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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Homs activist: I rather die than go back to Syrian prisons.



By Sean T. Serioca

"They don't know anything about Internet, they asked me: "which is your address?" to know my name on Facebook and my email. In Arabic "address" ('anwan) stands only for the place where you live, so I told them my address in Homs and they started again shouting to humiliate me. If it was true that they had information, why they didn't show me something I did online? You see how humiliating it is to be controlled by such people?" While Wassim, an activist from Homs, recalls his days in prison, it reminds me of when I was arrested and interrogated by the security forces in Damascus. As a foreigner, I wasn't beaten or humiliated, but the impression I got of their stupidity was identical, while they searched my bag and questioned me meticulously about the content: some lyrics of Fayruz and a Lonely Planet guide.

Wassim is now in Damascus, waiting to be reassured by some friends that he is not on the list of wanted people, in order to return to Homs. He was arrested around mid-March, on a Saturday after the third Friday protest in his hometown. The way the mobilization developed in Homs, as in numerous other areas, was extremely spontaneous, "it all started with one single person shouting, calling for [popular] demands to be fulfilled," remembers Wassim, "no one joined him the first time, but the third time more people started to gather around him." The number of people taking to the streets grew proportionally to the violent response of the regime, as demonstrators started to be killed, even inside the hospitals where they were receiving treatments. Similar episodes are common even in the suburb of Duma, Damascus, where, according to activists, injured demonstrators are denied access to hospitals. In April, an impressive protest converged on the central Clock Square in Homs, where security forces opened fire at protesters, removed corpses and washed the blood away from the streets. The dynamics of the bloody escalation seem to have reached a point of no return.

According to local activists, Homs is now under military siege, with tanks deployed in several neighborhoods to prevent coordination committees from joining efforts. After having been detained and brutally tortured for eight days, Wassim adamantly affirmed that he would prefer to die rather than being arrested again, but he is still willing to contribute to the uprising.
"First of all, they blindfold you and, after a car ride, you find yourself in a tiny room, where you cannot even stretch or lie down, one meter long and half meter wide, three walls and a door," remembers Wassim, warning me that he might not be so clear, while piecing together such painful memories. After one hour, they took him to the interrogation room. The picture emerging from Wassim's account is that of a repressive apparatus merely interested in drawing out confessions and names of other activists, regardless of the truth of this information. Forced confessions serve the purpose of backing the unchanged propaganda motif employed against the uprising: qualifying the opposition as Islamist armed groups receiving financial support from abroad. "They told me they were aware of me receiving money from foreigners and that I was using this financial support to buy weapons and establishing an Islamic emirate," said Wassim about his imputations. It has to be noted that Wassim never served in the Syrian army and, during our conversation, he was not able to name the kind of weapons circulating in Homs.

Even the logic behind the arrests in Homs does not seem aimed at weakening the key circles of the opposition, but more at sowing fear indiscriminately. Wassim affirms that security forces arrest young people randomly from the streets, regardless of whether they participated or not in a demonstration, as if the orders received are about incarcerating a fixed amount of people each week. Even if they don't arrest the wanted people, other family members will endure detention in place of them. This doctrine of fear is regularly applied in other areas, like the suburb of Qadam in Damascus, where in one week residents saw around 300 people, not necessarily participating in demonstrations, disappearing in the white Opel cars of the Mukhabarat. Another activist from Idlib is currently on the run across Syria, after his father and brother have been arrested in place of him.   

During the interrogation, it is even more important than confessions "to break you from the inside," maintains Wassim, who was tortured for approximately 18 hours on the whole and released without having admitted anything relevant. As a consequence of the electroshocks, Wassim suffered a form of impairment of hearing for the following two months. "During the whole interrogation I had one guy on my right side, letting me hear the rumor of an electroshock baton, which can hurl your body 3 meters away," recalls crying Wassim, "another guy was on my left side and he kept on beating me on the head…even if had confessed, they would have done this, to scare me." After the first round of interrogations, they took him to another room, where his naked body was sprinkled with cold water and electroshocked with a baton for nearly three hours." This routine of interrogation, humiliation and torture was organized in three phases, with the last electroshock session lasting almost 9 hours. After this, he was locked in another dark cell, still too small to allow him to lie on the floor. Two days later, he was brought to a collective cell, where he realized other people faced more violent tortures: "they have been beaten with sticks, so their bodies were entirely bruised, their skin ripped open and they were trying to stop the bleeding with shreds of clothes…some of them were 14…15 years old."

