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Al-Assad never had any legitimacy to lose – Syrian political activist | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Suhair Atassi is a prominent Syrian political activist living in Damascus. She is the president of the Jamal Atassi Forum for National Dialogue, which is calling for the ouster of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Atassi said that the people of Aleppo and Damascus are close to joining the revolution calling for the end of the al-Assad regime, stressing that “freedom is around the corner.” Atassi had previously been arrested and questioned by the al-Assad regime earlier this year for her political activities, before eventually being released. She told Human Rights Watch that she was insulted, slapped, and threatened by police, who accused her of being an Israeli agent. Atassi told Asharq Al-Awsat that Bashar al-Assad did not have any legitimacy to begin with, particularly as he inherited power from his father, adding that he has lost control of the country and that the time has come for him to step down. As for the regime’s “national dialogue” and promises of reform, the Syrian political activist described this as insufficient and backed the Syrian political opposition’s boycott of dialogue with the regime.

The following is the full text of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] As a prominent Syrian political activist, how do you view the current situation in the country?

[Atassi] It’s a revolution…it was triggered by the Syrian people wanting to stand up and say that we are citizens and not subjects, and that Syria is for all its people not just the al-Assad family. This is a revolution of the youth who are demanding freedom and who are being confronted by violence and murder. All of the apparatus of the Syrian regime has been mobilized against the protesters, including the official media that is promoting false scenarios of foreign saboteurs and armed gangs [being responsible for the violence]. However Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and all its methods of suppression, will not be enough to subdue this revolution. We have seen a brutal war being announced by the regime to kill all of the Syrian people who are calling for freedom. The Syrian regime has played all of its cards; it has besieged Syrian cities with tanks and helicopters to no avail. It has tried to utilize the Golan Heights, incite sectarianism, pay [pro-regime] thugs to attack the protesters, in addition to using incitement, displacement, and isolation…yet the revolution has only increased in scope in response to this. We have seen Syrian protesters go out and confront the regime’s live ammunition with bare chests and olive branches. Even the regime’s attempt to sow discord between different segments of Syrian society has met with failure, and the revolution has only increased the unity of the Syrian people. This is a revolution for all the people of Syria…the united people of Syria.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the claims that armed elements have infiltrated the protest movement?

[Atassi] What armed elements? Today Syria is witnessing a battle for freedom, a battle between unarmed civilians who are calling for the ouster of a regime that has utilized methods of brutal and inhumane suppression. They have brutally attacked and killed the protesters, whilst [in response to this] the demonstrators have nothing but their words to defend them.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why is there this level of anger in Syria?

[Atassi] As we have stated repeatedly, we have been subject to suppression and murder for merely calling for freedom, democracy, general freedoms, the release of all prisoners of conscience, an end to the state of emergency, and the return of all political exiles. At the time, we said that any suppression would cause the volcano to erupt…we knew that we were working slowly but surely towards freedom, but we did not dream of a revolution like this breaking out. It was the Syrian youth who made this dream a reality.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, what fuelled this anger to bring the country to the brink of revolution?

[Atassi] How could our anger not have been fuelled by long years of suppression and fear, injustice and violence, and the regime’s monopolization of power? How could a revolution not break out after the Syrian regime’s arrest of children in Deraa, merely for writing “the people want the fall of the regime” on the wall of their school? The genie is now truly out of the bottle, and the barriers of fear have been broken…freedom is just around the corner.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What mistakes has the Bashar al-Assad regime made?

[Atassi] The regime’s first mistake was its very inception, namely with power being inherited by Bashar al-Assad [from his father former President Hafez al-Assad], in a republic that we have begun to call “the republic of al-Assad.” In addition to this, Bashar al-Assad’s attempt to hijack the “Damascus Spring” in a bid to obtain legitimacy that he did not possess was also a mistake, particularly as the al-Assad regime did not tolerate any free-thinking, even if this was carried out within a “forum” or “salon”. Bashar al-Assad returned Syria to its former state of affairs under his father, President Hafez al-Assad, placing the judiciary under the control of the security apparatus, with judgments and sentences being pre-judged. We must also not forget that he continued his father’s foreign policy towards Lebanon, exacerbating Syria’s crises. He isolated Syria from its natural environment, and spent a lot of his cards simply trying to remain in power. His crimes are many and varied, including the Sednaya massacre, which will always be a black stain upon the Bashar al-Assad era.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Syrian regime’s “national dialogue”, which the opposition decided to boycott? Do you believe this “national dialogue” was futile?

[Atassi] It has been contaminated by the blood of our people! How could we accept this [national dialogue]? It came too late! This is not to mention the lack of trust between the people and the regime. The best example of this was the arrests of the artists and intellectuals who decided to take to the streets in solidarity with the legitimate demands for greater freedoms in Syria. The Syrian regime was merely trying to buy time with this national dialogue.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about those who claim that the Syrian opposition lost out by boycotting this national dialogue conference?

