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The Original Shabiha – OpEd

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By Mohammad D.

Who were the first Shabiha? How was the word coined? And how did their numbers spread? The following stories about a few shabiha pioneers are based on my personal experiences in Latakia, Syria in the 1970′s and 1980′s so I can vouch for their truth. I have refrained from embellishment or recounting stories that have been told to me by others.

The pioneer Smuggler

No one in al-Harf, a small Alawi village in the mountains east of Latakia, knew how Faysal Salloum managed to come into the possession of a car. Not a soul in the village had owned a car before Faysal Salloum drove into town. Fewer than a handful of the village’s inhabitants had driven a car, so seeing Faysal appear behind a dust cloud in his Peugeot 343 caused wonder and conflicting emotions among his townsmen. Like most Alawi villages of the mountain in the 1970s, al-Harf did not have a paved road. A hardscrabble dirt track wound up the hill on the southern side of the village. It plunged down into a steep valley and climbed over the adjacent mountain before connecting to a paved road. A single bus traveled that road going down to the coast road.

A single bus traveled the paved road down the mountain to the coast, where one could get to Latakia. It also connected al-Harf to the larger towns higher in the mountain. The bus was owned by the Awad family, Protestant Christians from al-Jawbeh, to the east. Of course, al-Harf had neither electricity nor running water. Two natural springs east of the village supplied it along with two other villages with water. Until the 1950s, Alawis rarely traveled to a city, which were the preserve of Sunnis. When the French conquered Syria and began taking censuses in the 1920s, they found that Alawis and Sunnis lived together in no town larger than 200 inhabitants. Alawis and Christians lived together, but not Alawis and Sunnis.

When I was a child in the 1970s, it was still rare for villagers to venture out into the larger world. Almost none of the two hundred families that made up our village did. Everyone seemed to work in the fields.

The village lands that extended down into the adjoining valley were planted alternately with tobacco or wheat depending on the season. The steep and rocky hills had been terraced by generations of peasants who had eked out a living in these hills before us. Some plots were planted with sesame and vegetables. Among the fruit trees, fig, pomegranate, and olive were the most common. Two small woods covered the eastern mountains, which were too steep for farming. Although most farming families were poor, we counted ourselves lucky because we had land and did not have to work for the Sunnis.

My Uncle who died in 1997 would leave the house at 4:00 in the morning to walk to Dabbash, where there was an elementary school. By Faysal’s generation in the 1970s, the kids went to school in al-Khraybat, an extension of al-Kishkhashe on the road to Latakia. It was three hills away and took only 45 minutes by foot. In the early morning, one could hear the hyenas’ howling. But the terrain was picturesque. The Mediteranean Sea stretched out miles below us.

Middle School was in al-Fakhoura, a two-hour commute. When I was a child our village had perhaps 5 people who had a brofet (preovette), a ninth grade certificate. Only two had earned a Baccalaureate – my uncle and Dr. Abdal Karim . Faysal was not from the richest families of the village and had not finished his middle school studies. His parents grew tobacco and other crops. They owned a few animals from which they got milk and eggs, like almost other families in the village.

Had a villager wanted to buy a car at that time, he would have had to sell everything that he and his extended family owned including their land in order to get enough money. Faysal Salloum had not sold land. In Syria at that time, only some rich landholders and merchants owned cars. The government itself had few.

The car Faysal was driving was a modest Peugeot 304, most likely stolen. It had Lebanese plates. When Faysal opened the trunk, it was full of Marlboro cigarettes and a few cans of cocking fat, known as samneh.

Faysal, whom no one had heard from for a while, did tell that he went to Tripoli in Lebanon and that he was going the next day to smuggle more. He was shady of course and told things in general exaggeratory way most of the time eluding his listeners from knowing the truth. No one in the village was able or in need to buy the smuggled products, because they owned animals and had their own cooking butter, plus they produced great tobacco.