When Wassim was released, the security forces told his uncle that they had nothing against him, but Wassim remains convinced that the real reason was the need of space for new detainees. Even in Damascus, the amount of incarcerated people has reached consistent figures and some flashpoints, like the neighborhood of Qabun, were turned into ghost towns during the last weeks. Overcrowded jails could become a weak juncture for the regime in the long term, when it will be forced to make space for new detainees or tighten its grip on a dangerous, rapidly growing population of convicts.
At the same time, this indiscriminate approach adopted in persecuting the opposition could embolden activists, reassuring them on the regime's scarce knowledge of their mobilization skills. Especially for what concerns the cyber activists. What is usually considered as a weak feature of the dissident front, that is the lack of a unified coordination body, could be a winning card to set the secret services on the wrong track and benefit from the fact that members of a local committee generally ignore the names of the components of another committee. Nevertheless, to which extent informal and youth-generated mobilization will be able to make the difference on the ground is still a gamble with the future.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Nuovi aggiornamenti: preparativi e inizi delle proteste del Ramadan

I am sorry if my last posts were only in Italian, but this depended exclusively from the interests shown by some press agencies at the moment. I'll try to post something new in English soon...

Questi nell'ordine i tre links (1-2-3) dell'articolo che ho scritto per la TMnews la settimana scorsa sugli ultimi sviluppi della mobilitazione anti-regime a Damasco...alla vigilia del Ramadan iniziato lunedi' scorso.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Proteste nel centro di Damasco: "Se rimaniamo fino a domattina saremo mezzo milione."


Martedì 19 Luglio, ore 22:00. Incontro Ahmed, attivista e studente universitario, in un caffé vicino a casa, non lo vedo da circa due mesi. L'ultima volta ci eravamo sentiti brevemente al telefono e mi aveva detto che non era il caso di incontrarci per un po': l'avevano arrestato e detenuto per 10 giorni. Mi racconta come in carcere diversi aguzzini si erano alternati per picchiarlo selvaggiamente, finché un ufficiale lo aveva sorpreso dicendogli: "Grida, fai un po' di casino, almeno saranno convinti che ti sto sistemando." Un segno che anche all'interno dei temuti servizi segreti vi sono anime diverse e, forse, alcuni stanno realizzando l'insulsa natura di una guerra combattuta da 4 mesi contro i loro stessi connazionali.
L'idea di chi si mobilita nei quartieri di Midan, Qabun, Masakin Barze, solo per citarne alcuni, é sempre la stessa di giungere a occupare una delle due piazze principali della Damasco moderna, Piazza degli Abbasidi o Piazza degli Ommayadi. Ma anche per le migliaia di manifestanti che si riversano nelle strade di Qabun, rimane pressoché impossibile oltrepassare le imponenti schiere di forze di sicurezza, puntualmente collocate agli imbocchi del quartiere in tumulto. Proprio per questo motivo, i ragazzi della rivoluzione siriana vogliono tornare a mobilitare il centro della capitale, quella città vecchia rimasta quieta dopo le prime sporadiche manifestazioni di Marzo. "Domani ci troviamo alle 7 in via Qaymariyeh, nella città vecchia, vedi di esserci," mi avvisa Ahmed prima di salutarci.