[Atassi] On the contrary, in my opinion the opposition won over the Syrian street and public opinion by responding to the opinions of the free people of Syria. The entire world must be aware that the Syrian revolutionaries’ demands are simple: freedom, the ouster of the Syrian regime, and the departure of Bashar al-Assad and the pillars of his regime.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe that the Syrian opposition dialogue that is taking place abroad will achieve anything? Is this pressuring the regime in any way?

[Atassi] The division of the Syrian [political] opposition between those at home and those abroad is something invented by the Syrian regime. In my opinion, all dialogue is useful, so long as this focuses on the demands of the revolution, and is adopted without any authorization being required. The revolution has also come to confront this era of authorization. The political opposition abroad is able to explain our cause to the outside world, and expose the crimes against humanity being committed in Syria.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about those who criticize the Syrian political opposition, and say that it has yet to produce a strong alternative to Bashar al-Assad?

[Atassi] The revolution will produce a viable alternative capable of governing Syria in the future, and everybody must realize that the Syrian revolution has come out of nowhere to quickly become a substantive movement thanks to the awareness of our youth. Syria has been transformed from “the kingdom of silence” to a living country, and the scenes in the Syrian streets today are completely different than they were just a few months ago. The Syrian opposition is working to arrange its ranks, and at the very least the Syrian opposition is united, which can be seen in its joint position to boycott the so-called “dialogue” with the authorities that have been killing and suppressing the people.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] We have heard claims that various opposition figures are trying to put themselves forward as political representatives of the Syrian street. In your opinion, who represents the Syrian street?

[Atassi] The revolutionaries. The revolutionaries alone represent the Syrian street. In my opinion, this representation will become clearer and clearer as the revolution expands and develops, and the “silent majority” become more involved, which is something that I expect to happen soon.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would you agree with those who say that the position of the Syrian intellectuals towards the revolution was too little too late?

[Atassi] Not at all! On the contrary, I have heard many Syrians who have expressed their gladness that the true face of Syrian culture and the arts has finally revealed itself. We cannot underestimate those who take to the streets today, because unfortunately they are risking arrest or death at the hands of their own people!

[Asharq Al-Awsat] With the revolution intensifying even further in Syria, would you say that the Bashar al-Assad regime has lost control of the country?

[Atassi] Yes, and that is why he [al-Assad] is acting in an even more despotic and hysterical manner. This is because he knows his fate, and knows that this is his last battle.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] When do you think we will see the end of the Bashar al-Assad regime?

[Atassi] We will see this when all of Damascus and Aleppo joins the Syrian revolution…and this is not far off.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How will the demonstrations end in Syria? Do you think it is possible that these will end without securing the ouster of the Bashar al-Assad regime?

[Atassi] It will end with celebrations of freedom at the collapse of the Bashar al-Assad regime and all of its pillars. We will all join hands to build a new Syria…a free and civil Syria!

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your view of Iran and Hezbollah’s alleged support for the Bashar al-Assad regime?

[Atassi] We have heard from multiple sources that the Iranian regime and Hezbollah are providing support to the Bashar al-Assad regime with regards to suppressing the revolution. We cannot rule out a [foreign] state helping its ally in suppressing a revolution for freedom, especially when Tehran suppressed its own people in the manner that it did. The three parties [the al-Assad regime, Iran, and Hezbollah] have mutual interests, and such interests are often pursued at the expense of principles. However the people do not forgive [such behaviour], and even if they do forgive they do not forget.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] As the president of the Jamal Atassi Forum for National Dialogue, how would you characterize the Syrian regime’s dealing with the political opposition prior to the demonstrations?

[Atassi] In two words, [as an] authoritarian regime! Bashar al-Assad wore a mask during the early months of his rule. There is not enough time here to go into all the details about the history between the al-Assad regime and the Atassi Forum for National Dialogue…however the suppression and closure of the forum testifies to the authoritarian nature of the Bashar al-Assad regime. The “Damascus Spring” arrests, the forcible closure of the Jamal Atassi Forum for National Dialogue, and the siege of its headquarters – which is my home – for months, following the arrest of all the Jamal Atassi Forum for National Dialogue board members, was a message that the al-Assad regime was only interested in listening to its own voice.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, how responsible was the Syrian security apparatus in igniting the situation and transforming the peaceful protests into this revolution?

[Atassi] I completely reject separating the actions carried out by the security apparatus and Syrian military against civilian, and the ruling regime. It was the Bashar al-Assad regime that ordered the suppression of the revolution by the security apparatus, and put the Syrian army on a collision course with the Syrian people. However many in the Syrian military preferred to defect, and indeed some Syrian soldiers were executed for refusing to carry out orders to fire upon unarmed civilians.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently stated that Bashar al-Assad has lost his legitimacy. What is your view?

[Atassi] The Syrian president did not obtain his legitimacy from the Syrian people in the first place, he inherited legitimacy…and he even lost this so-called legitimacy with the death of the first martyr!

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What message would you like to send to Bashar al-Assad?

[Atassi] I would say: Beware…you are now facing the free people of Syria…a people who have made their demands clear…put an end to the bloodshed and leave!