Assad’s myth needs busting

When President Bashar al-Assad came to power all the international, regional and national communities were willing to give him a chance to start a process of gradual political reform. But 11 years on, and five months since the start of Syria’s youthful, peaceful, nationalist popular uprising, Assad’s regime remains unreformed.

The regime’s promised programme of «reforms» – including repealing the state of emergency, licensing public demonstrations, the formation of political parties and the regulation of elections – has proven to be simply cosmetic.

The Syrian people, of all political persuasions, believe that the crimes committed by the regime’s forces – which they continue to perpetrate in Dara’a, Doma, Homs, Rastan, Banyas, Baydah, al-Marqab, Jisr al-Shaghur, Hama, Bukamal and Dir al-Zur – have not met an appropriate reaction from the international community.

In each of these places there has been a massacre. Assad has proved that he has no regard for the blood of his own people; the international community’s mute response implies that there are some who see as credible his claim that he is defending the country from «sectarian divisions». The time has come to reject this myth. Like his father, Hafez, before him, Assad has violated the rights of all Syrians, regardless of religious or sectarian identities. This regime did not massacre the Muslims in Hama 30 years ago or today because they were Muslims or fundamentalists, as is claimed. They were massacred because they demanded freedom and dignity, and rejected tyranny and corruption. For this same reason the regime detained the activist Michel Kilo, the lawyer Anwar al-Banna, and the opposition leader George Sabra – all Christians. And for this same reason they detained Arif Daleela, the Alawite academic, and many others, including large numbers from the Druze and Ismaili communities.

The fear that Syria will descend into chaos if the regime falls is unjustified. The recent history of Syria from 1920 until the advent of the Ba’ath regime in 1963 has shown that social and political cohesion in modern Syria is possible, despite the fierce ideological conflict during the cold war and the competition between the communists and the left on the one side and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other. During that period the Muslim Brotherhood fought its battles in a democratic political manner. Its leadership had allies from all strata, including Faris al-Khoury, a Christian it supported as prime minister because he was a capable man and stood above religious and sectarian divides.

The time has come for the world to say that Assad’s regime has lost all legitimacy. That is what the Syrians want – no more and no less. A free conference of all the nationalist forces in Syria could then be convened, enabling Syrians to develop a collective national alternative, as they did in the first Syrian conference of 1920. Syria is an ancient civilisation; it needs no external guidance or foreign intervention to determine its future after the departure of this dictator.

Half a century of struggle has passed, changing both the vision and functioning of Syria’s various political forces. All opposition groups are insistent that the uprising should continue on its peaceful, inclusive, pan-nationalist path. All would rally round a civil, plural state based on power sharing, free elections and a modern civil constitution in which all citizens – men and women – are equal. This is what the Syrians want, and what they are on course to achieve.

By Ali al-Bayanouni, a lawyer and former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria.

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