Four young Syrian women staged a women’s march for nonviolence through the middle of Medhat Basha market in Damascus, Syria, on November 21, 2012. In the finest tradition of subversive street theater, all four dressed in bridal gowns and veils, carrying red banners with white lettering that said, “Stop all military operations in Syria. 100% Syrian.” For this exercise of their freedoms of speech and assembly, the “Brides of Peace” were immediately detained and denied due process by Syrian security forces. Rima Dali, Rowa Jafar, and sisters Kinda and Lobna Zaour went to prison in white wedding dresses.
The four women, each with a history of human rights activism, did not do this alone, any more than Rosa Parks acted alone. Footage of their march was put out immediately by Freedom Days Syria, an umbrella organization coordinating over a dozen nonviolent resistance groups inside Syria.
The detention of the “Brides of Peace” created a groundswell of support for them among Syrians. Free Syrians Group, an organization formed in Syria’s Druze heartland of Suwayda, where Kinda and Lubna are from, released a statement of support for the detained women. Syrian Women for the Syrian Intifada (SANAD), an important women’s group formed in June 2011 inside Syria, has supported the “Brides of Peace” on its Facebook page. Women all over the world have begun to send photos of themselves dressed in white gowns holding red and white signs that reflect the message of the “Brides of Peace.” Several Facebook pages have been created in solidarity with the four women. Syrian artists have created artwork paying tribute to their stance.
Rima, a 32-year-old lawyer, happens to be Alawite, and was the initiator of the Stop the Killing protest movement which revitalized nonviolent resistance beginning April 8, 2012. The presence of Alawites in the uprising infuriates the regime especially, undermining its claim that it is their protector. The regime thus reserves special sorts of punishments for such Alawites — who are not at all a negligible number. Kinda and Lobna are Druze.
Rowa, a 23-year-old artist who teaches art to special needs kids, comes from the predominantly Ismailia city of Salamiya. Together, they reflect the social diversity of Syrians united for ethical, constructive, nonviolent change to build their country as a secular, democratic state upholding equality and human rights for all.
The “Stop the Killing” campaign, and this new “100% Syria ” manifestation of it are women-initiated. These actions are controversial among those Syrians who believe that armed resistance is not only the only way to topple the regime, but a necessity for self-defense of civilians who have been masacred at an appalling rate by the regime since the uprising began in March 2011.
When one says “nonviolence” to many of these Syrians suffering under military assault by the Syrian government today, it is often perceived to mean “you want my family to be slaughtered,” and emotions run high in response. On top of that, the performance of the “Brides of Peace” has engendered the petty snipe that “they just want fame.” Such digs are reserved for women, while men who take dramatic actions in the uprising are called “heroes” without reservation. The stance of Rima Dali and her friends is thus brave on many levels.
Both these campaigns are part of wider ongoing efforts by the civil resistance to take back the uprising which they started—to take it back from the various armed factions that have emerged since defected soldiers began organizing in August, 2011, something which opened the door to all kinds of outside agendas trying to exploit the grassroots uprising in Syria. That is another reason why these efforts by the grassroots civilian organizers on the ground level of this uprising—the level that typically gets overshadowed—need support. Nonviolence advocates are battling internal onslaughts in this uprising, even while suffering from the repressive apparatus of the regime.
“I’m all hope,” was the last status update Rima posted on her Facebook wall before going out to march as a “Bride of Peace.” The four “Brides of Peace” remain in detention as of the publication of this entry. They are among 33,324 prisoners of conscience currently detained in Syria. Of those, 472 are women.
Rima Dali and her friends are icons of the Syrian grassroots civil resistance. The worldwide peace and justice community needs to know about them.
- Footage of the march: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Ak0akv5N6nI
- Partial footage of their arrest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0LldOtIcZw
- Please visit the English companion page to Rima Dali’s Arabic-language Stop the Killing page on Facebook to follow updates on the story, and other nonviolent civil resistance stories in Syria: https://www.facebook.com/buildingasyria4all?fref=ts
UPDATE: January 12, 2013: The four “brides” have been released by the Syrian government as part of a prisoner exchange.