|May 30, 1966|
|Born in Damascus.|
|Graduated from the Fraternity High School, a private school in Damascus.|
|Three-months English course in Ramsgate, U.K.|
|August 1984 – May 1985|
|A stint at Moscow University, which brought out the Islamist radical in me, first on account of the Big Brother attitude of Soviet authorities and, second, because I had to take part in the Syrian presidential referendum that happened at the time. We were told by Syrian officials to report to the Syrian Embassy to vote. It was an open ballot, and I was too afraid to vote NO as I had intended. I left Moscow soon after that, having taken my first mental step towards Islamic extremism.|
|I arrive in Stevens Point, Wisconsin to pursue my undergraduate degree in Astronomy at Wisconsin University.|
|I drop out of college and go to Madison where I spend the next few months memorizing the Qur’an and Hadith in the local Islamic center.|
|September 1988-August 1990|
|I go to Los Angeles where I become an Imam for a few months at the Islamic Center of Lomita. Meanwhile I continue to educate myself in Islamic history and doctrine, and gradually grow disillusioned. After the Salman Rushdie Affair, and my objection to the death sentence, I leave my post at the Mosque, and dedicate myself over the next few months to reading all about American history, especially the writings of the Founding Fathers. As Iraq invades Kuwait, I return to the University of Wisconsin, and switch my major to history.|
|I graduate from UWSP with BS in history, having grown completely disillusioned with religion.|
|Return to Syria.|
|I teach at a diplomatic primacy school run by the Pakistani Embassy: Pakistan International School of Damascus and attend by children of diplomats and the Syrian ruling and commercial elite.|
|I redeem myself for my cowardice in 1984 by voting NO for Hafiz Al-Assad in the last presidential referendum of his life. Balloting is not secret in Syria under Assad rule. According to official statistics only 219 out 9 million votes cast were No votes. Security took note of my vote, but, for some reason, I was not interrogated for this. Still, the event marked my turn into activism, turning my back on what considered to have been a promising career as a novelist.|
|I publish few articles dealing with nonviolence and calling for genuine reforms and mocking Assad’s promises and efforts in this regard. Few articles in Arabic ended up published in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Nahar, but I finally opt to publish in English. I vote NO again during Bashar Al-Assad’s referendum in 2000. My philosophy at the time was to challenge Bashar’s selection to replace his father, so that he is forced to gain legitimacy by publicly committing to a specific reform program. But I was minor figure in the civil society movement at the time, and advice went unheeded. Others waited until Assad was elected to demand reform.|
Syria 2000: a reform to end all reforms
A Dialogue on the Middle East and Other Subjects
|January 17, 2002|
|Khawla Yusuf and I tie the knot.|
|Khawla and I get busy preparing for the establishment of our publishing house, DarEmar, and the launch of the Tharwa Project.|
Published the first of a series of short essays bundled under the title: “A Heretic’s Log:”Manifest Destiny Manifest Terror: The World in the Grips of Victimary and Triumphalist Mentalities
Syria: A Culture of Fear and Stalemate
The Improbable Yet Necessary Dialogue
|Tharwa is launched, albeit the first website will not appear until early 2004. I take part in a plethora of conferences in Europe.|
Is Syria Next?
Democratization American Style!
From Nationalism to Country-Building
The Aftermath of Conquest
The Traditional Faith System and the Challenges of the Modern World
The Syrian Shadow Government and the Possibilities of Change
(A lecture at the Woodrow Wilson Center during a brief visit to Washington in September of 2003)
|With an office and a website, DarEmar and the Tharwa Project enter into the practical phase. There is so little happening in Syria at the time in terms of civil society activities that our effort get immediate international attention, leading to a profile in the Christian Science Monitor: If Hillary can make it in Arabic, will Rousseau?|
During a brief visit to Istanbul, I give an interview to the Jerusalem Report, The Young Syrian, becoming the first Syrian to give an interview to an Israeli newspaper even as he lives in Syria. The move corresponds to my belief in the importance of citizen diplomacy and the need for adopting a more proactive approach towards lobbying for our rights. The Minister of Information at the time, among other officials, scold my Mom and ask to pressure me into obeying redlines established by the regime.
|May 1: Tentative launch of “Amarji – the Heretic Blog”
First entry: “Are we all racist now?”
Syria’s year of living dangerously
Syria and the Kurds – cool heads must prevail
Why Tharwa? Why Now?