Mercoledì 20 Luglio, ore 17:00. Prima di dirigermi a Qaymariyeh, ho preso appuntamento con Hamza, un altro giovane attivista del sobborgo di Duma, salito alla ribalta delle cronache per l'intervento dell'esercito siriano ad Aprile e la violenza continua della repressione, resa più agevole in aree periferiche.
All'arrivo di Hamza, gli chiedo subito conferma della protesta in programma alle 7. Lui mi osserva basito, chiedendomi "E tu come fai a sapere della protesta di oggi?" Lo tranquillizzo, spiegandogli da chi ho saputo della mobilitazione, e mi rendo conto di come ogni singola iniziativa venga realmente coordinata attraverso "catene di persone fidate", come le definisce Hamza. Non esistono veri e propri comitati organizzativi, i Comitati di Coordinamento Popolare [Ndr la rete di coordinamento più nota dei giovani attivisti siriani], secondo Hamza, non hanno assunto alcuna rilevanza a Duma. Il fatto che io fossi già al corrente di una manifestazione organizzata in strada tramite un "passaparola" poteva dunque sembrare una falla nelle reti informali di coordinamento.
"Stiamo aspettando intorno alle 300 persone e verso le 6:30 dovremmo essere raggiunti dai ragazzi di Qabun," Hamza ripone grandi speranze nella riuscita della protesta, "se rimaniamo fino a domattina saremo mezzo milione." Le possibilità di occupare una parte del centro iniziano però ad affievolirsi, se riflettiamo su quanto sia realistico aspettarsi che i manifestanti di Qabun giungano marciando fino alla città vecchia. "Per lo meno, se convergendo da Qabun terranno occupate le forze di sicurezza intorno alla Piazza degli Abbasidi, noi avremmo maggiore libertà di movimento in centro," afferma Hamza, cercando di intravedere un risvolto positivo. Poco dopo si congeda, dicendo di dover indossare una maschera e raggiungere gli altri manifestanti.

Ore 19:00. Mi posiziono in un ristorante adiacente a via Qaymaryeh, quando i vari "Il popolo siriano é uno solo!" e "Dio...la Siria...la libertà e null'altro!" incominciano a vibrare nell'aria, tra le espressioni attonite di negozianti e ristoratori: "Rally pro-regime o protesta? Protesta, protesta...vieni fuori a vedere!" Le serrande vengono chiuse velocemente ed un centinaio di manifestanti procedono spediti verso la Moschea degli Ommayadi. Appena 10 minuti dopo, un nugolo di sgherri nerboruti proveniente da diverse direzioni li accerchia velocemente, iniziano a volare sedie, calci, un ragazzo viene trascinato in un negozio e tempestato di pugni da un gruppo di sostenitori del regime. Bastano pochi attimi perché si scateni il caos. La manifestazione pacifica si disperde velocemente, un altro uomo in borghese, armato di una vera e propria sciabola, si getta all'inseguimento dei dimostranti, mentre una ragazza inorridita inizia ad urlare contro i presenti: "Uno tira fuori un coltello e voi ve ne state tutti fermi a guardare?!" A questo punto, la maggioranza dei contestatori sembra riuscita a fuggire o disperdersi nella folla, ed uno di loro mi si avvicina, dicendomi: "I servizi segreti erano stati informati due ore prima della protesta, ora é meglio che ve ne andiate...A breve qui sarà pieno di polizia." Quanto ai ragazzi di Qabun, non sono mai arrivati in centro.

La città vecchia si riaddormenta rapidamente. Nessuno ha notato il volto di Hamza, che ricompare da un vicolo facendo finta di niente e mi saluta velocemente. Se ne torna a Duma, in una dimensione parallela accerchiata dai checkpoint, dove per aggirarli sa già di dover allungare il ritorno attraverso i campi. Nell'attesa del prossimo tentativo di rompere il silenzio del centro di Damasco.

Aref Dalila: la strada invoca la caduta del regime, ma l'unica soluzione é il dialogo

"E' vero che molti dei manifestanti invocano il collasso del regime, ma come hanno intenzione di rovesciarlo?"

Aref Dalila é uno dei massimi esponenti dell'opposizione siriana: scrittore ed economista, detenuto per circa 8 anni, in seguito alla sua partecipazione alla Primavera di Damasco, il periodo di fermento politico successivo all'ascesa al potere di Bashar al-Assad (2000). Fa oggi parte di quel gruppo di intellettuali disposti ad intraprendere un dialogo con il regime, finalizzato ad una transizione democratica, a patto che cessi la violenza contro i manifestanti.

