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Al-Assad should step down and return to dentistry – Syrian human rights lawyer | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with well-known Syrian human-rights activists Muntaha al-Atrash, who is also the daughter of the Commander General of the Syrian Revolution Sultan Pasha al-Atrash. Sultan Pasha al-Atrash played a prominent role in the Arab revolt, and led the Syrian revolution against the French Mandate (1925-27). His funeral in 1982 was attended by more than a million people.

Muntaha al-Atrash graduated from Cairo University’s Faculty of Arts in 1967, and is the official spokesperson of the Syrian Organization for Human Rights (Swasiya). In an exclusive telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat from Damascus, al-Atrash denied that there was any foreign conspiracy against Syria, stressing that the protests were being carried out by Syrian youth who wanted democracy. She also said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was playing with fire, and that he should step down from power and return to dentistry.

The following is the text of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your view of the current political scene in Syria?

[al-Atrash] Some people are optimistic that the Syrian regime will put forward genuine reforms, but I am not optimistic at all, for President Bashar al-Assad is addressing a complex and delicate political situation in a sectarian manner. He is playing with fire because playing on sectarianism in Syria will only ensure that the situation spins out of control and the magic may turn on the magician.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you afraid of Syria becoming a new Iraq?

[al-Atrash] In Syria we are all one family, and there is no difference between a Druze, a Sunni, or an Allawite, we are all Syrians, we all live in the same neighborhood…however what is happening now is completely different, for the Syrian regime is utilizing the viewpoint of “divide and conquer” so that the Allawites fear for their future if the Sunnis come to power, whilst 15 thousand Syrian pounds are paid to Allawite youth to take up arms against the Sunnis in Doma City [in the suburbs of Damascus]. This is in order to allow the situation to be portrayed as being sectarian unrest; however this narrow view of the crisis will drown the country.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Syrian regime has repeatedly stated that foreign hands are responsible for what is happening in the country. What is your view of this claim?

[al-Atrash] I completely deny this, there are absolutely no foreign parties involved [in the uprising], this is a revolution of the youth who are hungry for democracy and freedoms, a youth who are living through a historic period that all the people of the world passed through dozens of years ago. There is no conspiracy; the conspiracy is being hatched against the Syrian people, in Banias the demonstrators captured 4 Shabiha gangsters who confessed that they were hired to kill demonstrators.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe that Iranian hands are moving behind the scenes in Damascus?

[al-Atrash] I cannot talk about what I don’t know, and I do not know what is happening behind the scenes [in Damascus], but Iran is strongly supporting the Syrian regime, and the two are linked by strong strategic interests.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you afraid of a repeat of the Hama massacre?

[al-Atrash] What happened in Doma City and Daraa is similar to what happened in Hama, the security forces that should be protecting the people and the peaceful demonstrators are instead firing bullet at them. In Doma City they are arresting the injured in hospital and killing the wounded in the street in cold-blood, Israel itself does not act in this manner, so why is there all of this bloodshed?

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, why are the Syrians revolting at this time?

[al-Atrash] [This is due to] 40 years of injustice, 40 years of oppression, 40 years of subjugation, 40 years of fear, 40 years of bleeding the homeland and repressing liberties. I assure you that the revolution that broke out in Tunisia will spread to the entire Arab world, the Arab people have one culture, and we are the children of one Arab nation, and we revolt together.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How can the Syrian regime be toppled?

[al-Atrash] Easily, the Syrian regime is a throw-back to the Soviet regime…the era of one party rule is history; I am astonished that Bashar al-Assad, as a doctor, is unable to cope with the huge changes that are taking place in our region. They continue to use violence, although this card is over and the whole world knows it, however the tactics of the house of al-Assad, the house of Makhlouf, and the house of Shalash, have not developed.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In light of the recent events in Syria…what would you say to President Bashar al-Assad?

[al-Atrash] I have addressed him before, during an interview, as a mother or a big sister, telling him that the youth have demands, and that he should give them his ear and listen to them, as well as dialogue with them. However now, after all of this bloodshed, I can only say that it would be better for him and for Syria if he steps down from power. I would tell him, honor the blood of your people and step down from power with your head held high. You are a dentist, you can return and reopen your clinic and work as a dentist. I would also remind him how my father, Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, as the leader of the great Syrian revolution, did not look for a seat [in power], although he was offered high positions, but rather he preferred to be of the people and was only concerned with the interests of the state.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, is the Bashar al-Assad regime approaching collapse?

[al-Atrash] Logic says that such rotten systems must always collapse, autocratic regimes cannot keep pace with the times I believe that anything is possible, [Bashar] al-Assad continues to rule in the same manner that his father ruled, using the same old thinking, which is obsolete, and therefore his regime will fall sooner or later.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Supporters of President Bashar al-Assad say that he has refused to bow to the West or Israel, and that he is the guardian of Arab nationalism, what is your view of this?

[al-Atrash] Whenever we ask for freedom and democracy they tell us that our confrontation with Israel is more important than narrow domestic issues. They excuse themselves with this confrontation with Israel, and now they are saying that the Syrian regime is nationalist and does not bow to the West. However we also do not bow to the West, and do not accept anybody’s dignity being harmed, the dignity and pride of Syria will not bow regardless of who is ruling.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Should the al-Assad regime fall, what credible names can step in to govern the country?

[al-Atrash] All of Syria is qualified, including but not limited to, Dr. Arif Dalila, who is a prominent economist who has a unique vision, as well as Dr. Haitham el-Maleh, the well known Syrian opposition figure. There are also Syrians abroad like Dr. Burhan Ghailoun, who is a political sciences professor, all of these names have political and popular weight in the Syrian street. There are many others who would also be able to govern Syria with dignity, for the rule of Syria is not a monopoly for the al-Assad family.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you put forward a moderate solution to this crisis?

[al-Atrash] The truth is that the blood of the martyrs has unsettled my thinking, but we will give him [al-Assad] until 25 April, which is the deadline that he put forward to reveal his package of reforms….and then we will see what happens.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, what kind of reforms would satisfy the Syrian people?

[al-Atrash] The holding of a national conference to study the different views and visions of Syria’s thinkers and intellectuals for the future [of the country], as well as lifting security from ordinary life in Syria, and putting an end to the bloodshed.