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Syrian regime views protesters as “enemy that must be crushed without mercy” – Syrian dissisdent | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Yasin al-Haj Saleh is a well-known Syrian writer and political dissident living in Damascus. Saleh has written for a number of Arab publications including Lebanon’s Al-Hahar and Al-Hayat newspapers, as well as the New York Times. Saleh was arrested and spent more than 16 years in prison for being a member of what he described as a “pro-democracy group.” Described by many as being one of the most articulate members of the Syrian opposition, Yassin al-Haj Saleh conducted a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat from his home in Damascus during which he commented on the popular uprising currently taking place in the country.

The following is the full text of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion of the situation in Syria today? How is the Syrian regime dealing with the demonstrators?

[Saleh] The situation in Syria today is extremely harsh; the bodies of Syrian martyrs reveal the brutality of the Syrian security and military forces, with regards to their attempts to protect the regime. They are completely loyal to the regime, and hostile to the people, dealing with them as an enemy that must be crushed without mercy. In my own opinion, the regime is now committed to crushing the people, regardless of the cost, and there are now no other options available. What Bashar al-Assad is doing today is a failed and impossible mission to turn back the clock to before 15 March [when the revolution broke out].

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion of the speeches given by Bashar al-Assad? What about the “general amnesty” he granted at the beginning of the month?

[Saleh] Bashar al-Assad has not spoken publicly since 16 April, more than 50 days ago. His first speech did not address the situation; it did not touch upon the essence of the political problems in Syria, he did not speak about the regime not providing the Syrian people with dignity and [political] representation. As for the general amnesty, this is a superficial decree; it can be considered a temporary evacuation of over-crowded prisons, particularly as the Syrian regime has made thousands of new arrests [since the outbreak of the revolution].

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the core of the Syrian people’s problems with the Al-Assad regime?

[Saleh] It is not acceptable for us to be ruled in this same manner that we have been ruled since the 1960s, with regards to the media that is affiliated to the state, and the security apparatus that can treat the citizens of Syria in whatever manner it wants.

This is something that now belongs in a history museum exhibit. What I mean to say is that the security apparatus are unable to understand that the world has changed; they are unable to understand the freedoms guaranteed by the internet. The security apparatus behaviour is a far cry from the values of modern civilization, and I swear if they could withhold the oxygen in the air from us, they would have done this without hesitation! And why not? They did this in Deraa and other cities by cutting off the water supply, in order to humiliate the people and bring them to their knees.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you think sparked this popular Syrian uprising?

[Saleh] We, in Syria, have been subject to cruel and harsh humiliation…far greater than that experienced by the Egyptians, Libyans, and Tunisians! They [the regime] deal with us in an inhumane, cruel, and degrading manner, as if we were nothing more than political slaves. There is complete immunity for the security forces to kill who they want, arrest who they want, and torture who they want. They are completely above the law!

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your own opinion, what was the major turning point in the Syrian uprising?

[Saleh] Perhaps the most important turning point, in my own view, will be the economic hardship currently being experienced by Syria. For thousands of Syrian families, even those that support Bashar al-Assad, are suffering great economic hardships and are unable to obtain what they need, which is something that is putting the al-Assad regime under extreme pressure. The Syrian economy is being choked by these protests…in addition to this; the daily bloodshed further complicates the situation, and increases the reprisals between the people and the regime. Let me say that there is great psychological anger towards the Bashar al-Assad regime, and this is something that will only increase in the future.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the options to resolve this crisis?

[Saleh] It is to difficult to predict what the future will hold for the protest movement, but what I am afraid of is the situation in Syria ending in a stalemate, and this is the situation in a game of chess where nobody is able to move and so the game ends in a draw, which is something that would make the country ungovernable. This would see Syria under a regime that is unable to put a stop to the uprising, whilst the uprising would be unable to overthrow the regime.

There does not seem to be any resolution in sight, this is a life and death struggle for the Syrian regime, for it has not given itself any peripheral room to maneuver and survive. There is a strange restriction on the potential resolutions of this crisis, and the situation is akin to “after me, the deluge.”

[Asharq Al-Awsat] To a certain extent, the protest movement in Syria seems to be a spontaneous one; what role is the Syrian opposition playing in organizing the street protests?

[Saleh] Allow me to contradict you and say that this protest movement is not spontaneous whatsoever…for there is a huge network of [political] activists coordinating the revolution, and they are able to mobilize and coordinate protests, and express the revolution’s positions and demands. There is a kind of “pure organization” operating on the ground, and the Syrian [political] opposition is utilizing its special organizations to play a role in this.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think the “Antalya Conference” changed how the world views the Syrian opposition?

[Saleh] The Antalya Conference was a good step but, to a certain extent, it took place in an improvised manner. The situation perhaps required building a stronger oppositional framework, but in the end this represented a step forward with regards to showing a strong and solid opposition.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that the Syrian regime’s allies may play a role in ensuring its survival?

[Saleh] There is a huge division in the states that support Bashar al-Assad’s regime; Damascus has lost the support of Sarkozy and France…as well as Washington and the other western states that have become more critical of the Bashar al-Assad regime and which are preparing to impose further sanctions on it. Only Russia and China are left, and it seems they are willing to make retractions with regards to their support of the Bashar al-Assad regime. From here, I believe that the only support left for Bashar al-Assad is coming from Iran and Hezbollah.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your view about the rumours that Iranian snipers are on the ground in Syria operating in defence of the Bashar al-Assad regime?

[Saleh] It was said that Tehran was providing logistical assistance to the Syrian forces, such as electroshock weaponry and other tools used to suppress the population. Personally speaking, I cannot confirm that any individuals affiliated to Iran are present on the ground in Syria.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion of Hezbollah’s support for the Syrian regime?

[Saleh] In just a few days Hezbollah lost all the respect and sympathy it had garnered in Syrian hearts over decades. Hezbollah is acting from its position as an ally of the Syrian regime, which for its part provides Hezbollah with strategic strength that it is afraid of losing should the Bashar al-Assad regime collapse. The Syrian people are not asking Hezbollah to support its hopes and aspirations, but neither should it stand in the face of this either! [Hezbollah chief] Hassan Nasrallah’s recent speech was extremely provocative to the Syrian street!

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

[Saleh] I do not want to send any message to President al-Assad; my message is to the brave people of Syria, and I tell them “your struggle for freedom is extremely honourable!”