First posted on my short-lived blog Tharwalizations.
In the year 2000, it took the Syrian parliament, the so-called People’s Assembly, less than 30 minutes to amend the country’s long-standing constitution in order to make way for Bashar al-Assad to succeed his recently deceased father, Hafiz al-Assad, as the country’s new president. Not a single voice of dissention was heard. But one MP did have the bravery to suggest that the debate should last longer and that the process of amending the constitution needs to be elaborate somehow in order to safeguard the country’s image, not to mention that to the upcoming president. The brave MP was severely rebuked for even thinking that. MPs in Baathist Syria were not meant to think, period. Continue reading
By JAMES BENNET – New York Times
Ammar Abdulhamid, 39, runs the Tharwa Project, which tracks treatment of minorities in the region. He had a fellowship at the Brookings Institution in Washington last fall, and he has decorated his Damascus office with photographs from his walk to work along Connecticut Avenue. One shows the American flag through the bare limbs of trees. When I stopped by, he called the regime ”defunct” and the Baathists ”idiots” and ”morons” while we were still settling into our seats. He saw no alternative in civil society either. ”They all want a leader or a messiah,” he said. He did not advocate ”bloody revolution,” he said. But he also said that the civil strife accompanying regime change in Iraq might be the only way forward in the region. ”Stagnation is killing our souls and our minds,” he said. ”Hopefully, this baptism by blood and mayhem will teach us to cherish the liberties.”
Dispatches by Elisabeth Eaves
… What is going on now is a lot of testing of “red lines,” as everyone in Damascus seems to call them. People are saying things and publishing things. But many of them, like al-Bounni and Ammar Abdulhamid, who heads the minority-rights Tharwa Project, are engaged in a harrowing pas de deux with the government. Al-Bounni and Abdulhamid are both barred from leaving the country. Intelligence officials have interrogated Abdulhamid three times since January. Al-Bounni has seen his siblings and friends thrown in jail for peaceful political speech. No one testing the limits knows when the next crackdown might come or what will provoke it. Continue reading