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Supporting the Democratic Opposition in Syria By: Joseph Puder
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, May 31, 2007

It is rather amazing how little effort the U.S. administration seems to have expended in probing the existence of a significant opposition to Bashar Assad, the Baathist dictator of Syria.  If the State Department, through the U.S. embassy in Damascus, has in fact discovered an opposition group, it certainly has not briefed reporters on this matter.  And recent contacts by U.S. government representatives with their Syrian counterparts are serving to bolster the Syrian dictatorship rather than the opposition that most certainly exists within Syria.

In a frank conversation with Sherkoh Abbas, president of the Kurdistan National Assembly-Syria (KNA-S), Mr. Abbas made distinct observations about U.S. policy towards Syria and emphasized the weakness of the Assad minority regime.  He also described the KNA-S vision for the future democratic Syria.

Joseph Puder: Mr. Abbas, please describe the nature of the Syrian opposition and why it has a chance to mobilize the Syrian nation?


Sherkoh Abbas: “First let me describe KNA-S.  It is an umbrella organization for the Kurdish political parties, NGO’s, human rights organizations, and independent citizens from the Kurdish region of Syria.


The Syrian opposition consists of three types: the first is the classical opposition represented by Muslim Brotherhood. It is Islamist in nature and Arab in orientation. The second group is a Baath party derivative, and it is represented by people who spent their careers serving the Assad regime, and now found themselves out of favor.  One such figure is former Vice President Khaddam. The Kurdish opposition groups and their allies have become a formidable opposition, and they represent the third type.   In the case of the first two opposition groups, they either share the regime’s ideology or have been infiltrated by agents of the regime. The Kurds on the other-hand are the strongest proponent of democracy and the most serious opposition to the regime. They view democracy as their salvation from tyranny. The non-Kurdish opposition making up the first two groups is less of a threat to the regime now.


The Syrian people will support our opposition group because it is inclusive and addresses issues of human rights, freedom, democracy, national rights, peace, and economic development. Therefore, a committee of the Syrian opposition groups that is inclusive and have not been infiltrated must work on mobilization of public opinion based on a democratic and inclusive Syria.  The Kurdistan National Assembly – Syria (KNA-S) is working to mobilize Syrians from the entire spectrum of Syrian society: Kurds, Druze, Alawaite, Christians, Sunni Moderates, etc. and, we have laid the foundation for a true democratic and inclusive opposition that has the confidence of the Syrian masses.


Progress is slow however, due to financial limitations and lack of support from the international community, but we are determined to succeed because we are pursuing a democratic program where all Syrians will be winners.  It is a "win-win" policy instead of current "win-lose" policy.”


JP: Is the state of the Syrian economy a factor in the weakness of the Bashar Assad’s regime?


SA: “The weakness of the Syrian economy may play a role depending on other supporting factors.  It can play a role if the international community supports the opposition by issuing tough sanctions, and seek to remove the legitimacy from the current regime by implementing travel bans on the regime's officials.   The Assad regime’s real weakness stems from the lack of public support for it.   The regime uses all means of force and authority to maintain itself by using brutal methods such as murder, imprisonment, and torture.  Simply put, the regime has been using terrorism to cling to power.  This cruel mentality is widespread throughout the Middle East.  In Syria's case, an economic embargo alone will not work, just as it did not in Saddam Hussein’s case.  The international community needs to impose effective sanctions that coincide with full support of the opposition, and the removal of legitimacy from the regime.    


Syria’s centralized economy will help bring down the regime in the same way the Eastern

European regimes fell in the 1990’s.  The Syrian regime uses creative ways to survive, employing the black-market, corruptions, drug profiting, and assistance from enemies of the US such as Iran, China and Russia, to maintain its existence.   Recently, the Assad regime managed to convince some Gulf States to invest in its economy. I am sure that the lack of a clear pro-democracy policy by US and the west, helped lure many of the Gulf States investments to Syria.”


JP: Why do you think that the current U.S. policy towards Syria is wrong?


SA: “The U.S. erred when it changed and softened its policy towards Syria.  The Assad regime sensed that and it became more radical.  It increased its support for terrorist organizations, strengthened its relationship with Iran, and has worked openly against U.S. interests in the region.  The regime in Damascus realized that the U.S. is not committed to regime change.  The absence of western support for the democratic opposition in Syria further emboldened the Assad regime. Today, the results of American inaction towards Syria is visible in southern Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine.  Iran too is more defiant towards the America and the west.  The Syrian regime managed to outmaneuver the U.S. State Department.”


JP: What is your vision for Syria’s future?


SA: “I envision a federal republic of Syria that is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious in nature, where democracy, human rights, freedom, a free market economy and peace reigns.  We are seeking to make Syria a secular society where to be Muslim or Christian is a personal choice.  Syria occupies an important position in the Middle East by virtue of its proximity to Europe, and because it serves as a bridge between Africa, Asia, and Europe.  A democratic Syria will also contribute to stability in the region especially with regard to Lebanon, Israel-Palestine and Iraq.  


A democratic Syria would prevent the Golan Heights from becoming the next front in a Syria/Hezbollah war against Israel - similar to what happened in southern Lebanon last year.  The current regime in Damascus has ‘imported’ around 100,000 new ‘Syrian citizens’ from Iran who are poised to undermine the countries of the region including Sunni-Muslim Jordan, Sunni-led Lebanon and Israel.  Only a democratic Syria has the potential for a ‘win-win’ formula that would bring a lasting peace and mutual recognition between Syria and Israel.”

President George W. Bush may be remembered as the president who brought democracy to the Middle East instead of being identified with the Iraqi quagmire.  For his legacy to become a reality; he must not be paralyzed by fear of additional criticism over involving the U.S. in confronting Iran, or supporting the democratic opposition in Syria.  He must learn from President Harry Truman that in the end, one must do what is right.


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