Faysal left in a hurry to sell his goods in the city because he would make real money. He was dressed in army camouflage like an officer of one of the best units of the Syrian Army. At that moment in history only two units in the Syrian Army were allowed only to wear camouflage: The Special Forces (al-Wahdat al-Khassa) and the Defense Brigades (Sarayah al-Difa’). Faysal knew this and of course he was pretending to be one of the officers of Sarayah al-Difa’, which has more Alawites than the Wahdat al-Khassa, and which was less disciplined. The guys in the village knew that he was bluffing with his army outfit.

The Defense Brigades (Sarayah al-Difa’) was headed by Rif’at al-Assad, the brother of the president. It was formed in the 1970′s and had mostly Alawi officers and soldiers in it. The officers of the Sarayah were notorious for their bad behavior wherever they went. They intimidated regular citizens and abused thier power. The Special Forces did not have this reputation. They were professional soldiers. The al-Sarayah officers looked like the smugglers and many of them would later take up smuggle.

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Faysal dressed and looked like one of those officers. He wore aviator sunglasses that became a staple of his wardrobe. He had brand new Italian dress shoes. Faysal was blonde with blue eyes, medium height with a tough mountain built. It was around 1977.

To buy Italian shoes at that time in Syria cost most of the monthly salary of a government employee. Only the rich could afford them. Stores were not allowed to import them on the pretext of encouraging local industry. Government shoes were sold at one store, Batta.

It was downtown Lattakia on Baghdad Street and across from al-Bustan Cafe, where all of al-Shabiha would occupy tables on it everyday.

The government at that moment claimed to be a socialist and banned the import of luxury goods. Italian Shoes were considered a luxury item making them even more expensive and an item to smuggle. Some shoes and clothes stores sold them on the sides. Lattakia has a bustling market. The Italian shoes were worn by the old money. They were a sign of richness, but this was about to change with this new wave of smugglers, who would dress up better than the richest man in town. Beware, these guys are coming from the mountains.

The government also banned products deemed “Colonialist/Imperialist” like Coca Cola, Levis, and Marlboros. Those products were on the boycott list. They were accused of siding with Israel, which was used for all types of excesses. All of this did not mean that the people did not want these products and looked after them. Faysal, as well as the first generation of smugglers, knew all of the demands of the Syrian markets and soon in his modest car he was covering the distances between Lebanon and the various buyers.

Faysal drew attention fast because he was really bombastic like all of the smugglers. He did not keep a low profile when it came to dressing. His outings as an officer in the Army’s units draw attentions to him fast. At this stage also he attracted some of his childhood friends who wanted a piece of the action. They wanted to dress like him better than the richest man in Latakia.

Here comes Fayez, and Ghassan, two unsuccessful young men. One was from the same village al-Harf (Ghassan), while the other is from the neighboring village, al-Khishkhashe. The two friends Fayez and Ghassan did not finish high school also at that moment. They were sent by their families to the city of Latakia to finish high school there. Both were failures because of partying and chasing women. They were living in a hotel at that moment. It was their fifth time trying to pass the high school final test.

Fayez and Ghassan were not bad looking, but their clothes were ordinary. Their parents were giving them money from their savings from what they made from selling their harvests in the city. It was was not a lot. They had some land but not that much, plus, land needs someone to tend to it and these two men knew they needed to seek their fortune outside the village. They are from the first generation of Alawis to be able to go down to the city with no fear.

They knew all of this and were conscious about that. They were not the only materialistic persons in town. The culture was mostly like that, like everywhere in the world. Therefore they spend the money they made from their first trip smuggling with Faysal on clothes of course. They started to look good. Fayez was tall, blonde with blue eyes. He looked like a Holywood actor, and started looking more like that with the slew of clothes he started getting for himself from Lebanon’s nice stores. Ghassan was also tall, skinny with brown hair and eyes. He looked really good also with European slacks and glasses. They found success with women, but what type of women, do not ask. They drank of course. Religion for them was just their belonging to the Alawis. None of the three knew anything about the Alawi creed or religion. Books, education and culture were not on their menu.

