Q&A: Syria’s daring actress

Fadwa Soliman, an Alawite who became an icon in the uprising against Bashar al-Assad, speaks to Al Jazeera from hiding.

fadwa soliman
The family of Soliman disowned her after they watched TV footage of her leading an anti-government protest in Homs

She rebelled against the Syrian authorities, against her community and against her own family.

Fadwa Soliman, a Syrian actress brought up as an Alawite – the sect of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – shocked many Syrians when she stood on a high platform in front of hundreds of anti-government protesters in one of the most conservative Sunni districts and chanted against Assad’s rule.

Following this protest in the central city of Homs, her brother appeared on Syrian government-sponsored TV channel and said he and his family disown her. He said that her actions were probably motivated by money and expressed shock at watching her on Al Jazeera Arabic TV screaming anti-regime slogans in a protest.

Soliman, who is currently in hiding, said army forces stormed a whole neighbourhood in Homs looking for her

Knowing that her fate would be either death or prison, Soliman still wanted to participate in the demonstration to dispel what she said is a perception that all the Alawite community, which makes up around 10 per cent of the population, supports Assad’s government.

She said she also wanted to dismiss the government’s narrative that those who participate in protests are Islamists or armed terrorists.

Soliman is currently in hiding and is constantly on the run since she said the Syrian authorities are looking for her.

Born in Aleppo, she moved to the capital Damascus to pursue an acting career where she performed in numerous plays, including in No Comment, Dolls’ House, Maria’s Voice and Media, and in at least a dozen TV shows, including in The Diary of Abou Antar and Little Ladies.

Since the beginning of the uprising on March 15, she has been one of the few outspoken actresses against Assad’s government.

Soliman speaks to Al Jazeera about her decision to lead a protest in Homs, the position of Alawite community on the unrest and the possibility of the country falling into a state of civil war.

Q: What made you go to Homs and lead an anti-government demonstration?

A: Homs is a city in siege, the number of the martyrs is large, and tanks have separated its districts. Moreover, Syrian regime has been trying to create sectarian tensions between people. All these reasons prompted me to Homs under the sounds of bullets and presence of tanks, risking everything in my life.

I just wanted to go just to say we Syrians are one people. I wanted to contradict the narrative of the regime and show people that there is no sectarianism in Syria. I wanted it to stop its lie that those who protest are armed groups, foreign agents or radical Islamists.

Soliman believes the government’s crackdown becomes more brutal when dissidents are from a minority group

Q: How did your life change after Al Jazeera Arabic broadcast this protest? We do know that your family has disowned you on TV.

A: I came to Homs knowing that my fate is either death or prison. My life is currently under threat. The military forces have stormed a whole neighbourhood in Homs looking for me and beat up many people to admit where I am.

I cannot give details about my current situation or about the decision of my family for security reasons. But what I can say is that families from minority groups exert a lot of pressure on the individuals who dissent. Many splits within families are happening because of this.

Q: How many people from the Alawite community in Syria share your dissent against the Syrian government?

A: There are many people from the minority groups in general who are against the regime. This was the case even before the uprising started. Look at prominent opposition figures whose voices are loud. They are from all sects and religions. Inside the capital Damascus, we have all been organising protests and participating in others.

In other cities, however, like Sweida [in the south of the country] or Tartous [in western Syria], where residents are predominantly from minority groups, the situation is very bad. People cannot voice their opposition because the government is even more brutal on dissidents belonging to minority groups than those from the majority Sunni Muslims. They threaten them and their families and children even before they decide to protest.

There are of course supporters of the regime from the Alawite sect, like there are from any other sect. But since the regime is Alawite, all its wrongdoings are being blamed on the whole community.

Q: Many of the Alawites seem to be fearful about their security amid the unrest and their position if Assad’s government falls. We have been hearing reports from state-sponsored media, and sometimes from opposition figures, about the killings and kidnappings of residents in Alawite-dominated districts in Homs by armed groups. Shouldn’t they worry about the prospects of the uprising?

“The regime continues to kill because it does not sense seriousness on the part of the international community.”

– Fadwa Soliman

A: Look, this is a very important question. I want to answer it frankly because I do not care anymore. What happened in Homs is that the regime formed a 200-member group of security forces present in the districts where minorities live. They kill people and throw their bodies in other districts to create a sectarian turmoil. We have evidence of this and we released many statements warning people from those criminals living among them.

The regime has for long decades deceived minorities. The father of Assad [former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad] gave an impression that he is the protector of minorities. In the 1980s, his troops stormed the city of Hama under the pretense of the presence of Muslim Brotherhood fighters. He destroyed homes, killed people, and made minorities believe that without him as the president of the country, the Muslim Brotherhood would have established an Islamic state.

Q: President Assad, in a recent interview, said the unrest in Syria is a struggle between pan-Arabism and Islamism. Aren’t you scared of Islamists ruling Syria?

A: If the Syrian people choose democratically that they want to be ruled by Islamists, then this is their choice. I am not scared of Islamists ruling the country because if you are in the Syrian street, you will realise that Islam here has never been strict or extremist. State media is simply trying to distort the image of Muslims in Syria.

Q: There have been several statements in the recent days about the possibility of civil war in Syria. Do you agree with them? Where do you see Syria heading?

A: A civil war is not unlikely. The regime will not want to leave out any method to justify its survival and to justify its oppression and killing of the Syrian people.

On the other hand, if you are in the Syrian street, you will sense the maturity of the people here. They recognise that their problem is not with other sects, but with the regime and with anyone whose hands are tainted with the blood of the Syrian people. You must realise that those complicit with the Syrian intelligence apparatus are from all sects.

To avoid a civil war in Syria, the international community should take serious steps against the regime. So far we haven’t seen any of their statements translate on the ground. I just saw with my own eyes a 25-year-old man being shot dead in a protest. The regime continues to kill because it does not sense seriousness on the part of the international community.

I do not want military intervention in Syria, but strong and sincere resolutions propelled by humanitarian concerns and not national interests.

Follow Basma Atassi on Twitter: @Basma_

Source: Al Jazeera