Syrians of all faiths meet to express fear of sectarian violence



DAMASCUS // A group of Syrians from different faiths and different political leanings have met every Sunday since anti-regime protests erupted in March to exorcise the fear that haunts them all.

"The paradox is, everyone is scared in Syria," says Rafa Nashed, a psychoanalyst and one of the organisers of the gatherings at a Jesuit home in the centre of Damascus.

"Why does the regime use violence and repression? Because it is scared of losing power. And the people who protest, do you think they are not scared? They are very scared, but they are still going."

The meetings always begin the same way: six of the 50 participants sit in the middle of a room to start off the debate.

This week, the topic would be religious fear.

"After the attack against the Rifai mosque, I began to fear for me and my children," says Fadi, who shifts uncomfortably in his chair, referring to when club-wielding security forces attacked a group of people leaving prayers at the Sunni mosque in west Damascus on August 27, according to a rights group.

One demonstrator was killed and 10 were wounded, including the imam of the mosque, Osama Al Rifai.

"Me, as an Alawite, I am scared of what might happen. There are many dangerous events that have a sectarian dimension in Syria," he adds.

"I was also scared that people with strong views would escalate the situation, but luckily that did not happen."

Syria is a multi-confessional country with a Sunni majority, a substantial Christian minority and Alawite Shiites, who rule the country.

A total of 473 people were killed during protests in the month of Ramadan, a rights group said yesterday. The death toll comprised 360 civilians and 113 members of the security forces and army, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The civilians included 25 people aged under 18, 14 women and 28 who died in detention or under torture, the observatory said, mainly in the region of Homs where government forces were reported to be conducting new operations yesterday. More than 2,200 people have been killed in the Syrian regime's crackdown on pro-democracy protests since mid-March, according to figures from the United Nations.

Back at the meeting, Maysan, a Druze, responds to Fadi's fear of confessional violence, arguing that Syrians "are aware of the risks of sectarian clashes".

"You assume in advance that people will take revenge, but it's not automatic. The protest movement is peaceful and refuses to embark on sectarian violence."

She adds: "I, however, am scared of foreign intervention - it will lead to the division of the country, much like it did in the former Yugoslavia."

Zaina, a Christian, hesitantly adds her view, telling the assembled participants that she sees the opposition to Bashar Al Assad's regime as "divided between those who are informed and aware of the issues, and another group, both more religious and less educated".

Alaa, also Christian, recounts his own experience as the room listens patiently.

"I was prejudiced through my education against Muslims, because my family had always said that we should not receive them at home," he tells the group.

"I used to support the regime, but after all these deaths, I have gone to protest."

The 20-something continues, speaking quickly, that he took to the streets in Duma, a suburb of Damascus, "and these men, who have been presented as scum, they helped me hide from the security forces. I was afraid to fall into their hands".

After Alaa speaks, the room falls silent for a minute, after which participants voice their fears in turn.

For Father Rami Elias, also a psychoanalyst and the head of the Jesuit house that hosts the weekly meetings, "it is not a question of politics, but of creating some space where people can discuss their fears, share them, and channel them so it does not lead to violence".

"Today, we took a big step because the group identified their fear by its name - fear of sectarianism," he adds. "But there is still much to be done."

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School counsellors on mental well-being

Schools counsellors in Abu Dhabi have put a number of provisions in place to help support pupils returning to the classroom next week.

Many children will resume in-person lessons for the first time in 10 months and parents previously raised concerns about the long-term effects of distance learning.

Schools leaders and counsellors said extra support will be offered to anyone that needs it. Additionally, heads of years will be on hand to offer advice or coping mechanisms to ease any concerns.

“Anxiety this time round has really spiralled, more so than from the first lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Priya Mitchell, counsellor at The British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi.

“Some have got used to being at home don’t want to go back, while others are desperate to get back.

“We have seen an increase in depressive symptoms, especially with older pupils, and self-harm is starting younger.

“It is worrying and has taught us how important it is that we prioritise mental well-being.”

Ms Mitchell said she was liaising more with heads of year so they can support and offer advice to pupils if the demand is there.

The school will also carry out mental well-being checks so they can pick up on any behavioural patterns and put interventions in place to help pupils.

At Raha International School, the well-being team has provided parents with assessment surveys to see how they can support students at home to transition back to school.

“They have created a Well-being Resource Bank that parents have access to on information on various domains of mental health for students and families,” a team member said.

“Our pastoral team have been working with students to help ease the transition and reduce anxiety that [pupils] may experience after some have been nearly a year off campus.

"Special secondary tutorial classes have also focused on preparing students for their return; going over new guidelines, expectations and daily schedules.”

if you go

The flights

Emirates have direct flights from Dubai to Glasgow from Dh3,115. Alternatively, if you want to see a bit of Edinburgh first, then you can fly there direct with Etihad from Abu Dhabi.

The hotel

Located in the heart of Mackintosh's Glasgow, the Dakota Deluxe is perhaps the most refined hotel anywhere in the city. Doubles from Dh850

 Events and tours

There are various Mackintosh specific events throughout 2018 – for more details and to see a map of his surviving designs see glasgowmackintosh.com

For walking tours focussing on the Glasgow Style, see the website of the Glasgow School of Art. 

More information

For ideas on planning a trip to Scotland, visit www.visitscotland.com

How to get exposure to gold

Although you can buy gold easily on the Dubai markets, the problem with buying physical bars, coins or jewellery is that you then have storage, security and insurance issues.

A far easier option is to invest in a low-cost exchange traded fund (ETF) that invests in the precious metal instead, for example, ETFS Physical Gold (PHAU) and iShares Physical Gold (SGLN) both track physical gold. The VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF invests directly in mining companies.

Alternatively, BlackRock Gold & General seeks to achieve long-term capital growth primarily through an actively managed portfolio of gold mining, commodity and precious-metal related shares. Its largest portfolio holdings include gold miners Newcrest Mining, Barrick Gold Corp, Agnico Eagle Mines and the NewMont Goldcorp.

Brave investors could take on the added risk of buying individual gold mining stocks, many of which have performed wonderfully well lately.

London-listed Centamin is up more than 70 per cent in just three months, although in a sign of its volatility, it is down 5 per cent on two years ago. Trans-Siberian Gold, listed on London's alternative investment market (AIM) for small stocks, has seen its share price almost quadruple from 34p to 124p over the same period, but do not assume this kind of runaway growth can continue for long

However, buying individual equities like these is highly risky, as their share prices can crash just as quickly, which isn't what what you want from a supposedly safe haven.

How to vote in the UAE

1) Download your ballot https://www.fvap.gov/

2) Take it to the US Embassy

3) Deadline is October 15

4) The embassy will ensure all ballots reach the US in time for the November 3 poll

WEST ASIA RUGBY 2017/18 SEASON ROLL OF HONOUR

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Company Profile

Company name: Cargoz
Date started: January 2022
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Based: Dubai
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ICC Awards for 2021+

MEN

Cricketer of the Year+– Shaheen Afridi+(Pakistan)

T20 Cricketer of the Year+– Mohammad Rizwan+(Pakistan)

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WOMEN

Cricketer of the Year+– Smriti Mandhana+(India)

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