The film “Syria: Women at War” by Moroccan director and journalist Kamal Radwani tells the story of 4 Syrian women activists during the Syrian revolution and war (2011-now): Mona Freij, Marwa Taleb, Mona Khaiti and Lubna Al-Kanawati .
The women have faced pain, fear, injustice, starvation and brutality from the different forces in conflict on Syrian territory during their struggle for their cause “the cause of freedom, justice and dignity” before succeeding in fleeing their country to countries of asylum. after the escalation and expansion of the confrontation in their cities.
Through a cinematic discourse that transcends documentary material to its meanings and emotional dimensions, Kamal Radwani manages to make us look at the film through the eyes of its heroines and listen to the story of revolution and war in their language, thus presenting a new vision that examines the role of women in war.
The revolution is in their eyes
The film begins with a very close shot of a woman’s eye in rippling colors, through which we overlook the city of Aleppo, with its empty streets and dilapidated buildings, in a scene where the destruction extends as far as the eye can see. seen.
Through the eyes of Lubna – a fashion designer from the countryside of Damascus – the director takes us back to the first demonstrations in the Syrian city of Homs, where opponent and activist Fadwa Suleiman shouted freedom slogans and behind her the crowd chanted.
“When you’re at the protest, you’re in a state of euphoria that makes you move into a place like a dream,” says Lubna.
A dream lived by millions of Syrians for a few months before turning overnight into something like a nightmare when Syrian security forces began brutally cracking down on protesters and arresting them on the roads and inside. of their homes.
Aida – detained in the regime’s prisons for 9 months – recounts, describing the most difficult moments of the detention: “We were tortured with electricity, and we had to undress completely in front of the jailers.”
The repression, arrests and provocations caused the explosion of popular anger in the country and the transformation of the peaceful revolution into an army. The regime used the air force to confront armed opposition factions, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. and the displacement of millions of Syrian civilians following the targeting of civilian neighborhoods in various opposition areas.
“How can the sun rise? How can earth and heaven not fall under the shadow of all this injustice? asked Khayti, a laboratory medicine specialist from rural Damascus, who denounces the death of her brother in their home following an airstrike.
This is how Kamal Radwani evokes in his film “Syria: Women in War” the history of the Syrian revolution, the chapters of which we only see through the eyes of its heroines, and on this subject, says Radwani – to Al Jazeera Net – “More than 10 years ago, I saw girls in Syria take to the streets to demonstrate and demand More freedom and democracy. These young women have been making headlines around the world. They were welcomed and encouraged. I wanted to find them and question history through their eyes, because in the end, they were the biggest losers of this revolution.”
The year 2013 was marked by a significant change in the course of the Syrian revolution, when a group of extremist Islamic factions entered the line of armed conflict, and by 2014 the Islamic State had completely taken control of the city of Raqqa in the northeast of the country. , declaring it a state in its so-called caliphate.
A transformation that the film follows through the story of Mona – a human rights activist from Raqqa – who participated in and led numerous protests condemning the organization’s practices in Raqqa against men, women and children. Children are deprived of their childhood and we women are excluded.”
After the publication on the Internet of two video clips showing Mona taking part in demonstrations denouncing the cleavage caused by the organization between the components of the province (Christians and Muslims), the activist was prosecuted, her house searched and her brother arrested for 22 days. , while she managed to survive with difficulty and arrived in Turkey, where she is still. She lives there to this day.
And about his choice of stories of these activists rather than other Syrians who fought for their cause, Kamal Radwani – to Al Jazeera Net – said that “films that tell the war are usually films in which the man/combatant is the main element of the story, and women are represented on They are victims, and I wanted to reverse the roles and show that women in many wars are also heroines, even if we tend to forget them.”
Through my stories Khaiti and Lubna, the film evokes the siege of the regime army on the towns of Eastern Ghouta at the end of 2013, which only ended in a joint military operation between the regime army and the forces which killed thousands of civilians in the first quarter of 2018.
The film highlights the reality of life for civilians under siege, in light of the disruption of basic foodstuffs and consumables, in addition to the disruption of vital services such as water, electricity and utilities. basic medical supplies.
Lubna was one of those who assisted besieged civilians in her town of Harasta in Eastern Ghouta. Lubna says, “The siege was humiliating and painful and capable of making you lose your sense of humanity, and your war becomes a war to preserve your humanity, so that you don’t become brutal in these circumstances, so share a bite with the hungry becomes a very difficult matter.”
As for Khayti, who witnessed the siege of her city (Duma), she says: “The siege is designed to break you psychologically in the long run. Either you starve or you kneel down, and either way you will feel humiliated. feeling.”
Across the country, specifically in the besieged eastern quarters of Aleppo city, the film shows scenes from the lives of the newly married couple – Marwa and Zaher – as they prepare a 300 gram meal of canned beans and a few stale loaves of bread, appearing as they try to make out the ingredients for the meal by the light of a cellphone. In light of the power outage, and from outside, the sound of shelling and continuous gunfire can be heard.
Marwa says of the siege period, “It was a very tough time, and the hardest thing about it was that we didn’t know what our fate was.”
The stories of the women activists who miraculously managed to escape siege in the film “Syria: Women at War” express the suffering of hundreds of thousands of civilians who have been besieged in various parts of the country by Syrian regime forces for years in it’s called the “hunger or kneel” policy.
Kamal Al-Radwani refuses to surrender to the darkness of the Syrian scene, and refuses that freedom be defeated in the face of oppression and oppression, or that the ray of hope be cut off in a revolution whose goal was a dignified life for the Syrian people in the light of social justice and a democratic system.
Radwani’s refusal becomes evident as we approach the end of the film, as the militants seem to have managed to stick together after all the pain, fear and injustice they suffered during the years of revolution. and war.
Khaiti and Lubna managed to get out of the besieged Eastern Ghouta and reach countries of asylum in Europe. Lubna married a man who considers her a hero and now lives a happy life with him. The two activists continue their work for their cause. .
As for Marwa and her husband Zaher, they were able to get out of the besieged eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo in December 2016 after a truce agreement with the regime providing for a ceasefire and the evacuation of the besieged neighborhoods. The couple then had two children and is now living a happy life.
Mona managed to get out of Raqqa after her house was raided by members of the Islamic State, and she arrived in Turkey, where she now provides assistance to women in Raqqa through training sessions on peace and political participation for women, which she organizes online to strengthen the role of women in society.
And about this ending, Al-Radwani says – to Al-Jazeera Net – “The characters in my film were strong, they suffered or witnessed the worst atrocities, but they never gave up, and despite the pursuit of the Syrian tragedy, they continue to work for Syria to find peace.”
“The film was based on their image, and it’s dramatic because Syrian history is dramatic, but it’s also a film that leaves room for hope because the determination of these women has grown stronger. despite 10 years of war and suffering, and because preserving hope is also survival.”