After more than a year of conflict, the violence in Syria is finally being recognized as a civil war. This weekend, world powers are preparing for a high-level meeting that the US hopes will be a turning point in the Syria crisis. To discuss the international community’s search for solutions and the goals of protesters, AAM sits down with Ammar Abdulhamid, a leading Syrian human rights and pro-democracy activist, and fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Excerpts from the interview
AAM: We are hearing that the Free Syrian Army gave Assad’s government an ultimatum if they don’t follow the Annan plan. We are also hearing from the UN High Commissioner warning that Syria could descend into full-fledged conflict, especially due to the massacre that just occurred. Can you take us through an overview over what’s happening right now?
AMMAR ABDULHAMID: The reality on the ground is that of defiance. Defiance by civil means for the most part. We don’t hear a lot about it but it’s unarmed protesters taking to the streets. People saw what happened in Houla. They saw what happened in Homs. They know that thousands have died – 15,000 by the way. They know 60,000 are in prison, 200,000 are in exile, and a million people are displaced all over the country because of the fighting. They are not backing down. More and more communities are rising up and joining. It’s becoming a coming-of-age experience for the young population in many parts of Syria to become part of the revolution.
AAM: What are the hopes and expectations of these protesters in relation to the Annan plan in the UN?
AMMAR ABDULHAMID: They have no hope on the Annan plan because people are saying, “Your journalists came here. [You] have been given all this video. Everybody knows what the story on the ground is. What are you going to observe?” On the other hand, if you are willing to stay with us… because when the observers come to a certain community the shelling stops. The moment they leave it resumes.
But our demands are very clear. This regime has to come to an end. There is a way out for Assad and he’s not taking it. That is creating more and more radicalism in the street. People are asking for him to be executed. On the other hand, if Assad can leave today – if he makes that decision – people will be angry of course, but they will accept it. They will accept an amnesty.
AAM: Do you think there is significant public awareness in the United States to support action in Syria? Do you think it’s covered as often as it should be in American media?
AMMAR ABDULHAMID: We need to have a more realistic assessment of the situation. Don’t give us the excuses because you don’t want to interfere. Let us talk about reality. The humanitarian conditions are terrible. The geopolitical impact of the situation spiraling out of control is terrible. The benefit for the United States of a regime change in Syria is immeasurable. But no one is saying – despite that – that it will be easy and clean. Like every intervention, it’s not a cake walk. There’s going to be a lot of problems down the road, but let’s talk about them. Let’s actually chart scenarios and strategies so we can cooperate and make sure that the situation and transition is least bloody as possible. This is the realistic debate we need to have because we can’t afford to let the situation spiral out of control.
Protesters and the Anan Plan
US Involvement in Syria
Dialogue with Assad Regime
What Next for Syria