London, Asharq Al-Awsat –Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with Sheikh Ahmed al-Sayasna, the imam of the Omari Mosque in Deraa, where it is generally accepted the Syrian revolution first erupted from more than a year ago. The blind sheikh had been arrested and detained by Syrian authorities numerous times for his fiery rhetoric, before being smuggled out of the country into Jordan earlier this year. Sheikh Ahmed al-Sayasna has been a strong advocate of the Syrian revolution, and his son, Osama al-Sayasna, was killed whilst taking part in the uprising. In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Sheikh al-Sayasna revealed his views on the Syrian uprising and the latest developments on the ground, as well as his hopes for the future of the country.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us start by discussing the latest developments in Deraa. Are you in touch with the Deraa residents? What is the latest on the ground?
[Al-Sayasna] In Deraa, whether we are talking about the city or the governorate…Syrian security officers have been deployed throughout the alleys and neighborhoods, the pro-regime Shabiha militia is everywhere, and the regime’s snipers – dressed in civilian clothing – are on the roofs of houses and buildings, observing the security figures. In addition to this, there are explosions taking place, which do not stop. This is truly a tragic situation, something that has been prohibited by God. The authorities are carrying out a “crackdown” against the city residents against the backdrop of ongoing demonstrations. There have also been renewed clashes in the city of Deraa after thousands of residents take to the streets to escort the bodies of those who have been killed to their final resting places. The Omari Mosque has become a center for wake for the innocent civilians who have been killed, particularly as all the residents know one another, as this is a small city, and indeed they even know the members of the pro-regime Shabiha militia!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you respond to claims that the Omari Mosque was harboring criminals? What truly happened at the Omari Mosque, before you left the country?
[Al-Sayasna] The Omari Mosque is innocent of all the accusations that were made by the Syrian regime. This mosque is always crowded with worshippers learning the Quran and praying to God Almighty, so there is no space for criminals or saboteurs! What truly happened was that the security forces planted arms and weaponry [in the mosque] and the deceitful Syrian media portrayed this mosque in a false manner, namely that it was the base of an armed group. However if this is true, why did the Syrian security forces fail to arrest this armed group? And how were these arms transferred to this mosque in the midst of the harsh security restrictions imposed on all Syrians?
This was a continuation of the crimes that were carried out by the regime prior to this incident when the Syrian authorities arrested and tortured children and youth…and when their parents want to complain to the head of the intelligence service, he told them to give birth to more children!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad last April, during which you spoke about the events in Deraa. Following this, Damascus promised to form a committee to raise the standard of living in Syria, as well as end the state of emergency which has been in place in the country for almost 48 years…what happened? Are you satisfied with the results?
[Al-Sayasna] Yes, I met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad on 14 April last year, and [during this meeting] he generally listened but did not talk. I told him frankly that “if you want reform then you must prepare an atmosphere of reform, but if you kill people and besiege cities, then this will not bring about safety or security.” I explained what was truly happening on the ground to him, and told him that he was being misinformed about the situation in Deraa and who was responsible for the massacres and scandals that were taking place. I also told him that the people of Deraa held him responsible for this, as he had failed to visit the governorate to see the situation for himself. Today, time has run out in Syria, and there is a popular uprising gaining momentum in the Syrian street. I made it clear that we had, for months, been calling for serious and speedy reforms to save the Syrian people effort, time, and losses…he [al-Assad] promised us that the security forces would be withdrawn from the street, laws that would allow for rival political parties and media freedoms, the release of detainees, the lifting of the state of emergency and the implementation of comprehensive reform that meet the demands of the Syrian people….whilst we have not seen any of these promises being fulfilled on the ground. I can say that the prospect for reform is long overdue in Syria, and the Syrian people had no other option but to revolt against what is happening. The popular uprising in the Syrian cities will not stop until reform is implemented, and that can only be achieved with the fall of the regime.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you explain the strong response that we are now hearing from Islamic clerics towards the situation in Syria? What is your view of the criticism that Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has been subject to for his support for the Syrian revolution?
[Al-Sayasna] I support Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s view [on the Syrian revolution], and I respect his views and opinions…he is a mujuahid who is speaking the truth and he will be rewarded by Allah. As for figures like Sheikh al-Bouti and Syrian Mufti Sheikh Ahmed Hassoun, they are like the “Sultan’s clerics” [an Arab aphorism meaning religious scholars whose ultimate loyalty is to the ruler], and they are not taken seriously by the Syrian people. They have chosen this life over the hereafter; they have chosen sins over the path of righteousness. This is a description of every religious scholar or cleric who fails to tell the truth, particularly as they are not standing with the oppressed and persecuted, but rather against them. I ask these two sheikhs: is someone who takes to the street to demand freedom and dignity a criminal? The Syrian security forces have killed peaceful demonstrators calling for freedom; this regime has gotten used to being obeyed and when the people said “no” they killed them, and said they are criminals and traitors. Must we accept violence and torture in order to be considered Syrians? Our only crime is demanding freedom. My wish today, which is something that I pray for day and night, is to one day carry out the Friday sermon at the Umayyad Mosque [in Damascus]. I believe that God Almighty will soon comfort the Syrian people, and this will be through the overthrow of the [al-Assad] regime.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] From your point of view, how do you expect the Syrian crisis to end? What do you think the future holds for Syria?
[Al-Sayasna] The situation today in the Syrian street is saddening, particularly following the massacres that were carried out by members of Hezbollah and the Mahdi army from Iraq; they are the ones who massacred the people in Homs, Hama and Idlib. I believe that the revolution that God has decreed will not stop until victory. I do not think the demonstrations will stop, because the Syrian people have had enough of promises, and the people today – after these massacres – no longer believe the regime’s promises. President Bashar al-Assad has been talking about reform since he came to power in Syria…but we have not seen any such reforms on the ground. It seems that the ruling class has opposed these reforms, and so the people have lost confidence in the regime, and after the regime’s numerous crimes, the people no longer believe in it today. In addition to this, does it make sense that we should wait for the corrupt to carry out reform? The entire system is corrupt, and therefore the only thing that we are waiting for is the end of this regime.
There are members of Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp, and the Mahdi army from Iraq, on the ground in Syria, and they are massacring and torturing the Syrian opposition. We therefore call on the sheikhs and clerics in Egypt and across the Arab and Islamic world to pray for the people of Deraa and Syria. When I go to a mosque in Jordan today and hear sermons not about the tragedy being suffered by the Syrian people, I feel saddened. I previously traveled to Amman and heard a sermon about the tragedy of the violence that erupted in the Port Said stadium in Egypt, between rival football fans, however the sheikh forgot to mention the plight of the Syrian people….therefore I call on God Almighty to lift the Syrian people’s anguish by overthrowing this regime.