Daraa province: cradle of Syrian revolt

In early March 2011 more than a dozen Daraa youths, influenced by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, scribbled slogans hostile to President Bashar Assad on the wall of their school. (AFP)
Updated 25 April 2018
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Daraa province: cradle of Syrian revolt

  • Daraa province is one of the last centers of rebel forces in Syria, after they lost vast swathes of territory to the regime
  • Daraa had fallen into poverty, worsened by a years-long drought which prompted a rural exodus

PARIS: Syria’s southern province of Daraa, which could be the regime’s next target after its bloody reprisal of Eastern Ghouta, is the birthplace of the uprising which erupted in 2011.
This agricultural region lies south of Damascus and also shares borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
In early March 2011 more than a dozen Daraa youths, influenced by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, scribbled slogans hostile to President Bashar Assad on the wall of their school.
The regime reacted brutally, jailing them, and according to activists, torturing the boys.
The repression sparked an unprecedented uprising.
On March 15, in the wake of the Arab Spring, the first demonstrations for “a Syria free of tyranny ... a Syria without corruption or theft or monopoly of wealth” erupted in Damascus.
Back in the province’s main town, which has the same name, demonstrators attacked symbols of the regime, before the protest movement spilled over into neighboring towns.
On March 23 security forces killed at least 100 people, according to activists and witnesses.
Assad fired the unpopular town governor and local intelligence chief, but did not manage to calm the situation.
On April 26 the regime sent in the army as it sought to stamp out pockets of resistance.
The Daraa protest movement was crushed at the end of a 10-day military operation in which hundreds were arrested.
Human Rights Watch denounced “crimes against humanity,” pointing to systematic killings, beatings and torture.
Daraa province is one of the last centers of rebel forces in Syria, after they lost vast swathes of territory to the regime.
It is divided up between different opposition groups that control nearly 70 percent of it. The Daesh group and the regime retain a lesser presence.
Daraa town, the regional capital, is mainly in the hands of pro-government forces.
The province has regularly been the scene of fighting between regime forces and insurgents.
In 2016 loyalist forces, backed by Russian air power and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah, retook Sheikh Miskin, a strategic crossroads from the north to Damascus and to regime-held Sweida in the east.
They then seized Atman village, a key location in the province.
In July 2017 a cease-fire came into force in Daraa as well as in the southern provinces of Quneitra and Sweida, brokered by Russia, Jordan and the US.
These three provinces are also among a series of “de-escalation zones” established by Russia and Iran, allies of the regime, and rebel-backer Turkey.
In the first months of the protests the demonstrators in Daraa denounced the economic policy of the government.
This included the telecoms company Syriatel, in which a cousin of Assad has a majority stake. Anti-corruption slogans were chanted in neighboring towns.
Daraa, a Sunni Muslim town which counted 75,000 inhabitants before the conflict began, had fallen into poverty, worsened by a years-long drought which prompted a rural exodus.
The province’s ancient city of Bosra Al-Sham was capital of the Roman province of Arabia and an important staging post on the old caravan route to Makkah.
Famous for its Roman theater and its paleochristian ruins, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In March 2015, rebels drove pro-regime forces out of Bosra’s Shiite neighborhoods.


Dubai starts its Expo countdown

Updated 9 min 52 sec ago
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Dubai starts its Expo countdown

  • Last year, 10.8 billion dirhams ($2.9 billion) of Expo construction contracts and 411 million didrhams of non-construction contracts were awarded
  • Expo 2020 Dubai is committed to recognizing the efforts and achievements of innovators from across Saudi Arabia and the wider region, Al-Gargawi explained

