Sectarianism, the Regime & the NSF!

If sectarianism is not a problem in our country, why does the charge of “instigating sectarian hatreds” continue to figure so prominently in almost every “legal” case brought against dissidents these days?


In truth, the issue of sectarianism goes to the heart of our dilemma in Syria, and everybody knows it. This is why Khaddam and Bayanouni made a point of directly addressing this issue during their recent press conference. They, in particular, tried to assure the Alawites that the National Salvation Front is not aimed against them, and that, in fact, the Front does have Alawite supporters whose identity will remain concealed to protect them from the ire of the Assad regime. More importantly, Bayanouni assured that the Muslim Brotherhood does not apostasize the Alawites and that its members consider the Alawites as their brethren.

Still, to me, this is still a rather lacking discourse, and much still needs to be said and done in order to bridge the sectarian divide. But, and if as some argue, it is still too early in the game to adopt a step like the bicameral assembly that I have been proposing for a while now, on account that such measures cannot be effectively considered until the other sides of the equation are willing to sit down and talk about them, which may not take place until the transitional government is indeed in place, then, the least we can do at this stage is make our discourse a bit more encompassing than the above rhetoric.

Rather, what we need to say is this: so long as we are citizens of the same country, we should all have equal rights therein regardless of the one’s particular religious and political beliefs and convictions. For these rights, in the final analysis, stem from our common humanity, and it is indeed this fact that what we need to stress as often as we can. Because the Alawites, the Christians and the Druses out there, hell even the Sunnis, will not be filtering our words only through their sectarian backgrounds, but also through their political modes of discourse, be it Baathist, Communist, or liberal, which, by their very nature, require appeals to ideals of citizenship and civil rights rather than relying sectarianism. We should be proposing to find ways to resolve and deal effectively with this sensitive issue, not perpetuate it.

The credibility of the NSF will be measured by the ability to tackle sensitive issues more effectively than the regime is doing. For this reason, it is quite important for the NSF to develop a more effective media strategy over the next few months, one that aims to move the debate over the NSF and its struggle against the regime into the realm of ideas and far from the issue of personalities. It is about time we put an end to personality politics, and moved into the modern realm of political discourse and political competition.

PS. For more information about the recent NSF conference, check this site.

42 thoughts on “Sectarianism, the Regime & the NSF!

  1. Excellent post Fares, and I agree with your last suggestions. We need to go beyond rhetoric in order to alleviate the fears of all Syrians regarding change and highlight its positive points and necessity. We need to brainstorm more though about the exact nature of new modes of discourse and new styles of actions that need to be adopted by the NSF to garner more popular support in Syria.

  2. I am genuinely intreigued by your proposal for a bicameral assembley for the post-Assad era. I think it will appeal to the more enlighted and more moderate amongst the Alawite, while reassuring the Sunnis that they will have a say in therunning of the Country. Needless to say, other sectionsof the Society must be taken on board, to ensure they do not feel marginalized. I think it would be totally wrong to split power along sectarian lines, a la Lebanon.. Itsimply does not work..I do have a problem with what you call ‘NSF credibility’!.. I believe they lost all credibility when they propped Khaddam into centre-stage!.. The man is a thief and a bully. He cannot be trusted.. While he is spouting his implausible rhetoric on democracy and freedom, he and his followers are practicing something completely different.. Don’t just take my word for it!..Everyone, please carry out this simple experiment: Log onto the ‘Free Syria’ website, which seems to be run by Khaddam supporters.. Click on any article that has Khaddam in it (there are lots of such articles on the site.. they seem to believe he will be the next President… Then try and post two comments, one singing the praise of Khaddam, his honesty and his patriotism, and the other criticizing him and his family for the well-documented and widely acknowledged corruption, bullying tactics and foreign allegiance (well.. non-Syrian, at least).. Guess which one will not be allowed?.. I tried on three occasions to post comments that were critical of the President-in-Waiting, but they were blocked by the censors at ‘Free Syria’!!… FREE??.. What a joke.. Is that the kind of freedom the NSF are championing??..Just because Khaddam has denounced the Regime does not, in any shape, form, or fashion, make him worthy of any emminence thethe post-Assad era.. We all know his reasons for defecting.. Just like you once said about the Assads, Khaddam is part of the problem.. He cannot be part of the solution.. The NSF will be hijacked by Khaddam.. It is already losing much of its ground support because of the Khaddam connection. The Syrian people have no interest in replacing a corrupt Alawite regime with a corrupt Sunni one…

  3. S. Brit,It would be interesting to try the same exercise at a site run and maintained by the Moslem Brothers.Do they have a blog where we could comment? Please refer to my post on Syria Comment. The liberals of the region have a mojor uphill struggle. Sadly, I am not as hopeful as some.