The trio started working using the little car for runs. Faysal was the boss while the other two were his employees getting money from him every time they went to Lebanon and back. Their business thrived. Customers as far away as Aleppo wanted what they had to sell. They wanted to fill their stores with whatever the government prohibited.

The three guys made money and partied away. Many times they would drive around making a racket and dressed up really well. This drew bad attention to them. Latakia had way more big fish than these three. Trouble found them quickly. Soon their car was confiscated by the regular Police. It was parked and the guys woke up to see it gone. But Faysal managed to get it back from police custody through a small bribe and soon he was on his way to Lebanon to do the same thing again. The guys were lucky the first time. No one got into trouble.

Faysal, and his two underlings, did not really know any high officers or work for any important man. There was no important government or army figure from his village. Consequently, Faysal’s car was taken from him a second time. This time with him inside of it. H was stopped by the Mukhabarat. He was dressed in a captain’s uniform (Naqeeb). He was sent to prison. Ghassan and Fayez were not with him and were lucky to escape prison. They got the scare of their lives, however, and stayed in the village for the next year trying to pretend to study for high school. They stopped working as smugglers because they were not as tough and courageous as Faysal. It was a tough business, dangerous at many times. All of them were in their early twenties.

There was no harsh sentencing against smuggling at that moment in Syria and Faysal was able to get out in a year because it was his first offense. Also, he was not carrying much contraband in his car except for clothes. Most likely it was the clothes the Mukhabart officers would wear for a while. When Faysal got out, he chose to work solo. Soon he headed to Lebanon and got a better car this time: a Mercedes Benz that he drove like a hurricane to avoid capture and cover the distances fast. He did his runs in record time and his fortunes started showing again.

With the Mercedes, Faysal made more trips. This time he was more convincing as an army officer because he was driving the right car. He dressed in camouflage again for his work and wore Italian dress shoes and sunglasses. When lounging or driving around town to be seen, he changed into high end slacks.

This period of actions that resembled super powers brought the first hints of the word that we know today as Shabbih. His ability to go fast is described in Arabic as Yashbahu Shabhan يشبح/‬شبحا/‬شبيح (‬إسم فاعل)‬. Shabih is an Alawi term. The Alawites first started bringing it up to describe people like Faysal and their actions. Some of them would say describing:.

هيكو مايشبح شبح من لبنان للاطقية

Alawis and Sunnis use the verb Shabaha شبح for the same meaning. For example, they both use it when someone makes a dive into the water. They also use it primarily in soccer to describe an action of the goalie where that goalie jumps from a standing position to be airborne. So the verb Shabaha here means someone who goes airborne in a spectacular manner, therefore the more airborne the goalie gets the more admiration he gets for his Shabha شبحة الغولار.

The first people to be called shabih were soccer goalies. A good Shabih is he who could make the most spectacular airborne saves. Shabha here means a jump and a save. Also, when diving into the water a good Shabih is the one who could make better spectacular dives. Divers would always come to the swimming clubs and show their skills. The best Shabih was the one who would make the best dives. So Tashbeeh is a fast spectacular action.

This fast spectacular action brought Faysal many new clients, soon he was traveling as far as Aleppo to deliver what the merchants would ask for. The market needed many things that were not available. Tobacco and electrical supplies were among the most visible and profitable.

This again did not last for long. He could not drive that Mercedes without arousing suspicion, envy and wrath. He was arrested again and given a multi-year sentenced. Next time I saw him it was after he got out of prison years later: wearing a camouflage army get up with his mirror aviator sunglasses and of course shiny Italian shoes. This time he had a big Range Rover. I knew he was going to get caught or something because by now people from al-Assad family started showing up in that lucrative business and they also were driving big fancy cars with fake license plates. The Range Rover was going to be too much of an item for him to keep.

al-Assad’s family first major Shabih: Malek al-Assad was the first smuggler of al-Assad family whom people started seeing and hearing about.

