He spoke with Syria Deeply from Montreux, where he is one of a group of activists attending in the hopes of an audience with the government or opposition delegations, about the reception activists have received at the talks and what it’s like to see government officials in the hotel lobby.
Syria Deeply: What are your thoughts so far?
Rami Jarrah: In general, what we’re seeing is that there’s a lot of effort by the Syrian regime in terms of propaganda. They have their own personnel who have access to the conference and the media center, and who have media badges that don’t represent real media. It took us a long time to get our credentials, and when we got here they weren’t yet approved, and we had to go in and get it done. So I don’t know how they managed to fabricate media organizations.
There’s at least 100 of them mingling here in the media center with journalists. There were lots of people gathering around the foreign minister [Walid al-Moallem], but I think they were really just protecting him and making sure that no one with real questions got close.
SD: What’s it like to be this close to the government delegation?
RJ: It’s very strange to be here and to know that the regime is this close to you. I’m an activist, not a journalist, and I was in one of their prisons and subject to some form of attack from them. So it was strange for me to stay calm and to mingle and be around them this week. Apparently in the hotel, Moallem’s room is above ours. We see the [government officials] in the lobby, we see them at breakfast. [Media advisor] Bouthaina Shabaan’s guards charged us this morning. It’s very strange for me in that sense. I haven’t been this close to people in the regime before.
We have a joint report coming out between five independent [activist] media organizations saying that we keep trying to approach the Syrian regime delegation and that they have refused to talk to us.
SD: You had an interesting welcome from protesters.
RJ: We were interviewing [pro-regime protesters in Montreux], trying to be neutral. But then we asked that if an agreement is reached where there’s consensus between the opposition and the official delegation, if they come to an agreement that Assad leaves, would they accept that? The whole crowd went crazy and started pushing us around. It was really messy. The Swiss police were great, and they came over and pulled us out.
SD: What are Syrian activists hoping to see this week?
RJ: What we hope and what is possible? We had hopes the regime would take this more seriously, but the language they’re adopting is that terrorism is not a solution, and that’s that. The media organizations here need to shed light on the events in a more direct manner. I don’t want to criticize the international media, but some are focusing on very simple questions. They’re dealing with the official delegation as if they were superstars, and they’re being careful not to ask “bad” questions because they know they’ll just walk off if they don’t like the question.
Our hope for the week, our goal, is to get answers to questions we don’t usually get to ask [the government] or hear.
SD: Who have you managed to see thus far? What has the reception been like from diplomats?
RJ: So far, we have managed to see Americans, but not even people from the opposition yet. We’ve met activists, and we’ve [had our run-ins] with the Syrian officials. They were very distant: like, I’m going to smile from a distance, but if you come near me, it becomes a different story. They were rude, which I guess I can understand. They’ve been avoiding us.
The Syrian government delegation came here with booklets: they’re handing them out. They say “Terrorism in Syria,” and they include a CD made by Syrian state TV featuring all the Wahhabis. Their approach here seems to be to spread their propaganda and their message. It seems like the only thing they came to do. So we’re asking, Why are you here?