  4. I’m happy we are here steering away from the repetitive and almost useless “who can we blame for what happened in the past” comments.Minority rights:First, why is the website of the Muslim Brotherhood not promoted in opposition news sites? this one for examplehttp://syriamonitor.typepad.com/Where other opposition sites are listed, but not the MB site.The fact is, no matter how much the MB improved, their improvements have some concrete limits. Like this sentence in their political program for Syria:السعي إلى أسلمة القوانين تدريجيا، لاعتقادنا أن الشريعة المنزلة من عند الله رحمة للعالمين أرفق وأحكم وأرعى لمصلحة الناس أجمعين.. English translation: “seeking a gradual Islamization of laws because we believe Islamic Sharia laws came from god and are wiser and better suited to the benefit of all people …”Many similar ones are there, ranging from economic programs, to education …etc.http://www.ikhwan-muslimoon-syria.org/04malaffat_nasharat/mashro3/index.htm#_Toc91177430The bottom line is: let us be honest and realistic; there is no way minorities, especially Christians can belong in Syria if the MB or something along its mentality got into power. If any non-Christian has any doubt, just imagine if you had to immigrate to some country where you have to live under “Jewish law” for example, no matter how fair and wise it is.And let us not kid ourselves: Khaddam and many other “opposition figures” along with the options they propose, suffer from the same bad characteristics that “regime figures” have… there is selfishness, corruption, arrogance, no acceptance of critics (SB’s negative comment being removed from their site).And let’s admit it: There is no majority of Syrians today who are used to criticism, different opinions, total separation of religion from economics, laws, and politics.So what are our options today?We’ll get to the regime’s cooperation (or lack of cooperation) if you want at some later time, it is definitely a frustrating factor, but for now, since we are discussing the options of decent and capable Syrian opposition figures:Before spending all our time picking our favorite landing place for Syria in the near future (democracy, minority rights …etc) and checking who is taking off with us on that trip with pilot Khaddam and co pilot Banayouni, I feel we should know if1) Are the weather conditions today safe for flying?The environmental conditions today add unnecessary risks to this desired and necessary flight.2) Our new pilots can fly this plane? With a lot of difficulty, at best.3) They are really taking us to where we want to go? Probably not. The place “we” want to go is not to their liking (see above limitations of the MB, and Khaddam’s real character)4) That beautiful and very far place where we want to go … does the Syria plane have enough fuel to go all the way there? NO … we will instead have a very rough emergency landing in an ugly place.5) Do the passengers on the plane really know where they’re going? Will the majority of them really like it there? NO … a lot of education is needed first. A majority of Syrians today (not only the regime) are used to corruption, are not convinced of the total separation of state and religion, are not ready to accept points of view different from their own… so if we take them to the land of “Western Democracy” … will they really like it? Do they really know what is expected from them?

  5. The most telling bit here was Syrian Brit’s recounting of less-than-flattering comments being removed from the Free Syria website.Objective observers have often remarked that because of the lack of political openness of Arab societies, certain regime opponents sound like good free thinkers and embrace liberal ideas on paper, but when push comes to shove they often display the same undemocratic tendencies as they regimes they hate. That is a regrettable shame.

  6. SB, The problem here is Khaddam and Bayanouni are the real founders of the NSF we simply cannot marginalize any of them at this stage, and indeed, they are more likely to marginalize if not now then at some later stage in the game. This is the nature of coalition politics. Each faction will try to strengthen its own hand in order to better position itself in the ongoing power-play. There is no alternative to this very old game, and the best strategy that can be adopted here, for those who don’t find what they want in Khaddam and Bayanouni, and there many who indeed don’t, is for them to support the initiatives of the more liberal elements in the Front, especially the initiatives aimed at increasing their “popular” base in the country and among expatriate communities and elaborating their liberal message. Ehsani has made a strong argument in his recent post at Syria Comment that Islamist will be the ultimate beneficiary of the push for democracy in the country and the region. He might be right, but I am not wiling to concede the entire game at this stage. The ethnic and religious diversity of Syria society, the lingering secular tendencies among many Sunnis and the fact that most technocrats and intellectuals on the scene remain committed to secular ideals, might just help us negotiate a better deal than that obtained by our Iranian counterparts back in the heydays of the Iranian Revolution. This brings me to Ehsani’s post. Ehsani,The comparison you briefly make between Hafiz Assad and Kemal Attaturk needs to be qualified. For Hafiz might have indeed wanted to see himself as some sort of a Syrian Attaturk, but he never really did what Attaturk had done before did, he never really pushed hard for the secularization of society, and he never challenged the Sharia. In fact, he gave the society up to religious forces in favor of encouraging Islamist to shy away from political participation. At the heart of it, he was just an Alawite officer interested in hanging on to power. Secularization was not a real concern on his mind. He never challenged Islam were it would have counted: in education and law. He never bothered to build the real foundation for secularism in our midst. By cracking down on secular opposition forces and civil society activists, he even helped the cause of the darkest of all Islamist currents, after all, their chief rivals were being prevented from taking an active part in the public debate. The last real vestige and remnant of the secular intellectual life that thrived at one point in our country is now represented by the artistic community. And though Syrian drama is flourishing today thanks to the country’s wonderful assortment of actors and filmmakers, the drama medium in itself is insufficient to provide the intellectual basis and foundation for secular values, authors, academics and poets are still needed for that. But these are exactly the people whose activities and contributions are being blocked every step of the way by the current regime, and as a result: Have you noticed how barren the contemporary intellectual scene in the country (not to mention the Arab World in general, and for very much the same reason: the oppression of current rulers) is these days? Have you noticed the almost complete absence of young voices from the intellectual scene? Have you noticed how the main figures in whatever debate that still takes place every now and then still belong to the old generation of intellectuals, whose work continue to be the main sources of inspiration on the subjects of modernization and secularity? And have you noticed that very few people from the younger generations seem equal to the task of even commenting on these older works not to mention furthering and updating their arguments in light of recent contributions by western and even eastern (Indian, Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Japanese) intellectuals? The reason I am pointing this out is to remind that the intellectual and academic scene in Turkey has always been much more lively and has played an important role in establishing and strengthening the pillars of modern and secular thoughts in Turkish society. Turkey’s success, then, was premised on much more than military intervention, albeit one cannot the importance and direct relevance of the Turkish military in protecting the secular nature of the state for all these decades. But this is exactly where Hafiz failed as well, had he wanted to immolate Attaturk, he should have secularized the army, not sectarianized it. In other words, he should have recruited Sunnis into the military academies and established a strong secular educational programs for all military recruits. He didn’t so, because, in the final analysis, he was limited by his own personal traits, he was never that deep of a man. He was a just a military rural ruffian, whose expertise were restricted to the power plays inside the upper ranks of the Syrian army and the Baath Party. He was never qualified to undertake the modernization and secularization of Syria, and unfolding events in the country throughout the 70s and 80s led him to restrict his power base even more and to drive away the more educated and capable of existing technocrats in the country.