Lei si é rifiutato di partecipare sia al cosiddetto Dialogo Nazionale avviato dal regime il 10 Luglio, e peraltro boicottatto dalla maggioranza dell'opposizione, sia all'incontro organizzata il 27 Giugno presso l'Hotel Semiramis di Damasco da alcuni dei principali intellettuali dissidenti siriani (Michel Kilo, Luay Hussein, etc.). Mi spiegherebbe le motivazioni di questi suoi due rifiuti?

All'incontro del 27 Giugno non ho partecipato perché non ritenevo libero il contesto organizzativo, dato che solamente ai media governativi é stato permesso di coprire l'incontro e, naturalmente, hanno fornito un'immagine negativa dei partecipanti. Riguardo invece alla seduta d'apertura del Dialogo Nazionale, ritengo che il governo debba prima riconoscere il diritto dell'opposizione ad esprimersi liberamente. In secondo luogo, le commissioni istituite per discutere le nuove leggi [NdR: pluralismo politico, libertà d'espressione e dei media, legge elettorale, etc.] sono formate esclusivamente da esponenti del governo. Chi ci garantisce che manterranno fede alle loro promesse?

Come pensate di conciliare la vostra idea di 'trasformazione del regime' con le rivendicazioni di quei manifestanti, e non sono pochi, che ormai insistono sul rovesciamento del regime, senza nessuna possibilità di dialogo?

E' vero che molti dei manifestanti invocano il collasso del regime, ma come hanno intenzione di rovesciarlo? Questo non sono in grado di spiegarlo. In questo momento non ritengo vi siano alternative ad una trasformazione democratica graduale. Sia chiaro che non mi riferisco al genere di transizione voluta dal Governo: non vogliamo aspettare nemmeno un anno, si deve parlare in termini di mesi.

Uno dei timori principali riguardo alla situazione attuale é il degenero in un conflitto settario. Soprattutto, parlando con alcuni manifestanti sunniti, si percepisce un risentimento pericoloso verso la setta alawita, a cui appartiene la famiglia Assad. Anche in quanto lei stesso  alawita, qual'é la sua percezione del rischio di un conflitto settario?

Questo aspetto é un risultato del regime che ha governato il paese in tutti questi anni. Con una liberalizzazione della vita politica, questo genere di problemi scomparirebbe, anche a livello psicologico, poiché il settarianesimo non ha mai fatto parte della storia siriana.

Lo scorso Aprile, lei ha partecipato ad uno dei rari incontri di consultazione concessi dal regime all'opposizione ed ha avuto l'occasione di parlare con Buthaina Shabaan, il consigliere politico e mediatico del Presidente. Ritiene ci siano delle differenze tra le varie personalità del regime, un fronte del dialogo ed uno dedito esclusivamente alla repressione?

Sicuramente ci sono delle differenze, ma il nucleo centrale del regime é compatto. Intendo quell'ampio circolo di persone,  e non solamente la famiglia del Presidente,  che traggono benefici dall'attuale sistema di governo. Il denominatore comune di questo circolo é la corruzione, ci sono affiliati al regime in Siria così come all'estero di diverse estrazioni sociali e appartenenze settarie. Questo é un altro dei motivi per cui mi sento di escludere l'ipotesi di un conflitto settario. Il problema é che questo circolo rimane comunque ristretto, se paragonato alla maggioranza dei Siriani.

Che genere di pressioni si aspetta dalla comunitá internazionale? Ritiene debba essere fatto di più o al contrario preferisce che l'interferenza rimanga limitata?

Finché non stiamo parlando di un appoggio militare all'opposizione, sono favorevole al supporto internazionale, in quanto sostegno alla democrazia. Per quanto riguarda invece un eventuale embargo, sortirebbe un effetto negativo, soprattutto per la sua ripercussione sul popolo. In generale le sanzioni non avrebbero un effetto determinante sull'economia siriana, poiché il regime é in grado di sopravvivere facendo affidamento sulle risorse interne almeno per altri 6 mesi.

All'interno dell'opposizione, c'é chi confida nel 'soffocamento' economico, in quanto fattore determinante nel fomentare il dissenso a lungo termine. In quanto economista, qual'é la sua opinione sullo stato attuale della crisi economica?