First, rumors started coming out that some people from al-Assad family started getting into the business. It was also in the second half of the 1970′s when Malek al-Assad started showing up in Latakia in a Mercedes Benz even the richest man in Latakia did not own. Before the Mercedes Benz, Malek used to take the Bus from al-Qurdaha anywhere he wanted to go. Of course, he had not finished that much education.

The bus line between al-Qurdaha in that mountain and the cities of Latakia or Jableh was the scene of the first acts of thuggery by an Assad family member. They used to take the bus back then. Most of these stories were about Malek al-Assad, the son of Umm Anwar. al-Assad family did not have the men it had later so at that moment they had few adults. Hafez al-Assad had teenage kids, so did his brothers Rif’at and Jamil. It was Malek the son of his half brother Ibrahim at that moment was fit, willing, able and at the right age. He was the first generation, probably by himself.

Stories started coming out that Malek was harassing fellow riders on the bus, demanding the best seat anytime he took that bus. He would brag about his family. The riders were all Alawites of course, poor mostly, had been subjected to harassment for generations, so they really did not pay him that much attention. Malek knew that and like every bully who needed a bigger stage especially with his new fortune. Later, he started showing up in Latakia not straight from the bus stop but fresh in his clothes and fancy car.

Lattakia is a seaport and some families have real fortunes, but still they could not match the speed Malek al-Assad was changing his super fancy cars when he busted into the scene. All the cars, of course, had fake license plates, and most likely were stolen in Lebanon, or even Europe. He was a sharp dresser also with a taste for leather jackets with the army green pants he would wear. All of his cars were Mercedes Benzes.

The legitimate license plates cost a fortune. It was the taxes one would pay on the car. This tax was incredibly high preventing almost all Syrians from buying cars. The Syrian government imported only a small number of cars each year. There were no car dealerships. Only the state could import cars. The government of course had banned the import of cars also except the ones it imported every ten or so years. To buy a car from the government meant that you had to front a huge amount of money, wait years, and of course pay a bribe to get your car, if, in fact, the cars were actually imported. During my life in Syria in the 1970′s and 1980′s the government imported cars twice (French Peugot in the mid 1970′s and Mazda, and Mitsubishi in the mid 1980′s). Cars were extremely expensive.

Malek al-Assad did not have problems with getting cars. Lebanon was the place especially with the civil war worsening there by the year. The Syrian arm’s grip was tightening on Lebanon and car theft sky-rocketed. The Syrian army officers in Lebanon started getting their hands on these cars, as did hustlers like Malek al-Assad and Faysal Sallum, who of course had to pretend to be to go through the army check points which was manned as usual by conscripts who were easily intimidated.

Now there came into existence an economy that depended on these smugglers. in Latakia, the lucrative imported cigarettes started employing many poor Alawis and Sunnis from the poor hoods to peddle the cigarettes all over the busy down town area. Stores all over the city carried all types of banned foreign cigarettes to their many customers. Most people smoked of course, both men and women.
Electronics flew in to the stores that were owned mainly by non-Alawis. There was no sectarianism in the issue. Everyone worked together to provide contraband to a country hungry for foreign goods.

Malek al-Assad provided many things the market wanted including weapons. The weapons would cause him problems. He is the first one to be known to raise the stakes of smuggling that started growing with the worsening of the situation in Lebanon, the main source of goods so far.

Historically, Latakia always has its own smugglers, who would typically use boats to ferry contraband into the city. Those smugglers were all Sunnis. These thugs/smugglers were locally known as Ugada العكدا. They were the remnants of a class of thugs from the Ottoman days that has a celebrated place in Syrian history. The history of this class of thugs is similar to that of al-Shabiha today. They were a type of Shabiha for the land owners, the Ottomans and whoever was able to pay. They had their own gangs in the early 1970′s. But, with the beginning of the problems between the Assad rule and Sunnis the Ugada paid a price. Most of these thugs were killed at the hands of the Mukhabarat in the coming years.