  7. Blogger has been a nightmare the last 2 days!!!very slow I don’t know if it is me or the system.Alex great reply, could you please post your comment on my article Why Christians in Syria support the Current Regime? or do they? or should I do it. Because it certainly offers a good complement.So back to square one, I just figured out, may be it is the fault of the media who are now presenting the MB and Khadam as the only alternative capable of grabing power from Assad, just like they presented Bashar as the savior of Syria in 2000 and even before. I find it hard to believe that out of 18 or 20 million Syrians, they is only one family capable of ruling.I know what you are saying, I heard that since I was little “Sha3bna ma bylba’lo” means “not fit or not suitable for our people”. You mentioned that you lived in Egypt in the 70s, are things better now? will Syria be better in 10 years with the same conditions and rulers?One question do the rulers know what they are doing or do they care? what are their checks and balances? who could make them listen to reason? who could make them open their eyes and see they are in the 21st century. Do they know that people’s life in Syria and surrounding countries are valuable and we are not just bunch of sheeps who can be slaughtered anytime.The situation is very complex, no one has solutions but something has to change…for a better Syria

  8. Ammar, great comparison and analysis of the differences between Assad and Ataturk.We certainly need a powerful charismatic personality to lead Syria into modernity. Turkey provides good lessons for securalism.

  9. As part of my long comment to a poster on Syria Comment, I mentioned this there but I think it is best that I retype here: My friend Ammar wrote to me on his site in an effort to remind me that Hafez Assad was not exactly our own Ataturk-type figure. According to Ammar, Ataturk presided over a truly secular and professional army when Hafez was only interested in recruiting people of his own sect. It is hard to disagree with this observation. But, Ataturk did not come from a minority. Had he been a Kurd for example, would he have acted like he did or would he have been closer to Hafez? The latest Khaddam episode has an interesting parallel. One can argue that Hafez did include a Sunni like him in his inner circle. I am sure Bashar today thinks that his father made a mistake by relying on a Sunni in that position. One would think that the palace must have been thinking that had Khaddam been an Alawi, this latest Khaddam episode may not have taken place. I am not condoning this line of thinking but I think it must be the current thinking at the leadership level. More of my own gripes with the regime were mentioned in that post but I did not want to repeat myself here again

