Syrian journalist in Aleppo: 'I'm afraid I've been useless'

Syrian journalist in Aleppo: 'I'm afraid I've been useless'
Zouhir al-Shimale is one of the last English-speaking journalists left in Aleppo. He spoke to Francesca Mannocchi.
3 min read
14 Dec, 2016

Zouhir has changed in recent weeks.

He has changed since the day I first spoke to him - in a long chat on Skype - if he could collect footage and interviews for me. To show them in Europe.

Because for us, as western journalists, covering east Aleppo is just not possible.

I asked him if he could tell me what life is like in east Aleppo.

How children are warmed in a city with little electricity and no fuel.

How people may receive medical care, with what remains of the only hospital because all the others have been bombed.

How children study, hidden in the basements, with all around them the echo of the bombing.

What people can eat, with the meat that costs $40 per kilo, and after flour can no longer be found.


Zouhir has lost weight. He has a hollow face and tired eyes.

He is one of the few English-speaking journalists left to tell the story of the end of his city, its fall, its rubble.

Zouhir does my work for me. He is a journalist.

And today, that Aleppo is falling among the dead in the street, the executed men, the militias blocking the evacuation of civilians, the starvation spreading, Zouhir works to give voice to those who have lost theirs.

He is the voice, indefatigable, of the pain of his people.

And his voice reminds us, with humility, of the responsibility that in this part of the world seems lost.

Last night, Zouhir sent me a video.

He repeated several times: "Just go, and do something.

"Do something, do something" - he repeated so many times that it seemed like a prayer - "do something, go down in the street shouting for our freedom."

Zouhir pleas for international protests - 'do something'

Because this was the war in Syria, an uprising for freedom.

But today the confusion and the hardening to hardship have overshadowed this.

And they put into oblivion the reasons of those who, in 2011, were in the streets demanding their rights and a free country.

Zouhir was one of them.

Zouhir is a journalist like me - this is why, on one hand, asking questions of him is very simple - he knows that it is our duty to tell, to ask, and to do so repeatedly. On the other hand, speaking with him is indescribably frustrating.

Because there is a trace of the unsaid in every our conversation.

Because we both know that this could be the last time we speak.

Because in Aleppo tonight, everyone is just waiting to die.

Today he spoke with me several times, the last recorded message was interrupted by the bombs.

So I asked him the most difficult question, I asked him if he was afraid of dying.

"Everyone is afraid of dying," he said.

"But today everyone is afraid to see our death. Syrian death.

"I saw it, I saw the death of children in the street, and I also see the death that will [come], the death of women in the army's hands, of civilians who cross Aleppo and will be executed.

"I'm afraid to die. Like you, like everyone else."

So says Zouhir, this young man from Aleppo, who has for months eaten only rice. Who does not have clean water in which to wash. Who saw dozens of corpses fall to the ground.

Who has not run away because he did not want history's memory of Aleppo to be that the residents were saved by those who had bombed them for the past five years.

Who, five years ago, was in the streets with everyone else, shouting "Freedom".

"I'm afraid to die," he tells me.

"But most of all, I am afraid I have been useless."

Zouhir al-Shimale has contributed to more than a dozen articles for The New Arab. Read his blog about a rare day of ceasefire here: A quiet day amid the storm of chaos, and follow him on Twitter: @ZouhirAlShimale

He was speaking to Francesca Mannocchi.