The weapons that Malek al-Assad smuggled and sold were not welcomed, especially as country had started to experience escalating armed confrontations between the Assad government and its Islamic leaning opponents. People started saying that Malek al-Assad sold weapons to the enemies of the Baath. This got Malek al-Assad into hot water with Hafez al-Assad. So, Malek al-Assad disappeared for a while and people said that he was jailed for few days. His booming business came to a halt.

When Malek al-Assad surfaced again, he kept on wearing the same outfits, but you could tell that he was a changed man. He increasingly sit in al-Bustan café by himself with his car parked out front, but his trips to Lebanon stopped. He became a liability to those he asked favors of. Before long he was driving people as an ordinary taxi driver on the Damascus-Latakia line. His nice Mercedes Benz became a taxi. He died in a car accident in the 1980′s.

Malek was the son of Umm Anwar, who was married to Ibrahim, the older half brother of Hafez al-Assad’s half brother. Umm Anwar started filling the role of her son and soon her stooges were running the smuggling routs. Malek was also the first in a line of many al-Assad men who became major players in the smuggling game.

Fawaz al-Assad the first real Shabih

Fawaz al-Assad and his henchmen gave the meaning we know today to the word Shabiha. Other men from al-Assad family played a role in creating this word and the concept of Tashbeeh; i.e to act like a thug, but it was Fawwaz who was the pioneer thug that stood out in the city of Latakia and its surroundings. He was well above the rest of them.

When Malek al-Assad and Faysal Salloum started the first wave of smuggling, Fawwaz al-Assad was in elementary or middle school. But by the time Fawwaz hit high school he surpassed every smuggler in the region. He took over fast in the realm of Tashbih.

Fawwaz came onto the scene like a bat out of hell. He grew up with smuggling flourishing around him in his hometown of al-Qurdaha and the whole of the Syrian coast. He knew he could have power because he and his brother, Munther, were the only full-blooded nephews of President Hafez al-Assad. Jamil, their father, was Hafez’s younger brother. Rifaat was the youngest of the three Assad brothers. Fawaz quickly understood that he was above the law because of his father. No one would dare to stoop him.

Jamil, Fawwaz’s father, had limited education or luck prior to his brother’s take-over in 1970. He was a modest government employee. But it did not take him long before he drove around in super fancy cars and presented himself as a very important man. The 1970′s and 1980′s saw the quick rise of Jamil al-Assad.

The first major move was when Jamil al-Assad established an organization called al-Murtada with some type of religious agenda. We learned about it when he suddenly brought hundreds of Sunni Bedouins and camped them in other people’s land right next to his fancy beach house, which was in an upscale beach club. Soon you would see the Bedouins in their traditional gear scaring the girls in bikinis off the beach. It was a very bizarre incident that was repeated yearly for a number of years during that period.

Some people say that the aim of al-Murtada was to convert people to the Alawite creed. Reality said that al-Murtada was a chaotic adventure, because Jamil himself was not sure about his own religion. But al-Murtada drew attention to Jamil al-Assad. People started knowing him more and more. As for his religious adventures; Jamil al-Assad showed very bizarre religious tendencies in his life. He wanted to become some sort of a religious leader and he could not. I visited Syria in the late 1990′s and they told me that he had became a Wahhabi, seeking to destroy Alawite saints shrines in the mountain.

The second major move by Jamil al-Assad was establishing his office on Baghdad street that started dealing with the port of Latakia. Historically the port made money to those who control the lines and did freight forwarding for them. Christians were pioneers in this and controlled many lines. Sunnis were in it too and controlled some major lines like the Russian by the Safwat family. Hafez al-Assad nationalized all of them under al-Sahel, which was to be controlled by Jamil and his goons. Safwat still controlled the Russian line, which was one of the most lucrative. Freight forwarding is a big business in Latakia, with Jamil the Alawites got into it for the first time, and shoved aside the notable families of the city.