  10. Finally, the problems with Blogger have been fixed. Alex,You hit the nail of my fears on the head. Of course, I am familiar with these internal contradictions within the MB program. I don’t trust the Brotherhood. Islamists have Sharia on the brain, and they will not voluntarily relinquish that dream. But then, secularists have a counter dream as well, a dream of a society where what they would consider to be vestiges and relics of a bygone era are sidelines if not discarded all together. Both secularists and Islamists are more than wiling to piss on each other’s holy grounds, and we cannot just stop them from thinking along these lines. But so long as both sides are willing to discount violence and imposition, we might just have the chance to create a reality that is too complex for any of them to shove under the table. Still, the danger of violence and imposition is clearly more affiliated with the Islamists at this stage. They are the ones who are more likely to push for laws that would strip me and my peers of the last vestiges of civil liberties we have left. I know all that. Yet, I am willing to work with them. Why? Well, because they are there, and because we need to shake the status quo, and because the Assads have shown they cannot play the role of the enlightened despots, and because the Syrian society is not ready for a push from below, and the Assads will not grant us any room to maneuver to get the society ready, because they can think of their immediate interests, and because even if the streets moved, it will move along sectarian lines, and because I can no other bloody, or, to be more specific, less bloody alternatives to keep the country together once the regime or country fall apart, whichever comes first. We need to put a structure in place no matter how shady to prevent a total lapse into chaos. For so long as the Kurds continue to push for their federation-cum-separation at any foreseeable cost, and the Alawites continue to stand by their leaders no matter how corrupt and criminals and their leader continue to rely on their community support and their guns to hedge their bets, and so long as liberal and secular elements continue to be leeched out of the Sunni communities effectively driving them into embracing one or Islamist ideology or another, the paving of our way to the inner depths of hell will continue apace. None of us here have either the time or the capacity to effectively counter any of this in the most ideal way by creating a new modern liberal civic consciousness that will transcend ideology, sect and ethnicity and embrace the humanity of all Syrians. This should remain our goal, but meanwhile, a transitional arrangement need to be found, and there is no way in heaven, hell or earth we can exclude the MB and other Islamists from such a transitional arrangement, any more than we can discount the Baath, the Alawites or the Kurds. Now, once the transitional arrangement is in place, all groups, the liberals, the Islamists, the Druses, the Christians, the Kurds, the Alawites, etc. will use the interim period to strengthen their position. On the long run, the only group that can keep the country together, or, at the very least, ensure its peaceful breakup, are the liberals, all other groups, currents and the forces are destined the tear the country apart, or keep it together under a new and more bloody but less enlightened form of authoritarianism. That is, I believe, the nature of the game ahead of us.

  11. Ehsani, Good comment as usual, but it is not only Hafiz’ background that was a liability for him, it was his general character and education as well. Had he been smarter, that is, in the intellectual sense, he was definitely a good tactician, he would have realized that the perpetuation of the regime he built does not rely solely on passing power top his son, or on keeping a private kitchen cabinet made up of family members, and a few lackeys from other families and backgrounds, he would realized that a true program of secularization was the only remedy for this situation, which would have necessitated a certain openness on all secular types and intellectuals out there. But that’s all academic now. We are now left in a position where we have to pay for both the successes and failures of our autocrats, both come at our expense as a people.

  12. Ammar,The damage done to this nation of ours has been immense. There is no way anyone can deny this. The fault lies with the leadership. Their failure has been so widespread that it will take decades to correct. Growing up in Syria at the time, I can still recall the days when Hafez Assad came to power. To be fair, he did deliver a period of economic growth at the beginning. I call that period Syria’s golden years. I am referring to the 1970-1977 period. Everything took a turn to the worse when the Moslem Brotherhood movement started its revolt a year or so later. Since then, this country was broken and never recovered. On the surface, people wanted to believe that it was all over and that the insurgency died. In reality, the regime became more insular (not that it was not before). It has also grown to mistrust its people and suspect its Sunni majority as MB sympathizers. It drafted the most draconian laws possible and has refused to abolish them since. I have no idea how things would have turned out had the Moslem Brothers not started their uprising in the late 1970’s. I have no idea if Hafez’s experiment with free trade and economic reforms would have continued to progress. All I do know, however, is that this is not a normal country anymore. The gulf between the leadership and aspirations and hopes of the populace keeps ever widening. Let us hope that this nation can climb back to its immense potential one day. No one can argue that it is not time.

  13. During the first half of the 70’s,the regime opted for a more liberal economy than the pro soviet salah jadid era as good will toward the western camp,the economic growth was supported mostly by the middle class because the former upper middle class have fled to Lebanon,gulf,the americas and europe ,most of this middle class was sympathizing with the brotherhood,they have won the university elections ,professional associations and orders ,medical,lawyers ,engineers…Despite the baath indoctrination in the schools and universities ,the situation get out of regime’s control and this explain the aggressive reaction from a scared minority.

  14. Indeed, I don’t excuse the MB from responsibility for what took place in the late 70s and early 80s, not by a long shot. But the burden of responsibility in these matters always falls on the back of the leadership. There was indeed some liberalization during the early 70s, but this, very much like the case will be in the early 90s, was a period that witnessed much imposed patronage, extortion and corruption by regime members and their extended families, most notably Rifa’at and his lackeys, not to mention the older brother Jameel (whose less flamboyant style kept him out of the spotlight, but did not seem to have adversely affected his efficiency). And Hafiz, very much like Bashar later, could not treat this situation decisively enough, creating a problem for himself in the process, very much like Bashar is doing now, and ended up becoming part of the problem, very much like Bashar has done. He is indeed his father’s son. Meanwhile, the MB has evolved, while society has devolved, and the twain seems well nigh suitable for each other these days, had it not been for the occasional secular heckler here and there still surviving somehow outside of the country’s jails.

