Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat – Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with Syrian political dissident Dr. Burhan Ghailoun, Director of the Center for Contemporary Oriental Studies (Centre d’Etudes l’Orient Contemporain) in Paris and a Professor of Political Sociology at the Universite de Paris III (Sorbonne Nouvelle) about the current political crisis in Syria. In his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Ghailoud discussed the Syrian political opposition, Bashar al-Assad’s response to the Syrian people’s demands, and the economic situation in the country.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your view of the international sanctions being imposed against certain pillars within the Syrian regime? These sanctions are strongly supported by the US and European states, whilst Russia has remained silent on this.
[Ghailoun] Of course what is happening in Syria cannot be compared to what happened in any of the Arab countries where revolutions have previously broken out, for there is unprecedented killing and suppression [in Syria], and all of this simply because the people called for freedom. The regime is carrying out this killing and suppression under the assumption that this will solve the problem. The sanctions may succeed in deterring the Syrian regime from killing protesters, but these sanctions did not go far enough, for they should have been accompanied by aid for the Syrian people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you mean foreign military aid?
[Ghailoun] All Syrians are in complete agreement that there must be no foreign military intervention in the country, regardless of the circumstances. Military intervention is something that is rejected by all Syrian political dissidents, both inside the country and abroad. What we are asking for, as Syrians, is for international human rights and humanitarian organizations to intervene and investigate the crimes being carried out [against the Syrian citizens] on a daily basis. Such crimes are not being officially acknowledged, whether by the Interior Minister or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is despite everything that has been filmed by the youth demonstrators and broadcast by the new media such as the internet over the past three months and which clearly shows Syrian protestors being killed, arrested, and suppressed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us return to the question of Russia abstaining from voting on the issue of these sanctions, not voting with the majority to sanction the Syrian regime and thereby show some form of support to the Syrian protestors. What is your interpretation of this silence?
[Ghailoun] Everybody is surprised by this silence, which gives the impression that Russia is opposed to the Syrian people. However I can say that the entire issue is ruled by interests; Russia wants a price for changing its position. Moscow has a lot of issues to negotiate in the future, for it regards Syria as its most important foothold in the Middle East; it has a navy base in Syria, and Damascus buys a lot of arms from Russia.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Observers view the Syrian opposition as being fragmented and ineffective, and there are more than 150 Syrian political dissidents living in exile abroad. However there are signs that the Syrian political opposition is trying to organize and unify, such as the recent Antalya Summit. What is your opinion on this issue?
[Ghailoun] I agree with you that the opposition is weak, but this is only with regards to organization, and this is due to the constant and ongoing suppression of political dissidents by the Syrian regime for more than 50 years. This is what impeded their ability to organize. However the opposition is strong with regards to mutual agreement on its positions and viewpoints; and now everybody knows what the Syrian people want from the regime.
The most prominent opposition today are the youth, who represent the main body of the revolution. These youth also make up the largest portion of society, and the regime cannot silence or suppress them no matter how brutally it tries. There is communication between the revolutionary youth and the [political] opposition abroad. The opposition abroad have been holding political summits and meetings over the past two months in many global capitals and cities with the aim of getting in involved in general nationalist activities and supporting the uprising. Day by day, the opposition is getting more organized and effective, and this is in order to establish a democratic Syria.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The opposition and the revolutionaries are calling for the overthrowing of the regime, however this is proving hard to achieve, particularly as the regime is controlled by a political party that has been in power for around 63 years. What do you say to this?
[Ghailoun] Nothing is impossible to achieve when the youth are facing heavy artillery with their bare chests in order to realize one goal, the overthrowing of the regime and the establishment of a political pluralistic system. As for the claim that there is a political party in charge, let me say that in Syria there is no party…it is widely known in Syria that this “party” is just a political front, and there are no meetings or discussions held by its members, with the exception of the meeting that was held to appoint Bashar al-Assad to the post of president as his father’s successor. Syria is ruled by the security apparatus. All senior posts in the State and government apparatuses are given to security officers. This explains why Syria is the poorest country in the entire region, with the exception of Yemen which is mismanaged in a similar manner to Syria. Education, health care and all other services are very bad due to the absence of expertise in these fields, which are marginalized or expelled from the country. The criterion for the appointment of any senior official is that his highest loyalty be to President al-Assad, and that he obeys him to the point of worship. Only when the security apparatus’ grip on the state is relinquished can we hope to change the regime, and the manner in which government institutes are run.
The other thing is that Syria does not lack the necessary requirements to find the perfect replacement [to al-Assad] to lead the country, however what is important is to establish political parties that represent the Syrian people. It is true that the people of Syria have not taken part in politics, due to political despotism, but it is vital to establish such parties today.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion of al-Assad’s heralded promise for “national dialogue?” Do you think this will materialize?
[Ghailoun] Has anyone in Syria prevented the Bashar al-Assad regime from conducting [national] dialogue over the past three months? Has al-Assad engaged the protestors in the streets in any dialogue, even though this is something that they demanded? Unfortunately, this never happened.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view Bashar al-Assad’s performance during this period? Many have accused him of being silent and not directly addressing the protestors, although he has lately promised to lead a process of reform, do you think this will be enough to quell the anger of the Syrian street?
[Ghailoun] Silence, in this context, means that his speech did not directly address the people. Al-Assad only ever addresses his own supports, and this means that he does not recognize the existence of a people who enjoy comprehensive political rights. For him, the [Syrian] people are some individuals representing a few clans and some security elements whom he leads and bribes in order to guarantee their loyalty. This is what distinguishes the Syrian regime from the bulk of other regimes; there is no politics, only a security apparatus that speaks the language of repression.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] We have seen cracks appearing within the Syrian military, in a country that has been ruled under the Emergency Law for more than 60 years, which is the longest period of emergency in any country in the world. How do you view this state of military division, which some Syrian officers and soldiers themselves have announced to the media?
[Ghailoun] This in an indication of the rejection that some segments of the military feel towards the practices being carried out by the regime against the [Syrian] people, and of course, the army is part of the people. It is not in the army’s job description to quell protests in Syrian cities and districts. I believe that as time passes, further cracks and divisions will appear within the Syrian military.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the primary goal of the Syrian opposition abroad choosing representatives?
[Ghailoun] The goal is to unify the opposition’s efforts and seek to gain Arab and international recognition from organizations and major countries.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Damascus has pledged to lift the state of emergency, and carry out other significant reforms, in addition to previously granting Syrian citizenship to thousands of Kurds. How would you respond to those who say that Bashar al-Assad has kept his promise to implement reforms?
[Ghailoun] These were not reforms, but a crime. How is it possible that 300,000 people of Kurdish descent are left for 63 years without identification cards? How is it possible that these Kurds were not allowed to move around freely, obtain marriage licences, and made to feel like foreigners in their own country?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the economic situation in Syria, which is strongly deteriorating as the protests continue? Does Syria require economic aid?
[Ghailoun] The situation is bad, but not as bad as Yemen which require urgent international and Arab aid.