The future of democracy in Syria is the subject of many concerns: people are worried about the treatment of minorities and women, possible acts of revenge, and the likelihood of transitional justice. Some ask about universal human rights. Others exaggerate fears of religious tyranny.
But ultimately all these anxieties – intentionally or unintentionally – only serve the interests of the rapists and child killers of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
We believe the position to take on Assad and his cabal is essentially a moral one. It is no longer a matter of political debate. Syrians must put their case to the court of global public opinion in the following direct manner: Assad, are you prepared to accept thousands of documented crimes, the torture of children and the rape of women by the state apparatus that should protect them?
Behind the concerns for democracy in a post-Assad Syria is typical negative stereotyping of Islamic society. Is it fair that after half a century of totalitarian rule the world should disregard a civilisation whose existence extends so deep into history? The Syrian cities of Damascus, Aleppo and Homs are so ancient that their first inhabitants are not known. The eastern shores of the Mediterranean share a long history and a crucible of cultures, religions and peoples, who have always coexisted.
The history of Syria did not begin with the Assad family. There are in Syria today descendants of peoples that go back hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Over centuries Christians and Jews have lived together with Muslims, without restrictions on their rights. Syria is proud to preserve the Syriac language, which was the means of translation from older civilisations during the early Islamic era. And only in Syria are there communities that still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ.
The modern history of Syria since its formation after the first world war has also witnessed its ability to preserve its pluralist nature and protect universal human rights. Since the 1920 national conference that founded the modern state, all the elements of Syrian society have taken part in cultural and political affairs – a reality that continued until the last truly elected parliament, overthrown by the military on 8 March 1963, hijacking public life in Syria until now.
The future that Syrians aspire to is an extension of that earlier era. After 50 years of autocratic rule, our national position and political record emphasises that we will not move towards autocracy, be that religious, political or social. The Muslim Brotherhood is committed to a Syria in which citizenship is the basis of rights and duties, and Syrians can reconstruct their unified civil society where the concept of majority and minority gradually disappears. Women must be given ample opportunity to assert themselves so future generations can play their crucial part in this national project.
Some have sought to distort the noble image of our revolution, depicting it as a proxy for foreign interests repeating the propaganda of the decaying regime. Nothing could be more erroneous. This is, indeed, the ultimate insult to the tens of thousands who have given their lives for a democratic, free and prosperous Syria – in what is truly a people’s revolution that, against all odds, has reached every corner of the country. Our vision of a fully independent Syria, master of its destiny, protects its people while rejecting the pitfalls of subservience and foreign control.
With regard to transitional justice, we believe that the ruling clique has transgressed all boundaries of aggression, and that the desire for reprisal is inevitable. But our faith emphasises that retribution must be enacted through a fair judicial process. There should be no revenge killings, and we reject the targeting of any group on religious, sectarian or political grounds. We are worried that the international community’s exaggerated reiteration of concern for minorities justifies the slaughter of the majority, and is counterproductive.
The Syria that we aspire to is a civil state that is sovereign and in which the individual enjoys all the fundamental rights guaranteed in international laws and conventions of human rights, without any discrimination on the basis of religion, sect, ethnicity or social background. We seek to build a state founded on a civil constitution with separation of powers, and where all citizens, men and women, will participate in its governance through the ballot box in a free and fair manner that allows the election of the most capable to every office.
As I write this article, my besieged city of Aleppo – under bombardment from ground and air – is without water, electricity, food or medicine. Even the Red Cross has decided to withdraw, leaving the people to face the butchers alone. The Russian and Chinese UN veto has become a wall that the conscience of the free world hides behind. Do the Syrian people have any hope left in a world of arid hearts?
Ali al-Bayanouni is a lawyer and former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria.