Frisco woman tells story of Syrians dying for democracy



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Posted on September 18, 2012 at 9:56 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 25 at 1:28 PM

For days, we've watched the violence and anger in the streets of Mideast countries, and the deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya that killed four Americans.

The fury is said to be in response to a film mocking Islam, and the outrage has taken the international focus away from the bloodstained streets of Syria.

For the last 18 months, civil war has raged among a people dying for democracy. But unlike Egypt and Libya, the struggle for freedom has barely made headlines in the United States.

Some estimates put the number of dead in Syria at more than 23,000. That's why Ranya Sabbagh of Frisco decided to risk her life to sneak back into her home country.

"It's very, very sad," she said. "They don't have food. They don't have medication. Electricity comes and goes. It's not consistent."

Sabbagh was born in Syria, but moved to Texas in 1990. She returned to call attention to the little-reported revolution — an 18-month struggle for freedom from Bashar al-Assad and his family, who have ruled this country for more than 40 years.

She looked at footage of a demonstration in Syria. "What they're saying is, 'Down, down with Bashar. Syria will be free whether you like it or not.'"

Two years ago, scenes like that would have been illegal.

Sabbagh said patients are treated outside hospitals, because the buildings are likely to be targets.

She also said Syrian children today have no childhood. "Their playground is playing on tanks; their toys are guns," she said.

Sabbagh trained for this trip. She ran sprints for three months in case she had to flee danger, and even took a half-dozen lessons at a northwest Dallas gun range to learn to shoot an automatic weapon.

"I'm an American citizen. I'm proud to be an American. I love the values of this country; I love the freedom, and the democracy, and the human rights... but we're not acting based on those values," she said.

Sabbagh spent seven days dodging bullets in Syria, meeting with orphans and talking to rebels.

She came back with a rare but dangerous look at a country that is dying to be democratic.