How the Syrian revolution was crowdfunded

Elizabeth Dickinson writes: At the beginning of the revolution, volunteers in Syria were able to collect the donations at the border. But as the conflict sharpened, each shipment required a round of intelligence work. Contacts were called in order to find out which roads were safe to travel on and which armed group controlled each stage of the route the goods would have to take. “We buy all the checkpoints,” says [Mezyan] Al Barazi [a Syrian expatriate living and working in the United Arab Emirates]. Nonetheless, the group [of fellow Syrian expatriates he formed] has had several containers stopped by extremist rebel groups.

As their goods traversed the country, Al Barazi and his friends tracked their progress. Each time they changed hands, a contact would send a message on WhatsApp or post a photo on Instagram. On his computer and Samsung smartphone, Al Barazi kept video clips of boxes of gloves, blood bags, basic medical supplies, flour, sugar, diapers, and clothing – proof that the goods he had sent had reached their destination.

Since 2011, Al Barazi alone has spent more than $400,000 of his own money supporting the revolution. An official with the Syrian National Council, the most prominent opposition group, estimates that diaspora businessmen have sent between $1-billion and $2-billion just to the armed groups challenging the Assad regime. Another prominent businessman puts the figure of all aid – lethal and humanitarian – higher still, at $20-billion, the equivalent of 50% of the country’s pre-war gross domestic product.

It is unlikely we will ever know exactly how much money the Syrian diaspora poured into fighting the Assad regime. No accounting exists of its hundreds of decentralised networks spread across dozens of countries. But one thing is clear. Four years into a bloody civil war, the only reason that many in the country are still fighting, and surviving, is because of the money and assistance being provided by those that fled long ago. [Continue reading…]

See parts two and three of extracts from Godfathers and Thieves by Elizabeth Dickinson.

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