  15. How come nobody is talking about a “Bill of Rights” for Syrians? Obviously in order to address sectarian issues, you need a Bill of Rights. If you want MB to play fair, then ask them to put their signature on a Bill of Rights for Syrians. Then we will see if they are scheming (which they are) – or, if they plan to mend themselves and start playing fair to seculars, religious minorities, atheists, etc.The first thing a proper NSF must do is to write a BOR in exile, and have all the parties accept it in the open.Once Bashar is overthrown by civil disobedience, IT WIILL BE TOO LATE TO INSTITUTE A BILL OF RIGHTS. In other words, a Bill of Rights must be written now, and not after the commotion begins to overthrow the regime. It is impossible to agree to a Bill of RIghts once the regime starts faltering and the opposition starts seeing the light of victory.With a BOR, all democratic opposition movements can unite now based on this document – which will also witness the approval and sanction of the UN and the EU. A united opposition, that can agree on something as basic as this, will then work better together and be more effective in its program of civil disobedience. And the Syrian people of all stripes will have more confidence in the opposition, when the opposition has to put their name on such a document. IMO, one of the greatest fears of the apolitical and the silent majority is the fear of the unknown – ie, “what will we get, if I go into the streets”. apologies to those who have seen this elsewhere (Across the Bay, Free Syria).Behnam

  16. Here is what I posted in my blog (linked article below) in reply to Alex on my blog. I think it is useful for all of you to read and comment on it. Alex I want your reply though on my blog for continuation purposes (don’t take it personal Ammar haha)Alex,The internal opposition rarely exists and they already don’t ask for much at all. They don’t even have mechanismes or power to dictate or even push for what they want, The regime has it so easy and they have total control, too much control indeed, but they are affraid of their shadows because they are not competent at all and they don’t trust their popularity if it does exist.The neo-cons and the US already stated that they want the regime to stay so that big fear is gone.I am surprised of your 5 years plan/suggestion. Reminds when Sharaa came on CNN last year and asked for 2 years extra for Syrian army to stay in Lebanon, only to withdraw the next month. Why did he need 2 years? what would he have achieved by then? what did he lose by withdrawing when needed? why did they stay there after Israel Withdrew?.This regime has no vision and no plan and they keep playing to gain time, it is like when a master of an estate entrusts his servants to run it during his absence, they know its not theirs so they are stealing from it and benefiting to the max while destroying it before the master comes back and their time is up.I don’t like this regime at all but since I don’t see good alternatives. I’ll live with them provided they take some steps to ease our concerns (liberal Syrians and people caring for Syria). I offer some advise for the regime so they can try to convince skeptical or to ask for a five years slack time as you suggest…1) They can free the intellectual people, Michle Kilo included.2) They can show a more human face instead of constant crackdown3) They can allow for more freedom of expression4) They can abolish law 49 (capital punishment for MBs) which is really humilating for Sunnis and a reminder for them of their losses in the 80s and start dialog with them.5) They can give the citizenship to the Kurds who were stripped from it long time ago (I don’t see why they are holding back, not like the regime don’t get 99.99% in all votes if they are concerned about elections, and this is a one time solution which does not have any negative side effects like giving palestenian the nationaliy), why make it such a big deal! they already promised 2 years ago to solve it. Why inflate the kurdish issue instead of easing the concerns.6) They should fire all their incompetant foreign policy team to give a sign to the world that they are indeed changing, instead of promoting idiots like Sharaa for rewards on his mistakes7) They can have normal relations with Lebanon and the other countries, ie give up their virtual regional role because it did not achieve anything and it won’t in the future. In return they will have the respect of everyone instead of intimidating and bullying.8) They can promote less arabism and islamism and focus on the domestic situation and Issues (Syria first)9) They can reduce or abolish the military compulsory service and pardon all people who are away because of it instead of making them pay fortunes.10) They can prepare their people for peace with Israel and start negotiating a deal with Israel. They are very powerful to do that internally and it is now the time to do it and not with a new leadership for the interest of the country. They gave up Iskenderoun and no one could have objected. Assad Senior was negotiating so Junior can do it after making gestures to the interiorAll these steps don’t need to happen at once or in order or at all, they are just ways to show us and the world that they are competant and concerned. And we don’t want empty promises and constant justifications for not doing it, we want a practical dialog and not a comedy show or “ytishatarou 3aleina”(be a smart ass). Latest example was the failed Baath conference of last year which offered nothing and reminded up why our problems exist. Last but not least, instead of stealing XXXX from the country they can steal a little less, why the greed???We are forced to deal with this regime but why do we have to applaud them all the way with all their mistakes! why do we need to defend and give excuses for every childish mistake they make…Why every step they undertake to improve the country they consider capitulation or needs 10 years to happen, but things happens in a flashlight when that benefit them.I hope they are reading this and try to understand it because I don’t have any ambition of power, any regime which works for the benefit of the country and make us proud is OK. I have no vendetta agaisnt Assad except when I see him acting stupid and not offering any vision or charisma, he only shows energy when he delivers empty speeches and attack virtual enemies, or pose for the camera. He needs to know that he is running a country and not his uncles farmFares for a better Syriahttp://freesyria.wordpress.com/2006/06/07/why-christians-in-syria-supports-the-current-regimeor-do-they/

  17. Behnam, I agree with you 100%, a BOR is indeed wht we need at this stage, I have bene pushing for this and will continue to do so, until we get one, because it is indeed as you said, if we cannot get one now, tomorrow it will be too late. Fares, you said: “I have no vendetta agaisnt Assad except when I see him acting stupid and not offering any vision or charisma, he only shows energy when he delivers empty speeches and attack virtual enemies, or pose for the camera. He needs to know that he is running a country and not his uncles farm.” This is exactly the main if not the whole ethos of my anti-Assadism.