DUBAI: With only two years to go until the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai, preparations are under way to deliver what will be the first Expo in the region.
More than 170 countries have committed to take part in the event, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Italy, the UK, Indonesia and France.
“Everyone at Expo 2020 Dubai is working hard to deliver a World Expo that has real relevance and impact across continents and generations,” said Maha Al-Gargawi, director of international participants for the event. “The UAE is extremely proud to host the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region’s first World Expo, but we also understand that this is a global effort.”
One of the planning team’s main goals is to stage the most international World Expo in history. It expects 70 percent of its visitors to come from outside the UAE — the largest proportion of international visitors in 167 years of World Expos.
“The number of participating countries is significant this far out from the Expo, and we are excited to see how these will bring to life our theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,’ as well as our three key sub-themes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability,” Al-Gargawi said.
“Some countries have already started to reveal their pavilion designs and themes, providing a flavor of what millions of visitors can expect to see at Expo 2020. Combined with the many unique and exciting visitor experiences our team is creating, these engaging national pavilions will help Expo to attract its expected 25 million visits, leaving a lasting impact on everyone who comes.” Saudi Arabia has not yet revealed the details of its pavilion but is expected to do so soon.
Construction is well advanced on the three theme districts that form the core of the Expo site. The foundations are complete and the buildings are taking shape.
To date, more than 42 million work hours have been completed on the site and there are now around 20,000 workers on site.
“When we open our doors on Oct. 20, 2020, we want to welcome visitors and participants to an awe-inspiring site that is flawlessly presented,” Al-Gargawi said. “We are progressing well with the recruitment of more than 30,000 volunteers who will help to welcome the world to the UAE in 2020. They will introduce millions of people to the immersive experiences, exciting events and engaging discussions that will take place at our site every day.”
Last month, Expo 2020 Dubai launched its House of Volunteers — a creative hub that will host special events and exclusive activities for volunteers on the journey to 2020 and throughout the six months of Expo. “As with any project of this magnitude, we have to overcome new obstacles on a daily basis, and our world-class team works closely with partners, participants and other stakeholders to ensure we are able to turn challenges into opportunities,” she explained. “This is what World Expos are all about. We are constantly working to ensure we tweak elements of the Expo to ensure the best possible visitor experience in 2020.”
The Sustainability Pavilion, designed by Grimshaw Architects, explores the potential for buildings to be self-sustaining in water and energy by using innovative combinations of technologies to harvest solar power and water from the air. It is due to be completed by October 2019. “Expo 2020 Dubai represents a unique opportunity to showcase the MEASA region’s culture and achievements and provide a platform for our young and dynamic population to connect with the world,” she said. “We want to trigger a long-term effect in this region and the wider world, inspiring the next generation of innovators, business executives and thought leaders.”
The team is also focused on ensuring that Expo 2020 provides significant economic benefits and investment to stimulate new job opportunities in the UAE and across the region. “Expo 2020 will also provide the UAE and the wider region with an opportunity to show a different, modern, progressive side of our cultures and people to the many millions of visitors we look forward to welcoming from around the world,” Al-Gargawi said. “From the very beginning, Expo 2020 has been committed to building a legacy that is meaningful and sustainable, extending its impact and benefits beyond the UAE to the wider region and the rest of the world. Expo’s long-term approach is based on four pillars: physical, economic, social and reputational.”
Last year, 10.8 billion dirhams ($2.9 billion) of Expo construction contracts and 411 million didrhams of non-construction contracts were awarded. More than 24,000 businesses from 145 countries are registered to do business with Expo 2020 Dubai, and 3,891 contracts have been awarded, with small and medium enterprises winning 56 percent of these.
Expo 2020 will also spur significant long-term economic growth. By building ties that will remain well beyond 2020, Expo will contribute to new business generation, GDP growth and job creation across the Middle East.
“From a social perspective, Expo 2020 is an opportunity to inspire, empower and collaborate with our youth, enabling young people to expand their horizons,” she added. “It will encourage an understanding of — and an interest in — key drivers of future progress in line with our three key sub-themes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability. A number of Middle Eastern countries have already announced their participation, and we expect more to follow in the lead-up to the event. Nations from our region that have already confirmed their participation include Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.”
Expo Live, the event’s innovation and partnership program, provides grants of up to $100,000 for projects that have a positive social or environmental impact. Expo Live is also keen to engage Saudi entrepreneurs. “Expo 2020 Dubai is committed to recognizing the efforts and achievements of innovators from across Saudi Arabia and the wider region,” Al-Gargawi explained. “The program offers an amazing opportunity for social entrepreneurs from Saudi Arabia to show the world how the country is working to benefit communities both domestically and internationally.”
Expo 2020 launched Expo Live to fund, and promote creative solutions that improve people’s lives, preserve the planet or both. “It is harnessing the convening power of World Expos to demonstrate how innovations coming from all places and people can advance the pace of progress and inspire a more inclusive and prosperous future,” she added. “Innovation can come from anywhere to everyone, which is why we want to support projects from Saudi Arabia and beyond, helping change-makers to maximize their impact. Successful applicants may also get the chance to showcase their innovative solutions to millions of visitors at the next World Expo.”