Fawwaz used his father’s powers to his advantage. He rapidly became the super power in Latakia, and probably its richest inhabitant. The richest because it was no secret that he and his cousins controlled the smuggling routes along the entire coast: Latakia, Jableh, Banyas and Tartus. They had clients in many other cities.
During the second part of the 1980′s, the second generation of Assad’s family smugglers hit the scene.

Fawwaz started to show thuggish tendencies early on in his life. Stories about him with his gang beating up people started coming out from the early years of the 1980′s. Soon we all would witness this first hand. He would drive around Latakia staring down people. If you challenged him or didn’t demure you would pay a heavy price.

At that time, Latakia had many cafes and meeting spots for the local population. Soon all of these public areas would be invaded by Fawwaz. For example, he started coming and sitting in al-Bustan cafe; located in a very strategic area in downtown Latakia. The Café was owned by two brothers from the Sheikho family who had a very thriving business. But, soon all of that changed with Fawwaz liking the place. He would come and verbally abuse most of the people there. Soon, no locals would go there and mostly the Shabiha of Fawwaz dominated the place, sitting watching the people go by in that busy location. No one would escape their taunts.

Many times Fawwaz started fights in my part of town. The youth of the area congregated to promenade in a popular area. That practice is known locally as mushwar, which means a stroll in a nice atmosphere. That nice atmosphere was never there and the Mushwar became an event for every thug to parade their cars and powers in front of the girls of course. All of those thugs would disappear when Fawwaz would be around. Fawwaz would parade his car, then do car tricks before picking on someone. Most of the people he would pick on were peaceful, meek citizens. Fawwaz would do this when he had his men with him. When he was alone he would stare people down mostly. He had that angry look all the time.

When Fawwaz was around 20 years old his entourage was not that big or known. But you would see them in action every now and then. He was armed of course all of the time. The other smugglers were watching all of this. They all wanted to stay clear of him. But, slowly they started working with him enabling him to parade them and intimidate people more. People started wanting to avoid him more and more. One of those was Faysal Salloum who at that moment was driving a Range Rover. There were no Range Rovers in Syria at that time. The Army started getting them later. So, when Fawwaz saw that Range Rover he asked Faysal to lend it to him for a small ride. Faysal never saw that car again.

The thug in Fawwaz started coming out day after day. Remember, he was still in his early 20′s. People started hearing and seeing more and more of his henchmen. Those guys were mostly big tough mountain kids, who saw a chance to make some money. They were not sharply dressed at all. They were the first smugglers to wear intimidating outfits all the time instead of Italian Slacks. They were designed to strike fear, not to look fancy.

Fawwaz was not a good looking young man himself. He always looked angry, or could explode at any moment. Fawwaz was not a handsome fellow like many of the first wave of smugglers. His men were ugly beasts of a sort. All had beards. Fawwaz himself would have a beard every now and then. His head was big and have a strange shape. His body was never athletic, with him being a little overweight most of the times. He was dressed with the latest slacks and shoes, of course, but he never struck people as a well dresser or a handsome fellow. He rarely dressed in army camouflage or army get ups.

Fawwaz has one older brother: Mundhir. It was said that he was smuggling before Fawwaz. This makes sense, but he was not in the scene like his younger flashy brother. Fawwaz started coming to the city of Latakia to usher in his notorious era of Tashbih, i.e: acting like a gangster. Before that he was confined to the town of al-Qurdaha. When he was around 16 years old driving the biggest and baddest Mercedes with few armed tough looking men with him. I saw them many times.

Fawwaz liked what the city of Latakia had to offer, you would be able to see him everyday in al-Bustan Cafe with his guys, or driving his Mercedes around harassing people here and there. Latakia always had areas where the young locals walk and meet. Baghdad Street was one famous spot. He was on that almost every night. AS a matter of fact, Fawwaz was on that street most of the 1980′s. He always had the biggest and baddest car. His license plates were fake of course, but they were not Lebanese. They were Syrian license plates that were similar to those you see on Mukhabarat cars. He paraded himself daily.