  18. This is the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. This can act as a template for a Syrian Charter of Fundamental Rights (SCFR).http://www.europarl.eu.int/charter/pdf/text_en.pdfSyrian religious and ethnic conditions are unique and critical, in their own way. I don’t think it to be realistic to wish the Syrian CFR to be anything identical to the EU CFR. But it is a good start, because the alternative, which is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a backward outdated document full of holes, which some reactionary movements (e.g. Monarchists) like to push.What if Syrian bloggers start the process to examine this document (and other documents such as the Canadian and US versions of the CFR) and draft one that meets Syrian conditions. What if this is posted on the front page of a large number of Syrian blogs, so it cannot be missed by readers. What if the opposition in exile starts discussing and amending and improving this document, and come to converge on a minimum draft that is acceptable to all, and have the UN and EU bless it.Then I think this will force the hand of people like Khaddam and Bayanouni. They will have little choice but to accept such a document and lend their name to it.I am of the opinion that this is the next logical step to take. To have the opposition in exile all (or most) agree to a SCFR document. Not only will this become a rallying point bringing together diverse groups, but it will increase the level of trust and cooperation among these groups, so they can work better with one another and be more effective.But the most significant benefit is internal to Syria. I firmly beleve that the average guy inside the country is rightfully wary of putting his or her neck on the line and go into the streets, only to see another ideological and opportunistic Islamist or fascist movement emerge from the ruins of the Bashar regime. This is a valid concern.I for one will not go into the streets, unless I know what I am getting.However, with an agreed upon SCFR, Syrians may develop more trust in the opposition, and be further assured that once the revolution starts, it will not be hijacked by the Islamists and other undemocratic forces, just like it happened in Iran.Furthermore, the SCFR must have provisions to hold the government accountable to international institutions such as the UN. Thus any usurping group that decides to develop a militia and take over the government will know that the Syrian people can call upon the international community to bring in peacekeeping forces, disband the government, and set up internationally monitored elections for a new parliament.This is the ultimate in checks and balances.This is exactly what is happening today in East Timor, where the usurping Muslim prime minister had fired dissenting soldiers in the army and had created his own death squads and was killing his opponents. The population revolted and invited the United Nations back in.Behnam

  19. I’ll post the same here and at your blog (copy and paste is useful sometimes)Your opinions are very reasonable. We do not differ as much as you might think.I will not get into the details at this point, but basically, my proposed five year “extension” is not unconditional at all. After a successful dialogue the regime would accept to do its part of the reconciliation plus confidence building package: – Accept some auditing (in many areas)- recognize its obligation to meet performance objectives according to a reasonable but energetic pace.- Provide the proper budget and the necessary conditions (safety, legal ..etc) to facilitate and encourage the return, or at least the temporary return, of large numbers of Syrian expats who have the necessary expertise to accelerate change with minimal errors.Basically, Fares, I came to the conclusion that negativity, blame, and accusations, regardless of how legitimate, are utterly destructive and dangerous. For now, all we can start from is a compromise: accepting that so far the regime has moved too slow, and that the opposition demanded change to take place too fast.I am aware of all the negatives out there, but I chose to ignore them and look forward for the next incremental step.Behnam,I agree. Your suggestion will expose those who are not ready for modernization.

  20. This Bill of Rights discussion has been interesting. I posted about it on my blog, here, but I will cut and paste:A Syrian Bill of Rights? Be careful… A number of Syrian bloggers, particularly at the site of “secular heckler” Ammar Abdelhamid, have suggested that Syrian opposition groups should create and circulate a Syrian “Bill of Rights”. Such a document, these individuals propose, would codify the terms upon which minority religious and ethnic groups would be protected under the law. A Bill of Rights would be a big step, and a positive step, but frankly I am not sure it is one that opposition leaders are ready to take.As a general rule of politics, opposition candidates and parties can say whatever they wish, however outrageous, as long as they are not serious contenders. I can tell you that from personal experience. Because frankly, nobody cares about you (i.e. you will not get meaningful media coverage) if you’re not perceived to be able to win, except your die-hard supporters who will cheerlead no matter what. Maybe you’ll get 15 minutes of fame, but that’s about it.Once you do become a serious contender though, and have to reach out to the masses, everything you say will be under a microscope. Well, on the Syrian scene, the only “serious contenders”, if we can even use such a term at this point, are the leaders of the recently-inaugurated National Salvation Front (NSF): former Syrian VP Abdel Halim Khaddam and the exiled leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni. (For American readers unfamiliar with the Muslim Brotherhood, it is the parent organization of Hamas.)Before anyone proposes that these 2 leaders even mention a Bill of Rights, which would address some incredibly thorny and difficult issues, I submit that they both need to demonstrate sufficient media prowess and the ability to deliver a consistent message. At the NSF’s kick-off conference from last weekend, both Khaddam and Bayanouni had to correct reporters with respect to questions like “are Alawis really Muslims?” and “will Khaddam be tried for his role in the regime?”, because their statements seemed to conflict with their previous words, if not with each other.With all due respect, they are not ready to go under the microscope.On an additional note, the blogosphere is both a blessing and a curse for opposition leaders. While it helps them to disseminate their message and recruit followers, it also subjects them to a perhaps uncomfortable onslaught of well-meaning opinions and critiques (like this post), as well as outright attack.If any political entity cannot emerge from the blogs with a consistent, solid, credible message intact, they haven’t a prayer when they get to prime-time.That’s something for all opposition groups to seriously consider.

