Not so long ago Noura al-Ameer was being beaten and subjected to electric shocks in a Syrian prison. Today, she sits across from the regime that put her there, hoping diplomacy can end her country’s suffering.
“It was as if I was seeing the faces of the killers, the bombers, the torturers,” Ameer told AFP, describing her first meeting with regime representatives in Switzerland last week.
At 26, she is a vice president of the opposition National Coalition and the youngest member of the delegation in talks in Geneva aimed at ending her country’s nearly three-year civil war.
It was not easy, she said, sitting down across from representatives of the “executioner” and “criminal” President Bashar al-Assad.
“I felt the same thing I felt for my jailers: contempt,” she said, her black-charcoaled eyes shining defiance under a headscarf dotted with bright red flowers and black and grey leopard spots.
“I tell myself: You cannot hurt me no matter what you do, because I defend a cause and you are only here to defend one person,” said Ameer, who does not have a seat at the negotiating table but is one of the few women in the opposition’s extended delegation.
Sitting in the lounge of a luxury Geneva hotel, a stone’s throw from the UN’s European headquarters where the talks are taking place, Ameer described how she had been studying literature at the University of Homs in early 2011 when a “massacre” in the central Syrian city prompted her to put her studies on hold and join protests.
She was soon handing out fliers, shouting anti-regime slogans from loudspeakers and documenting abuses.
“We wanted the voice of the people to ring louder than the repression,” she said, speaking in Arabic and gesticulating with delicate hands for emphasis.
She had known from the beginning that she might be arrested, and when the moment finally came