E' innegabile che siamo nel mezzo di una grave crisi economica, le cui conseguenze vengono pagate in primis dagli impiegati e dalle classi popolari. Per quanto riguarda le classi più benestanti, anch'esse stanno patendo l'assenza di investimenti e la crisi del settore turistico. Una simile situazione ingrosserà le file dei manifestanti molto rapidamente, entro pochi mesi.

Come si colloca la rivoluzione siriana in relazione alle dinamiche regionali, quali effetti hanno sortito l'esperienza tunisina e quella egiziana?

La Tunisia e l'Egitto ci hanno fornito l'esempio, non eravamo preparati ad una mobilitazione di questa portata, ma allo stesso tempo abbiamo imparato dai loro errori: in questi due paesi ci si era illusi di porre fine ai problemi con la deposizione dei rispettivi presidenti, ma la rivoluzione non é ancora finita. Allo stesso modo in Siria la rivoluzione non terminerebbe con la cacciata di Bashar al-Assad.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Syrian deadlock: the dialogue favored by intellectuals and opposed by the streets*.

After four months from the beginning of the protests, what is evident of the Syrian opposition is its wide fracture between streets and intellectual dissidents.
The front of intellectuals based in Syria, including Luay Hussein, Anwar al-Bunni, Fayez Sarah and Michel Kilo, organized an unprecedented meeting at Hotel Semiramis in Damascus on June 27, where they were allowed by the regime to call for the end of violence and the beginning of a democratic transition.

Another main representative of the opposition, the economist Aref Dalila chose not to participate in the meeting: despite sharing the ideas of his companions of struggle, he told us in an interview that "the settings of the meeting were not free, with state media being the only ones allowed to distort the contents of the gathering." The Damascus Declaration coalition, a major group of dissidents born in 2005, boycotted the meeting, arguing it took place under the control of Syrian security, featuring the participation of few real dissidents. Likewise, the Local Coordinating Committees, the most nationwide organized representative of the youth taking to the streets, refused to participate in the meeting, due to the ongoing violence perpetrated by the regime.

On June 30, the same intellectuals, including Aref Dalila drafted "A Road Map for Syria", their vision on democratic transition in Syria. In this document, the controversial passage is the inclusion of the Ba'th Party into a newly established National Legislative Assembly, allowing Assad's party to maintain 30 seats out of 100. This is crucial point of disagreement with part of the demonstrators, calling for the downfall of the regime, and some activists, who feel the voice of the Syrian people should be more fairly represented in this official meetings.
During a talk I had with Kamal Sheikho, a Kurdish blogger who spent long time in prison on hunger strike, he motivated his refusal to attend the Semiramis meeting by the unwillingness of the participants to ask for the resignation of the President. According to Sheikho, "there is a big proportion of the streets calling for the downfall of the regime and it is not possible to claim we represent the Syrian people, if we don't convey their demands." Demonstrations against the Semiramis meeting took actually place on the following Friday and the last Friday of protests, on July 15, has been labeled "No Dialogue." The split between the streets and these groups of intellectuals is even evident from everyday's conversations: a couple of days ago, I was exchanging views with Abu Sharif, the driver who takes me around during Friday protests, and he didn't have a clue about who Michel Kilo was, despite being himself clearly opposed to the regime.

On the other hand, Aref Dalila commented on those protesters calling for the downfall of the regime by saying that "they don't know how to bring the system down, therefore proceeding gradually is the only way out." Among the participants to the Semiramis meeting, Fayez Sarah justified his choice, claiming this initiative had no ambition whatsoever to represent the streets.