  21. Behnam and George, your suggestions and cautionary notes are well-taken. Alex, Bashar seems well-positioned to get a seven year extension a year from now, whether we like it or not, and he will not do anything, no matter how miniscule, to satisfy any demands for reforms out there, no matter how moderate and reasonable.

  22. Ammar,For now, let’s just try to get the most out of the typical last minute sprint that any president (mideast or American or…) typically manages in order to show everyone that he still deserves the presidency … I know Arab presidents do not really need to worry too much if they are going to win the next election, but I do have a feeling there COULD be a good sprint this coming year.If you ask me, Syrian intellectuals can play constructive roles designed to maximize the effectivenes and minimize the mistakes during next year’s reforms.I can not see how keeping the government busy with challenges (American, French, external opposition, Kurdish opposition, Lebanese media attacks …) all of which help the Syrian government feel that they are jusified in their perception that external forces are keeping them too busy to concentrate on reforms.And, needless to say, that does not mean giving them a carte blanche to do what they want, at the pace they like.Let’s wait for next week’s UN report, and we’ll see where toproceed from there.

  23. Well, the Brammertz report is out apparently.The report did not find anything against Syria… they even noted the “generally satisfactory” cooperation from Syria.So what are they planning to do for the next year in Lebanon? will Michael Young continue to analyze every “failure” on the Syrians’ side? will Annahar writers continue to shake their heads in disappointment as they continue to be sure that they KNOW the Syrians did it? … From day one they KNEW beyond any doubt that the Syrians did all the killings in Lebanon… two years later the specialized UN team can not find ANYTHING .. yet those professional journalists, and even the majority of regular people smoking argeeleh were much more successful finding more than one smoking gun to prove the Syrian president did it .. remember the 007 Spy pen that supposedly Chirac gave the late Hariri that recorded the conversation where Bashar supposedly threatened Hariri and Hariri went back to Lebanon shaken? … where is that pen now?Remember the Ottoman era mass graves … can someone go back to the date when they found the graves and read Annahar’s coverage of the savagery of the Syrians?And Lynn Maalouf was equally sure the Syrians did it, and she was more sure they will dig many more mass graves that no one else in Lebanon could have possibly done it during the civil war years .. only the Savage Syrians. Did anyone bother to wait to see who did it?Remember how they all believed and widely reported the story that the Lebanese heads of security organizations who were arrested last year already admitted from day one their role and Syrians’ roles in the killing? … really?They always ridicule the pathetic Syrian press … and they are right there at least. But I wish they can also look at their side as well … their freedom of speech in Lebanon is a good thing if it is restrained by “responsibility and accountability” … if they would like to see them selves as “western-class” journalists … they need to learn a bit more about responsibility.The above sounds like Anti-Lebanese, I know. But it is only an example of what I want to say to many others who look at the situation in the Middle East in Black and White, good and bad guys, democracy lovers and dictators … you are causing considerable damage to everything and to everybody .. your interests and the other side’s interests.And another clarification .. I am not saying that the Syrians are surely innocent, everything is possible. But, given that at this point it really does not seem to be very likely that “Bashar killed Hariri” or that “the Syrians are so stupid” … can we for now, 18 months later, get moving with improving Syrian Lebanese relations? … you can and should always insist on the many legitimate Lebanese issues, but please drop the stupidity and criminality charges … for now at least. You can always go back to them when you have a proof.

  24. Alex ,for these reasons the Arab world is not ready for democracy,the press in our countries lacks integrety which is essential to have democracy and untill that changes and the press becomes more resposible and accountable smear acusation will make it diffecult to elect good people ,an example is Assiasa of kwaite and the Lebanese press.

  25. Alex ,for these reasons the Arab world is not ready for democracy,the press in our countries lacks integrety which is essential to have democracy and untill that changes and the press becomes more resposible and accountable smear acusation will make it diffecult to elect good people ,an example is Assiasa of kwaite and the Lebanese press.

