The sounds Qusai Zakarya heard the morning of Aug. 21, 2013, in Moadimiyeh, Syria, near Damascus, were not what he was used to. The bombs, he said, sounded different — they didn’t buzz and crash in the same way they had in the slew of previous regime bombardments, and the people running for cover were holding their eyes, falling and vomiting. Those were signs that the international community and human rights organizations said were indicative of a chemical attack. Now, nearly a year later, the man behind the attack, President Bashar Assad, is standing for re-election in what’s widely seen as a sham. And Zakarya is in the U.S., working to prove to Western leaders that what he saw that day was real, and that Assad needs to be removed from power. Wednesday marked the first day Syrians living outside of the country could cast their ballot in the presidential election that no one expects Assad to lose. Tens of thousands voted, many of them at the Syrian Embassy in Beirut. According to Reuters, refugees said that pro-Assad Lebanese groups had mobilized them to go vote. Syrian state television said voting took place in 43 embassies.
Many of those who visited polling stations said the organization, especially in Lebanon, was a mess and there was very little oversight. But Zakarya refused to vote in what he called “a disgusting and pathetic joke.”
“I can understand that some people will be forced to elect Assad, or be killed or captured,” he said. “But everyone I know is not voting.”
According to United Nations estimates, more than 150,000 Syrians have been killed and 5 million displaced, including more than 2.8 million refugees, since the conflict began three years ago.
Voting will begin for those still living inside Syria on June 3, but many will boycott the vote unless they will be forced to go, Zakarya said.