Division among factions composing the Syrian opposition is not a new trend: even the meeting held in Antalya, Turkey (May 31- June 2), was met with skepticism, firstly by the Kurds, because of the choice of Turkey, a country historically unfriendly to the Kurdish cause. Only 5 parties out of the 12 Syrian Kurdish parties participated in the conference. Secondly, because a conference held in Turkey was perceived from part of the opposition as an excuse to ask for foreign intervention into Syrian affairs.
These features introduce another problematic divide within the opposition, the one between 1.5 million Kurds living in Syria and the Arab majority. Aref Dalila claims that the opposition has overcome differences, starting to unify itself along the lines of a shared project for democratic transformation. On the contrary, while I was speaking with Shanar, a Kurdish activist from the Future Movement, she clearly underlined the lack of understanding between Arab and Kurdish blocs, starting from the days chosen for mobilization: for example, the Arab groups refused to back protests taking place in commemoration of Kurdish Qamishli riots (March 2004). After I got to know Ahmed, an Arab activist in the University of Damascus, he admitted that Arabs should have been wary
 of Kurds, because after the collapse of the regime they would have had a different agenda.

Besides ethnic differentiations, divisions within the opposition revolve around whether a dialogue with the regime is possible or not, and It is unlikely that a group of intellectuals, despite their commitment to the cause, are going to convince the families of almost 1400 martyrs to accept dialogue with their killers. This remains the main stalemate preventing unity within the Syrian opposition.  

* I wrote this piece a couple of days ago, integrating talks I had with local activists with the interview I had with Aref Dalila, one of the main Syrian dissident intellectuals, economist and member of the National Coordination Committee. I'll publish soon the whole interview with him.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Semiramis Meeting of the Syrian Opposition: why someone decided not to participate?

Here I transcribe part of the interview I had with a prominent figure in the opposition, who is really close to Michel Kilo, Luay Hussein and the other intellectuals who took part in the Semiramis meeting on June 27. I won't name him because of security reasons, I will call him Ala, since he has spent enough of his time in jail for his ideas. In 2010 Ala has been jailed for more than 8 months and he protested against his detention through a long hunger strike. After having been released in 2011, he spent only few days free to join the ongoing protests, but now he is out and resolute to pursue his struggle. Ala is still participating in demonstrations. He is an independent dissident not tied to any political party.

30 June 2011

Q: What can you say about the status of human rights in Syria at the moment?

A: There are more than 1300 dead, 10.000 refugees in Turkey, 1000 in Lebanon, more than 13000 arrested since the 16 of March [the symbolic date in which protests started], more than 4000 wounded by undefined gangs [often referred to as shabbiha] and many people kidnapped.
The regime thinks it can keep on stifling demonstrations by violence, whereas protesters have asked the end to violence first of all. The regime thinks by killing the demonstrators people will go back home and won't ask neither reforms nor to change the system.

Q: Military repression is the strategy adopted by the Syrian regime. What about those rumors which have been circulating about increasing division withing the armed forces, particularly along sectarian [sunni-shi'a] lines?

A: No, this is not the case, we are talking only about individual choices and low-ranking officers, when we speak about defections. There has been no relevant defection, I mean a phalanx or a brigade, as it happened in Libya or Yemen. While I was in prison, I heard the story of the division between the Fourth and the Fifth Brigade [the Fourth Brigade is the one headed by Maher al-Assad, the brother of the President] but I don't believe it. In reality, we are not allowed to know what is currently happening within the Syrian army, because of the high secrecy surrounding this information. We don't know if there are sectarian divisions.

Q: What is your evaluation of the current status of the Syrian uprising? 

A: We have now entered in a phase of civil disobedience. Some call it a revolution, a protest, I call it a civil disobedience. Syrians have been 40 years under this regime. What is happening now is that a part of the Syrian people has said no, this is what I define as a civil disobedience. Naturally, we cannot compare our condition with Egypt or Tunisia, even if Syria is part of the Middle East.
From 2000, when Bashar took power, what his father was doing he started to do it, without any sort of difference in interior affairs. He preserved the ban on demonstrations, the imprisonment of dissidents, the security state, the ban on political associations and so on.

Q: What about the Damascus Spring in 2000?