  26. Ahhh!! I wish there would be no more contentions that the Arab world is somehow “not ready for democracy”!We cannot wait for a free press….in order to start democracy building. What do we mean by democracy? To me this means essentially: active participation in taking responsibility for one’s government. It means civic participation and investment in the public domain. It means collective commitments to community and a social contract. why exactly is the arab world not ready for this? Nonsense.BILL OF RIGHTS, A Declaration of Fundamental Rights and Liberties…..I fully agree this is absolutely essential to work on this NOW, not later…. for all the reasons stated by the commentors above. It is a needed protection, or at minimum a statement of a commitment to protect participation in democracy building. There is no reason this should be put off… and I don’t think it needs to be handed down by the leaders (as George implied) – people can begin right now to utilize the models of other nations to begin to establish the expectations for a BOR to exist within a future constitution. People can start to work RIGHT NOW to familiarize and organically instill the notions of what it means to talk about civil rights and civil liberties. This is not just a matter of writing things on parchment paper and stamping it into law! This is a matter of education and dialogue about the MEANING of particular rights and liberties. Most ignorant ass americans can not even tell you, nor discuss intelligently what is in the american BOR. So, you know let the new democracy try to do better even – at educating the populace and actually engaging the potential citizenry.Notably, the Bill of Rights of the american constitution was in fact an after thought! a set of amendments to the constitution, and it was wisely provided that subsequent amendments could be added. Of significance is the fact that, although a number of these rights were effectual from the time they were written (for example, rights to assemble, to speak freely, to privacy of one’s home from intrusion) indeed, many civil rights amendments (voting, equal protection from discrimination) added in the 1860’s, subsequently took 100 years more to be enforced under the laws.This reality suggests that a central problem remains the necessity of a legitimized and effective judiciary institution which can enforce a Bill of Rights as a body of Law. However, the lack of such a powerful institution should in no way prevent the evolution of a Bill of Rights beginning NOW.

  27. Zenobia,Religion, established values, and traditions play a more important role in the Middle East compared to Europe for example. There are many strict limitations and those limitations are not even shared by all Syrinas … they vary among Syrians from different religious or ethnic backgrounds.So how do you come up with a useful (not generic) BOR for ALL syrians? … would you take religion out of it completely? many Syrians would stop you right there.

  28. No, I think it would be impossible to take religion out of “it”, or out of a body of law completely. This is simply unrealistic. I am not even certain that even if it were possible that I could say this should be the aspiration. I disagree with you a tiny bit Alex, in that I think religion, established values, and traditions play a role everywhere and impact the evolution of governments. It would be hypocritical to suggest that in america – Christianity wasn’t foundational in the formation of american law. Certainly western philosophy is even more the bases. And my bias, as I think is true for many of us in this dialogue – leads me to support if not insist upon the attempt to have an adequate separation of ‘church’ and state, or the mosque and state, as the case may be. But I say adequate, because this does not have to be absolute, i think to have protections for people of every belief system. Another commentor above denigrated the UN declaration on Human Rights. I don’t know why really. Perhaps that particular charter is sparce and insufficient, but I think it is a venerable idea. It seems to me in this day and age that much of the world (and hopefully syrians too) can embrace certain undeniable fundamental human rights. Liberties are more fluidly reflective a particular society’ s values. The particulars of both really remain to be determined through a process of dialogue, negotiation, and deep consideration to the specific history, values, and belief systems.I don’t think there is any insurmountable contradiction here. There is room for both universal human values/ rights (resembling those found by the concensus of much of the developed world) at the same time … maintaining adequate respect and reflection of the culturally relative character of Syria.

  29. ok, 2:30AM, and I’m falling asleep .. you are probably west coast again, so I’ll let you win tonight.Besides, I am happy to read your optimistic comments. So I will only say: I hope you are right… it is possible.I would have asked Ammar for his opinion (he is the most experienced in dealing with all the different types of Syrians) , but he had enough of our long comments over the weekend.

  30. Dearest dear Alex!You are wrong! I am sitting here with you on the EAST coast. Hah! so, yeah, i win the late night contest.ok…go to sleep..sure…and as for Ammar, well….the poor guy is exhausted clearly. I just hope it wasn’t anyone particular… who “drained” him this weekend……

  31. Don’t worry Zenobia, it’s just the usual things taking their usual toll. After a period of frenzy, one needs a little rest, and as you can see, I am really getting it.

  32. Where did everybody go? not a single comment today??Did my sleep trick really work that well? you know, it was meant for Ammar and Zenobia only.Fine!

  33. The bill of rights is an amendment to the constitution in the USA. Since Syria already have a consitution, which actually a continuation of the Ottaman vision with a twist of Arabism, we really need to modernize our constitution with a bill of rights which also has the power to be adaptable and changeable with time. The other point I wish to be discussed in this forum is how to limit those Army officers from having legal status after each coup and how to set a principal for the country to have a foundation where all people are created equals. The notion that religion has no place in the US constituting is not completely right, under the constitution the freedom of individual are given by God and not by State and so can be taken from him.The current distribution of wealth in Syria and the larger part of the history after independence all was kind of robbery and most of people holding power has no gain in bringing legal system which could prosecute them first. It is the intellectual duty to bring and hold the new light. Good reading on this blog, thanks everybody.Hope when opposition grow bigger and fear reduced to reasonable limit, to put my name here.

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