Samar Yazbek is a Syrian journalist and writer born in 1970 in Jableh, Syria. Prior to the revolution she was known for writing movie and TV series scripts while working for Syrian state TV. She also wrote for Al-Hayat newspaper, the newspaper of record for the Arab diaspora, for 10 years.
When the revolution erupted, she braved the streets of Syria during the very early days of the protests. Based on those first four months of the revolution, she wrote “A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution”. In 2012, the book won the illustrious “International Writer of Courage Award”.
In this book, she expands on her experiences as an Alawite woman (a member of the regime’s small but loyalist sect) working against the regime. As an independent, secularist Alawite woman vocally opposing the regime – her very presence challenged the regime’s official narrative that the revolution was an uprising of Islamists, mobsters and terrorists. She was publicly disowned by her family and hometown. Very quickly, she became a hunted target and dissident.
Yazbek recounts the period when her efforts to document the peaceful non-sectarian protest movement resulted in a campaign to paint her as a traitor of her sect. She describes the daily death threats she received as she bravely continued to protest:
I am no longer afraid of death. We breathe it in. I wait for it, calm with my cigarette and coffee. I imagine I could stare into the eye of a sniper on a rooftop, stare at him without blinking. As I head out into the street, I walk confidently, peering up at the rooftops. Crossing the sidewalks and passing through a square, I wonder where the snipers might be now. (Yazbek, 2012, p. 4).
She offers a fascinating insider perspective of the discord from within the regime apparatus. Notably, she spoke to secret sympathizers with the revolution from within the military, including a soldier who decided to shoot his own foot to escape an order to kill his countrymen. Eventually, many soldiers defected to join the opposition.
Another of Yazbek’s powerful books “The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria” was awarded the prestigious French “Best Foreign Book” prize. After being forced to leave Syria, she writes about her clandestine visits back to Syria through a fence on the Turkish border. She offers snapshots of the unbelievable events happening in Syria, including the development of the Free Syrian Army and the arrival of extremist groups on the scene. Free Syrians were battling both the Assad regime and extremist elements on the scene hijacking their revolution.
In 2018, she published her most recent book “19 Women: Tales of Resilience from Syria” on the overlooked role of women in the Syrian revolution. As a passionate supporter of women’s rights, in 2012, she co-founded Women Now for Development, an NGO which aims to empower Syrian women economically and educationally. Today, she lives in exile in France with her daughter.