Syria: From Inventor to Laborer

This post was previously published on Syria Untold.

Fifty years into its rule, the Assad family — father and son — is not merely responsible for hundreds of thousands of casualties in Syria, but also, for the perpetual infanticide of Syrian talents and dreams. The story of Ismail al-Shimali exposes the Baathist mechanisms of diminishing any possibility for scientific or cultural development in the country. 

Photo of Ismail al-Shimali, taken from his facebook page. Used with permission.

Photo of Ismail al-Shimali, taken from his Facebook page. Used with permission.

Brilliance As a Curse 

Growing up, al-Shimali had a passion for mechanics. He spent days and nights glued to his motorcycle, discovering its every detail, and trying to modify and make it more efficient. After high school, he left his hometown in the countryside of Hama, and moved to Aleppo, where he enrolled as a student at the Institute of Mechanical Engineering.

As part of his graduation project, the young man invented a measuring device called the “Vernier Caliper Bisector”, an innovation that earned him a diploma as a prominent student, and paved the way for a long series of disappointments.

A year after applying for his innovation patent, and after numerous long, tiring strides to the Directorate of Intellectual Property Protection in Damascus, he received the Gold Medal of Honor, as a Syrian inventor. “I was lucky,” al-Shimali says, “Other people had been waiting to get their patent for over four years.”

Al-Shimali’s sole aspiration at the time was to get an exception that enables him to continue his education in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. With his patent in hand, he roamed the streets, knocking on every possible door: the Minister of Economics, Minister of Higher Education and even the Syrian President himself, but he was faced with either mockery or utter indifference. “The head of Higher Institutes in Syria, to whom I had submitted a formal request, threw my paper in the trash, yelling, “no one asked you to be a big-shot inventor. We have more important things to worry about,” al-Shimali recounts in an interview with SyriaUntold. 

Blueprint of al-Shimali's measuring device. Used with permission

Blueprint of al-Shimali's measuring device. Used with permission

The Outbreak of the Uprising: A Renewed Hope

As the screams against injustice in Syria grew louder and louder, so did al-Shimali’s hope of a brighter homeland, one that celebrates the gifts of its youth instead of oppressing them. He joined the civil movement in his hometown Salamiyah, and took part in countless peaceful demonstrations with other university students, in the hope of drawing the government's attention to their legitimate demands.

As the numbers of protesters began escalating, the regime stepped up its arbitrary arrests in the city, and al-Shimali was detained in May, 2012. “They tortured us, as if we were the source of all evil in the world,” he reflects. “I was moved to the central prison in Hama, and was released under a presidential pardon, a month later.”

Regime security forces confiscated al-Shimali’s beloved motorcycle, along with most of his possessions, and raided his home several times to arrest him again. To save himself from the humiliating and painful experience of jail, he was forced to flee to Lebanon, where an unknown destiny awaits him.

Exile: From Invention to Hard Labor

The staggering number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, along with the dominant discourses propagated by leading political forces and elites, have had a profound effect on the Lebanese people, and prejudice began to manifest itself in every aspect. “Property prices have risen exponentially since 2011, and labor exploitation of Syrian workers is rampant,” al-Shimali notes.

After his diploma certificate and patent had proven worthless, the young inventor became saddled with mundane jobs, since his arrival in Lebanon in October, 2012. From a construction worker, to sawmill operator and blacksmith. al-Shimali currently distributes drinking water for a living. “I tried to find better jobs, something more compatible with my degree, but the crude, demeaning responses crippled my every attempt.”

Ismail al-Shimali's story speaks of determination and inequity but is only one of many, and as war continues to reap the lives of hundreds of Syrians each day, the seemingly dead-end future, shatters the hopes and dreams of thousands more.

This post was previously published on Syria Untold.

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