a big fan of contemporary party music. But Bashar is far from the first dictator to have a strange relationship with pop culture. From Frank Sinatra to LMFAO, TNR takes a look back at the odd cultural tastes of some of history’s most ruthless rulers."

- TNR Staff, The Strange Pop-Culture Tastes of Dictators

Which western companies are providing surveillance equipment to Assad?

"After all, leaked files in the form of marketing slideshows by Cisco Systems have already come to light showing the American communications giant touting the capacity of their software to target and eliminate dissent. Further doubt is cast by the overall lack of transparency in this highly guarded industry, where much of the sales happen behind closed doors or at the notoriously journalist-prohibited ISS World Trade Shows. Taken all together, this suggests that at worst these companies are knowingly selling their product to egregious human rights abusers, and at best practicing what Timm calls “willful blindness.”"

- Nick Robins-Early “Meet the Cynical Western Companies Helping the Syrian Regime

Photo courtesy of Photo Dictionary