Al-Ahram Weekly Online   15 - 21 September 2011
Issue No. 1064
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Syrians seek support

Doaa El-Bey listened to members of the Syrian opposition in Cairo

In its quest for wider popular support for the Syrian people, a group of Syrian opposition figures concluded a six-day visit to Cairo this week during which they let their voice be heard, sending a message not only to the Arab states but to Moscow, a traditional ally of Damascus. They chose Cairo as their first stop because of its influence and political significance in the Arab world.

The message was clear: Syria will not give up until it changes the present regime. All what it is calling for is support to reduce the bloodshed. That message was also sent to Moscow when some of the members of the group met the Russian charge d'affaire at the Russian Embassy in Cairo and delivered a message that there is widespread frustration among Syrians concerning the Russian stand to the extent that the protesters are considering organising a Friday demonstration directed at Moscow and dubbed "Your weapons are killing us".

Regarding the aim of the visit, Fahd Al-Masri, political and media adviser of the Syrian Community Assembly which organised the visit, said that it intended to recruit all kinds of political and popular support for the Syrians. That support is likely to constitute pressure on Arab governments which are reluctant to take a decisive stand on the Syrian regime.

"Six months of revolution left dead 4,000 to 5,000 martyrs, 75,000 detained by the regime since the start of the revolution and 25,000 forced to flee to neighbouring countries. Nevertheless, there is no decisive Arab or international stand from the atrocious practices of the Syrian regime," Al-Masri told a symposium held at Al-Ahram.

The opposition delegation agreed that the visit of Nabil El-Arabi, chief of the Arab League to Syria and his initiative to find a settlement to the Syrian crisis would not succeed.

Samir Sattouf, an Algerian-based writer and poet who left Syria 35 years ago, said that the initiative would never succeed for it did not address the opposition nor the aspirations of the people, plus the Arab League does not possess the tools to implement a settlement.

"If the league launched this initiative to prove that the regime is not capable of reform, then it is a welcomed though small effort. But if it aimed at giving the regime another chance, then it would definitely fail," Al-Masri told the Al-Ahram symposium.

Bassam Ishaqi, a human rights activist, told the symposium that the regime has not up till now acknowledged the demands of the people and until it does, there would not be a solution. The league, in turn, ignored the Syrian street and tried to offer a political solution. But its initiative cannot submit a realistic political solution on the ground.

Al-Masri also criticised the league initiative because it gave Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad legitimacy till 2014 at a time when people are revolting against his regime.

El-Arabi met Al-Assad early this week, three days after the original date of the visit. It was said that Al-Assad asked for a postponement of the visit to register his anger because El-Arabi met with Syrian opposition figures.

El-Arabi told journalists in Egypt after the meeting that they reached an agreement on reforms that he had urged Al-Assad to speed up through a timetable that would make every Syrian citizen feel that he has moved to a new stage. He also insisted during the meeting on the necessity of taking immediate steps to stop violence and bloodshed in Syria. However, the killing of civilians did not stop during or after El-Arabi's visit to Syria.

During the visit, the opposition delegation managed to meet with influential people, albeit the meetings were on an unofficial level. The delegation carried out other activities, including conducting a workshop on Monday entitled "Protecting national unity and criminalising sectarianism".

They also presented a report issued by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) entitled "Bashar Al-Assad: Criminal Against Humanity" in a press conference held at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights.

The report, which was prepared by the FIDH and the Damascus Centre for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS), examined the trends behind the major and most pervasive crimes and human rights violations reported in Syria between 15 March and 15 July this year.

In view of the conclusions of its report, FIDH and DCHRS reiterated their call and formulated recommendations to the international community, the UN Security Council, the Arab League, and the European Union, to take immediate action to urge the Syrian authorities to put an end to the crimes committed against civilians, and to undertake all efforts to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these crimes.

The delegation's visit ended Tuesday with a march to the Arab League's headquarters to protest against the stance of the league and El-Arabi on the situation in Syria. The protesters will demand a more active role for Arab states in supporting the Syrian people.

While the delegation did not expect much success from their visit because of Egypt's present internal problems, El-Masri said that the delegation achieved "500 per cent success".

However, the success of their mission on the ground depended on factors including unity among the various opposition trends and avoiding sectarianism.

Abdel-Ahad Astepho, a Brussels-based opposition figure, stated that the opposition agreed on the main issues. He did not rule out differences, but regarded them as a sign of richness of the Syrian society rather than an impediment to agreement in the future. Astepho did not deny that there are different sects in Syria, but added there is no sectarianism. "It is the regime that has been trying to root sectarianism in Syria," he told the symposium. (see p.9)

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