Few Notes on Islamic Reformation
|My 1stFellowship at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. My stint at Brookings became quite a pivotal point in my life. The articles I wrote and activities I engaged in during this period sealed my fate with Syrian authorities, and through the Syrian Ambassador in Washington at the time, Emad Mustafa, they came to the notice of Bashar Al-Assad himself, or so the Ambassador said at a time in half cautionary tone.That Bashar should have become aware of my activities was not surprising, I was very public as usual. Also, I became involved with Martin Indyk in trying to jumpstart the stalled Syrian-Israeli peace process. We prepared the ground work for a track two exercise, in cooperation with US and Israeli officials. But when Martin Indyk met with Assad in October 2005 during a regional tour, Assad rejected the initiative because, on my insistence, it tied the process with democratic reforms.Anticipating what will happen on my arrival, some friends and Khawla encouraged me to stay in the U.S. But I refused.The paper I prepared during my stay in Brookings was ever published. It was written in a very personal style to be published as a policy paper. But here it is: “Brother/Sister, Where Art Thou?”|
Profiled in the Washington Post
A Modernizer Challenges Syria’s Old OrderLecture at Brookings
The Internal Dynamics of Syrian Politics
Where are we now? A few observations on Tharwa’s progress
Arab Liberals: the last hope for reform
Darfur – Roots of Conflict and the Role of the Arab and the International Community
The Syrian opposition’s woeful irrelevance
Will the Syrian regime take on the world?
Syria: De-Baathification from the Top?
|January 7, 2005|
|I become the second Syrian after Sadeq Al-Azm, to collaborate with an Israeli scholar on an article by writing an article with Moshe Maoz calling for jumpstarting the stalled Syrian-Israeli peace process. This created another problem for me with Syrian security apparatuses on my return: Why ignoring Syria is misguided|
|January 14, 2005|
|Profiled in the Chronicle for Higher Education
In Syria, Building a Civil Society Book by Book
|January 15, 2005|
|Held up at the airport upon my return to Syria and told to report to political security offices.|
|The interrogations begin. I blog about them, keep writing, keep talking to journalist and get profiled in New York Times: A Liberal in Damascus.|
|Assad wins street victory but not the war - A quote in the Guardian ups the ante in terms of criticism of Assad: “This is a dictatorship without a dictator,” a Damascus-based Western diplomat said. Ammar Abdulhamid, a human rights activist, agreed: “It’s a mafia. The capo di tutti capi has died but Michael Corleone [the tough son in the Godfather] is missing and Fredo [the weak son] is in charge.” … Abdulhamid, who has avoided prison so far, said: “It [the regime] is going to come crashing down. They are wishful dreamers if they think they can carry on. They are relics. They have lost their survival skills.” Some correspondents accuse me to trying to commit “suicide by media”|
Another Day in Damascus
The Heretic and the Noose!
Syria’s salvation is through reform
Reform starts with a Lebanon withdrawal
|This period begins with a lifting of the travel ban after an interrogation session conducted by Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, and ends with another interrogation session conducted by Shawkat in which an agreement is reached that I would be better off leaving the country. Khawla and I had already been contemplating relocating to Beirut, but Lebanon to the Assads, even after withdrawal of troops, is still part of their “country.” So, Khawla and I set up on making arrangements to go to the U.S, with the help of our friends at the Brookings Institution.|
|To the chagrin of the regime and its supporters, I become the only Syrian selected by the Arabic edition of Newsweek as part of their list of 43 people to watch in the Arab World.|
|In some of my interviews I begin hinting at the need for a velvet revolution in Syria: Syria Squeezed: Are We Free Yet?|
|There was also a profile in the Smithsonian Magazine.|
|For all the turmoil in my life, work on Tharwa continues: From Hama to Andijon – is dialogue with Islamists an impossibility?|
A Crazy Thing!
Freedom for the Atassy 8!
Mr. Assad, take down our wall
Who Killed Maashouq?
Some thoughts on a mundane Baath event
|This period begins with an exile and concludes with a plan for Jasmine Revolution.|
Departure from Damascus and arrival in the U.S.
Human Right Watch publishes a report on Online Censorship, andrefersto my circumstances surrounding my exile, and their communication with me at the time. I identify Assef Shawkat as the man behind the decision.
|Also in November, the Tharwa team in Damascus finally elected to shut down our office permanently, after trying to keep them open for a while. The team went underground after mounting security pressures, including few arrests and interrogations. Once again, the event was documented by an external observer.|
I publish my plan for velvet revolution in Syria. Unsurprisingly, it does not generate much vibe or interest in opposition circles, but it guides my thinking for Tharwa activities from that moment forward. Managing Transition: Few Guidelines For A Velvet Revolution In Syria – Towards a Jasmine Revolution in Syria
|A year of preparation for the launch of the Tharwa Foundation in Washington, D.C. to continue the work of the Tharwa Project. Our offices in Syria were closed, but the teams were still there.I meet Salman Rushdie during a PEN conference in New York City, and tell him of his influence on me during the Fatwa controversy of 1989. M decision to oppose the death sentence facilitate a decision to step away from the extremist views I held at the time. Salman was so fascinated by the story, he tells many people about it, including his wife at the time Padma Lakshmi, during a cocktail dinner we had at the time.|
Copts, Women & Beer
The Real Heresy that is Freedom!
Managing our way through! – A few thoughts on the nature of our current dilemma
Syria and the Fallacies of the China Model
Secularists & Islamists – The Promise & the Dread (Paper)
Identity, Integration & Introspection!
The Islamic Reformation!
Blogging and the Future of Democracy in the Arab World!
Syria’s serial exporters of instability
Shutting Down Guantanamo
The Alawite Question!
Should Syria and Israel Start Peace Talks Now?
