Al-Ahram Weekly Online   12 - 18 January 2012
Issue No. 1080
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

From the shadows

The Syrian opposition has called for the creation of "shadow syndicates" as alternatives to those controlled by the regime

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In another expression of peaceful protest against the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian opposition has called for the creation of independent "shadow" syndicates and unions as an alternative to those controlled by the regime, reports Bassel Oudat.

The syndicates include professional bodies such as those grouping together the country's engineers, doctors, artists, writers and students, and the idea is to set up democratic replacements for the existing official bodies.

According to Syrian opposition groups, the shadow unions are an attempt to sideline the country's official syndicates, which have lost their role over recent decades, becoming organisations that serve the regime and the interests of senior officials.

The shadow unions are also another effort at undercutting the regime's strength through peaceful methods of protest, opposition figures said.

More than 100 Syrian intellectuals announced the creation of a new Syrian Writers' Guild (SWG) a few days ago as an alternative to the official Syrian Book Union, which takes its orders from the ruling Syrian Baath Party and is under the influence of the country's security agencies.

The intellectuals said that membership of the new body was open to all Syrian writers from across the literary and intellectual spectrum, and that honorary membership would be given to Arab and non-Arab writers supporting the uprising of the Syrian people against the Al-Assad regime.

The opposition said that the regime had tried to silence all opposing voices since it came to power some four decades ago, undermining Syria's cultural and literary presence in the world and eliminating innovative thinking or creativity.

Many observers believe that the creation of the SWG is a first result of the ongoing Syrian revolution, since it will allow the country's writers and intellectuals honestly to express their true positions and opinions and play an effective public role. The foundation of the SWG was an opportunity to bring back the pioneering role of culture and intellectual effort to society in order to accelerate the country's transformation from despotism to democracy and freedom, they said.

The founding members of the SWG said that the group intended to protect the rights of writers and safeguard their financial interests inside and outside the country. They also announced prizes for documenting the ongoing revolution, including through poetry, fiction, and scholarly writing and criticism, as well as the foundation of a magazine and a printing press.

"We must forge ahead in creating free and democratic syndicates that are independent of the regime, irrespective of our different political views," Hazem Al-Nahar, an opposition figure, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

"These should be an alternative to the regime-controlled syndicates that for a quarter of a century have not protected their members or played a positive role in Syrian society. Now there should be a new syndicate for artists and students and so on. The process of destroying the pillars of the regime must go hand-in-hand with constructing free and genuine alternatives to it," he said.

"Syrian activists are already taking steps towards this, and they have achieved some results. However, more is yet to come. Any Syrian can now join an alternative syndicate capable of playing its rightful role, especially during the interim phase of the transition from tyranny to democracy."

According to activists, some Syrian engineers and doctors are also working on creating alternative syndicates.

The present system of professional syndicates began at the end of the 1920s in Syria, and it was originally meant as a way of protecting the professional interests of the organisations' members.

However, the Syrian regime dissolved the then-existing syndicates and unions in 1980, placing them under the control of the country's emergency laws. Activists from the country's Bar Association and Engineers' Syndicate were arrested, and while new syndicates were opened in 1981, these were undemocratic with no limits being placed on the term in office of the head of the syndicates.

The heads of the syndicates were also appointed indirectly by the regime, placing the country's official syndicates under the control of the regime and affiliating them to the ruling Baath Party.

As a result, Syria's existing syndicates have become notorious for their corruption, being mostly vehicles to solicit funds from their members and centres of misinformation, a situation that the new democratic alternatives should help to redress.

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