Fawwaz and this next generation of Assad family smugglers were the first to introduce the Mercedes known as al-Shabah (the Ghost). This car was the biggest Mercedes ever built. The smugglers would always have fake license plates with tinted windows. The rear windshield was reserved for pictures of the Father the Commander. This intimidating car, with the way these smugglers drive it mixed with their action gives the word Shabiha its real meaning we know today. The car added to popularity of that name from the fact it was called al-Shabah. Now everyone knows al-Shabiha because of al-Assad family goons and their intimidating little army.

The Actions of Fawwaz and some of that generation of Shabiha that I witnessed and could be called thuggish are many. I can list tens of them, or probably need a full book for them. Some of them stand out more than others, however. The first vivid one was the time he drove his Mercedes over the sidewalk to intercept my friend Saddiq Gharib to scare and intimidate him. This was because Fawwaz was in love with a college student that was the classmate of Saddiq, who is a college professor now. She was Christian and studied French Literature. Her class was the one next to mine in the College of Literature (Kulliyat al-Adab) of the University of Tishreen. Fawwaz was probably in high school then when he would force his way into the college to attend classes with this beautiful girl. The professors would not be able to say no to him, and Fawwaz and sometimes his friends would lurk loud outside the class room causing havoc. This went on for a little while till one professor refused to teach. The professor was Alawite, who said that Fawwaz was making a mockery of the education system when he is following the girl into everywhere she went to in the college. Fawwaz stormed the office of the dean following the girl that day. The professors went on strike for few days. At least some professors made a stand. Us students were helpless and would avoid anywhere Fawwaz would be in college. Remember the college had a guard outside to prevent the non-students from entering. So, imagine what this poor guard would do to prevent Fawwaz from entering. Fawwaz was rude and loud and this incident became an issue. After Hafez al -Assad heard about the incident Fawwaz never came back to our college. The girl and her parents migrated out of Syria on the hush. I knew her well then. That did not mean also that Fawwaz would not attend the university functions throughout my college years!!!

By the second half of the 1980′s Fawwaz was the most important man in town. He liked soccer and supported Tishreen, one of the two big teams in the city of Latakia. Fawwaz would bring his big Mercedes and drive a loop before he would park it and sit on a chair watching the game from the track.

The game would be attended sometimes by important officials. Fawwaz would not care about them. He had his own seat in the fenced in area of the stadium where only players and coaches were allowed in. He had his own rules.

Always Fawwaz would have few words with the referee before the game also. In one very famous incident Fawwaz took his gun out and let out some shots. The game was between Hutteen and Tishreen and a forward scored on an offside goal for Fawwaz’ team Tishreen. The referee in that famous incident changed his mind after the gun shot to claim the goal in favor of Fawwaz’ team. That made Fawwaz happier and he let out more shots. Fawwaz was a real bully and acted like one. Officials would avoid him. He gave the word Shabih its full meaning in the minds of Syrians.

By the end of the 1980′s Jamil al-Assad had a PH.D and millions of dollars. Fawwaz became a lawyer and people address him as Ustadh (teacher). Of course he has millions, married to a beautiful girl, has the biggest house in al-Zira’a, and of course was the president of Tishreen Sports Club. Faysal Salloum was in prison with not a penny to his name.

Syria Comment - Joshua Landis

Joshua Landis maintains Syria Comment and teaches modern Middle Eastern history and politics and writes on Syria and its surrounding countries. He writes “Syria Comment,” a daily newsletter on Syrian politics that attracts some 3,000 readers a day. It is widely read by officials in Washington, Europe and Syria. Dr. Landis regularly travels to Washington DC to consult with the State Department and other government agencies. He is a frequent analyst on TV and radio.

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