A: The Damascus Spring was promoted by a group of intellectuals, -more or less the same ones who have participated now in the Semiramis meeting- who asked for limited political reforms and the end of the single-party system. The ruling regime refused the proposals and imprisoned 10 opposition leaders, with sentences ranging from 3 to 10 years: Dr. Aref Dalila was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
Then we went through another crisis, the so-called Damascus-Beirut Declaration in 2006, which called for the normalization of relations between Lebanon and Syria. I was among the signatories and, together with other intellectuals, I was once again arrested.
At the end of 2007, when the signatories of the Damascus Declaration (2005) held a meeting in the Syrian capital, 11 figures of the opposition were arrested. I mean that there have always been arrest campaigns and long sentences under this regime. In 2005, Dr. Kamal Labwani, only for having given some interviews to satellite TV channels in England, France and the US, was arrested and sentenced to 12 years, upon his return in Syria.
All these events created among a Syrians a big bubble waiting to explode. We were in need of the Tunisian revolution to break that glass, which we have been afraid of crashing so far. People took the streets to ask for the end of the state of fear the Mukhabarat have been able to create.

Q: Actually, the main impression I had, while talking with people who take part in demonstrations, is that their uprising is first of all an act of rebellion against the power of the Mukhabarat. Do you agree?

A: Bashar and his father have been ruling this country by the strength of the security forces. There have never been democratic elections: the presidential elections take now place through a popular referendum and not trough regular elections, after the Constitution has been amended for this purpose.
Even the 10 parties, members of the National Progressive Front together with the ruling Ba'th Party, are scared to say a single word differing from the position of the Ba'th Party.

Q: Even the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP)? I personally got to know some young members of the party, who are taking distances from the official positions of the party, claiming also to respect the opposition legacy of their political history.

A: No, absolutely no. I talk as an individual dissident, I met with leaders of the SSNP and they are not dissidents, on the contrary, even historically the party has never been opposed to the regime.

Q: What is the future of the Syrian uprising after more than 100 days from the beginning of demonstrations?

A:I think the government has dragged Syria to a point of no-return. Why? If the government and the opposition had accepted small concessions in the beginning, thus reaching an agreement, then we might have been able to avoid what happened later on and these big figures of martyrs. For this reason, personally I cannot go back, I walk towards the collapse of the regime. If this revolution fails and Bashar al-Assad stays in power, I told the other dissidents many times that, even after 10 years of political activism, I will resign and leave politics forever. It is necessary to depose the current regime to start building a new modern Syrian city-state.

Q: Some of the youth participating to the demonstrations is getting upset by the slow, bloody pace of the revolution. There are people increasingly convinced of being more helpful by leaving the country and coordinating the struggle against the regime from abroad. Some believe that Syria might not be ready for a successful revolution and maybe it still needs time to overthrow the political elites. Are you more optimistic?

A: We cannot affirm whether three months are enough or not for a successful revolution in Syria. In Egypt three weeks were enough, in Tunisia one month. I think the Syrian situation is currently intertwined with the fate of two other regimes, which are supposed to collapse: Yemen and Libya. If one of these three dictators falls, then you'll see the other ones following him. I think the situation is really similar to what happened in Eastern Europe in the 80's. Poland started a 8 years-long successful uprising in 1982, when the Soviet Union was still a strong regime, following the example of Bulgarian and Romanian dissidents, who rose up first against totalitarianism. The effect of the downfall of another regime would be to encourage the rebels to insist and succeed in their revolution. Ok, If I was the Syrian President, and I listen now to the words of the streets, I wouldn't feel myself exposed to the risk of ending like Mubarak in Egypt [being prosecuted in a court]. But I think that in the near future, the Syrian streets will become intransigent and call for the accountability of Bashar and high officials in his government. Because the Syria regime will continue with brutal repression, the people will start to ask to put on trial the President.

Q: Don't you think that Bashar al-Assad is more popular in Syria, if compared with other rulers like Ali Abdallah Saleh and Qaddhafi?

A:No, absolutely no. Those joining rallies in support of the regime do this exclusively out of terror and fear of the future. They don't trust the opposition, they believe the downfall of the regime will lead to a civil war, to a Lebanon-like scenario.

Q: And you don't consider likely the possibility that the uprising will turn into a civil war?

A: No, I totally exclude this. I read Syrian history very well. We have numerous ethnicity and religious sects, but, historically, there has never been a single war between these communities. The situation in Syria differs from the one in Lebanon or in other Middle Eastern countries. In Islamic history, Damascus has been the capital of the 'Ummayad Caliphate (661-750 AD) and, even in those times, fitna (sectarian strife) has never erupted. The regime describes the current events as sectarian strife to scare people, but this is not the reality on the ground.

