Friday, January 27, 2012

Exclusive from Al-Akhbar English: Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

"In November, rumours emerged that Rami Abdulrahman was a pseudonym of SOHR’s founder. Many who doubted SOHR’s credibility cried “smoking gun.” When a professional-looking letter published last week by a rival group, claiming to speak on behalf of SOHR, accused Abdulrahman of falsifying his name and hijacking SOHR’s identity, suspicions turned into certainty.   The politically motivated debate about SOHR clouded a much needed examination of all the facts involved. A closer look at these facts suggests that the pseudonym issue is the least significant element of the controversy. More than anything else, the row between the two rival groups laying claim over SOHR seems to reflect a wider political feud brewing between the two main Syrian opposition camps: the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB), both increasingly at odds with each other over the call for foreign intervention....The moving force behind the rival group ( who issued a letter attacking Abdulrahman’s group ( is a London-based Syrian exile and medical doctor named Mousab Azzawi.  The smear campaign launched by Azzawi seemed to have undertones of classism.  Abudlrahman was depicted in the letter as someone who is “unable to communicate professionally in English language [sic.],” has a “very modest level of education,” and whose “primary profession is installing satellite dishes” but happened to help out with posting Arabic articles for the Azzawi-led site. Despite these “humble” credentials, Abdulrahman was linked to Rifaat Assad, exiled uncle of Syrian President Bashar Assad and a current dissident widely resented by pro- and anti-regime forces alike. Most damaging in the letter, perhaps, was the revelation of Abdulrahman’s real name – Ossama Suleiman.  But, apart from using a pseudonym, Abdulrahman denied these charges well before the letter surfaced. As far as his name was concerned, Abdulrahman appeared last November on a London-based Arabic satellite channel al-Hiwar showing what he said was his British passport and Syrian ID papers with his real name, Ossama Suleiman, to the cameras. He did so after a critical article on an opposition website had disclosed the name. He also denied any links to Rifaat. Abdulrahman says that as a longtime opposition activist who organized  emonstrations at the Syrian Embassy in London, he has always preferred to use a nom-de-guerre, something he points out is common among political leaders...In a phone interview with Al-Akhbar, Azzawi said he is a consultant pathologist who lectures at two universities, though he preferred not to name them. The General Medical Council (GMC) register shows that although a Mousab Azzawi with an MD from a Syrian university is licensed to practice medicine in the UK as of 2009, he is not on the specialist register. The GMC press office told Al-Akhbar that while the National Health Service (NHS) requires all its consultants to be on the specialist register apart from locum work: “the term ‘consultant’ isn’t in itself protected, and could, hypothetically, be used differently by private providers.” Azzawi said he practiced as a consultant pathologist privately, and did some locum work for the NHS.  While disputing the personal identity and political connections of Abdulrahman, Azzawi himself seems to have offered misleading information about his credentials. While he identifies himself in the English version of the letter as a medical doctor and human rights activist, he signed an earlier Arabic version of the letter as a member of Amnesty International. Amnesty membership is open to anyone, and being a member is a far cry from being an active persona grata in the human rights organization, something most English readers are likely aware of."   Asa did an excellent investigative work here.