The Reason I Don’t Criticize Israel!
We, the Barbarians!
Of Exile, Guilt and Messianic Aspirations(Paper)
Assad’s Olive Branch Can Bear No Fruit!
|Tharwa is back in business as the Tharwa Foundation is launched in February. The Tharwa Team in Syria monitors the parliamentary elections and the presidential referendum and documents myriads of violations and proves boycott. I advise the National Salvation Front on relations with the U.S. before leaving it to focus on Tharwa activities.|
|Newsweek Profile: Unwanted Attention.|
A Meeting in the Oval Office with the President of the United States.
The New Revolutionaries
So, What Do You Have On Your iPod?
Reaching Out for the Impossible!
The Heretic’s Mother, and Other Heretical Notions!
A Good Rally!
|Our activities at the Tharwa Foundation hits high gear as training workshops take place in Istanbul, our activists in Syria and the region begin documenting living conditions in their own communities and highlight issues of concern. In September, our application for political asylum gets approved, and I am finally able to travel to Europe for the first time since end of 2005.|
I become the first Syrian citizen to testify before the U.S. Congress. I speak of the looming revolution that no one else can see.
Tharwa takes part in organizing a conference to introduce the Damascus Declaration to Congress and to policy circles in Washington.
I was honored by President G. W. Bush alongside other international human rights activists at a USAID event on the Freedom Agenda.
I offer my second official congressional testimony at the Human Rights Caucus addressing the situation in Syria.
Defending America’s “Freedom Agenda”
Neither Sleet Nor Snow
|New Administration brings new priorities, and Tharwa funding is cut, but before we close our offices in Washington, D.C., Tharwa uses the videos smuggled by activists from Syria to produce a 6-part TV series, First Step, that ends up with a call for civil disobedience and a peaceful grassroots push for democratic change in the country, raising the slogan: possible and necessary.|
Joshua Muravchik’s book The Next Founders is published with a chapter on Khawla, me and our activities in Tharwa.
Profiles in the Epoch Times.
First Step airs on Barada TV until the beginning of the Syrian Revolution.
|A year of quiet activism. But in September and October, Tharwa took part in orchestrating a major online campaign demanding the release of teenage blogger Tal Al-Mallouhi. I also made a rare media appearance on Al-Hurrah TV in this connection. Although, the campaign failed to secure the release, we achieved two important things: we ascertained that Tal was still alive, and introduced in-country activist to the awesome power of social media, especially Facebook, in what became, in effect, a dress rehearsal for the activities that took place later in connection with the Syrian Revolution.|
Was among activists who joined Senators in calling for State Department action on Internet Freedom.
|A year dedicated to the Syrian Revolution. Return to blogging through the Syrian Revolution Digest. Return to involvement with opposition circles, from a distance. Return to involvement with in-country activists. In the beginning, some, who are familiar with my previous efforts and pontifications on revolution, bill me as the emerging face of the Syrian revolution, official media in Syria seem to have shared this belief as well, knowing better, I begin to be more selective regarding my media appearances to avoid generating any confusion or unnecessary controversy. Whatever role I might have played in bringing about this revolution, this is not the time for discussing it.Still, covering the revolution meant doing plenty of interviews every week almost.|
I was invited to attend President Obama’s speech on new policy towards the Middle East and North Africa.
|May 30-June 2
Attended the Antalya Conference in Turkey. The conference was organized by traditional opposition groups and independents activists and entrepreneurs to create a representative body for the Syrian Revolution, an effort that was scuttled later on by the Muslim brotherhood and other Islamist figures and groups who went on to form the Syrian National Council.
I get to introduce recent Nobel prize laureate, the Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman at an event in New York City.
Syria is not ready for an uprising
Syrians have broken the fear barrier
Ammar Abdulhamid on Syria’s uprising
Carol Castiel of VOA interviews Ammar Abdulhamid
Ammar on CNN’s In the Arena with Eliot Spitzer
|Year Two of the Syrian Revolution.|
Our family is profiled in the Washington Post.
Tharwa organizes two workshops in Copenhagen on the challenges of the transition period in cooperation with PILPG and the university of Copenhagen.
I take part in launching the George W Bush Presidential Center’s Freedom Collection, as one of the activists interviewed.
Tharwa organizes a workshop on transitional justice in Syria in The Hague, in cooperation with PILPG and Hivos.
A visit to Kosovo inspires much controversy.
I get to introduce President Bush at the Washington opening of the Freedom Collection.
I take part in the I Am Syria Campaign.
How U.S. can help stop bloodshed in Syria
How Many Syrians Must Die before a U.S. Intervention?
As Syria Violence Continues, World Leaders Do Little
No Dialogue With Assad
‘The Time for Action has Come’
The Day I Met Syria’s Mr. Big (the assassination of Assef Shawkat in Damascus makes me reminisce about our “encounters” that paved the way for my exile)
Redline and Greenlight
The Shredded Tapestry: The State of Syria Today
Rebels With a Cause, But Not Much Consensus
Syrian opposition groups says Annan plan ‘doomed,’ offer alternative
Perspectives on Syria