Q: It happened to me to talk with some Sunni demonstrators, who clearly expressed their resentment towards Alawis in a way, which easily exceeds the hatred for the Ba'th regime to become pure religious hate. How do you comment on this aspect? Is there a risk of sectarian killings targeting Alawis, in case the revolution succeeds?

A: This is nothing more than a personal view, which has nothing to do with the Syrian situation. We don't accept this way of thinking. There is a vision and among the opposition leaders, who will lead the transitional phase, there are personalities, who will not allow sectarian strife. I am not telling you there are no people willing to take revenge on other sects, but they are limited cases. Syria is composed of geographical areas mixed with regards to sectarian distribution and this has allowed everyone to get to know the cultural 'Other'. To have the risk of sectarian strife, you need sectarian icons, figures representative of their sects. Now mention me one personality in Syria who is able to say: "I speak in the name of the Alawis, Sunnis, etc."…Even Bashar al-Assad is not able to say: "I am an Alawi", he is used to say: "I am the President of Syria." On the other side, opposition prominent figures like Aref Dalila are Alawis and, in the same way, he doesn't identify himself according to the sect.

Q: So you don't think there is a sort of resentment towards the Alawis, due to their ties with the regime?

A: No, and I tell you why: many of the opposition leaders incarcerated in the past years are Alawis. The problem is that the poor status of our politics and the lack of cooperation among opposition groups have led Kurds, for example, to think that Alawi are privileged compared to them. The Kurd doesn't know that the Alawi is even more oppressed than him: there are Alawi dissidents who have been jailed for 30 years. And the same goes for other minorities like Christians, if you think of Anwar al-Bunni and Michel Kilo. The regime is repressive on all Syrian citizens.

Q: What is your position on the meeting organized by the opposition in Damascus, at the Semiramis Hotel, on June 27? Why you didn't participate to it?

A:The meeting was conceived only to gather under one roof the independent opposition leaders and express their position towards the regime and their support for peaceful demonstrations. Personally, I think it was a positive step and I share the ideas of the organizers. However it was not a 'well studied' step, it was organized hastily and, in fact, protests took place against this meeting. I didn't receive any invitation for this meeting, because they knew perfectly that I wouldn't have attended the gathering. At the beginning of the preparations for the meeting, I told to my friends, Michel Kilo, Luay Hussein and Fayez Sarah, who were organizing it: "Are you going to ask for the resignations of the President?" They told me: "No". Then I replied them: "I cannot attend the meeting, because now there is a big proportion of the Syrian people, I won't say everyone, who is calling for the downfall of the regime, and you cannot claim to represent the streets, if you don't report the words of the streets." I told the organizers personally that I don't believe in diplomacy at this step, it is either you are the voice of the streets or you are not the opposition

Q: Are you still going to collaborate with these opposition leaders in the future?

A: Sure, I will participate in their meetings when there will be a clear vision and a shared agreement.

Q: So do you think diplomacy is useless at this stage? What about those dissidents who would approve armed resistance against the regime?

A: I am absolutely against the use of weapons. For sure, I don't want neither my son nor my grandson to live under such a regime. It is about becoming a democratic, modern and developed country, if this won't happen, then we don't have to consider diplomacy. Politics is about listening to the people and implementing their will, diplomacy is about listening to the people, but implementing what is deemed more convenient. I don't agree with this rule. The essential meaning of terms like 'law' and 'democracy' are unknown to everyone, hence the meaning of diplomacy has to change as well and become the implementation of people demands. The opposition which gathered in Semiramis is actually telling the people: "We are in front of a strong regime and we fear the failure of the revolution, therefore we have to accept limited gains and build the Syrian future on them." They believe in the possibility of a political solution with the regime staying in power. What this will mean? The government preserving its security apparatus and allowing the opposition to have a few seats in the Parliament? Have them participating in local councils? I don't think it's enough. We, the opposition, need first to reverse the balance of power with the regime. This approach doesn't convince me. For me it's either the collapse of the regime or the failure of the revolution.