An Interview with
Mr. Nizar Nayyouf,
a Human Rights activist and one
of Syrias most famous political prisoners.
Conducted by Nakhleh
Marhaba Lubnan Radio Australia
(Translated from Arabic by:
Nabil Khoury & Joseph Hitti, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)
Australia 15 June 2003
Q: We are happy to host you on our program
Marhaba Lubnan here in Australia, and from us here to the rest of the world.
You are welcome and may peace be with you. Mr. Nayyouf, you were never known to have
dealt with the enemy, so what exactly is the crime for which you were
imprisoned and for how long?
A: I am pleased to be here and I thank you for your hospitality on this site and this station which are watched by many Arabs and Lebanese all over the globe.
I do not think that the cause of one individual can become a public cause unless it is intimately linked with the general public interest. In the beginning I was taken away with dozens of my friends at the end of 1991, and most of them have since been released. The authorities had 4 charges against me.
The first one is founding and heading an illegal organization, namely the Committees for the Defense of Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria.
The second charge was publishing false information about human rights in Syria, meaning the publishing of reports on violations inside prisons and internment camps specifically, and in Syria in general, either against Syrian political detainees or other Arab detainees in Syrian jails such as Lebanese, Palestinians, Iraqis, and other holders of Arab citizenships.
The third charge was inciting for a demonstration march to the presidential palace on 21 March 1990 on the occasion of Mothers Day in Syria. I had tried to mobilize for a demonstration to the palace by mothers, sisters and daughters of political prisoners to ask the former President Hafez Assad for their release. Naturally, the demonstration failed.
The fourth charge was publishing the organizations magazine Voice of Democracy without a license. Those were the charges for which I was incarcerated for 10 years after sentencing by the High State Security Court for Military Affairs. My colleagues were sentenced anywhere from 3 to 9 years, and all were released except me. I spent my entire sentence, except for a few months, in solitary confinement. I went through the Investigative Branch, the Military Intelligence Branch, the Military Investigation Branch-Palestine Section, then in the prison of Saidnaya, then the prison of Tadmor (Palmyra) to be returned to the headquarters of the Military Intelligence Section in Damascus, and on to the Mazze prison and again to Saidnaya after the closure of Mazze, and my release there on May 6, 2001 during the visit of the Pope to Syria. The Pope carried letters from international organizations calling for my release, especially after the decline in my health and my affliction with cancer, and the deterioration in my spine and my leg, as I had become virtually paralyzed.
Q: Is your health better today?
A: Thank God, yes. I spent nearly two years since my arrival to France in treatment in the hospitals of France and Germany. I feel better now, even though I still have a problem in my vertebral column that they could not treat because any mistake there could have worse consequences, so they refused to take a risk.
Q: Are your health problems a result of the
conditions of your imprisonment?
A: Not the conditions of imprisonment but specifically the torture I was subjected to. I was paralyzed within the first quarter of an hour of my arrest on January 2, 1992 because of the German Chair method of torture that is known worldwide. Its name comes from the Nazi Gestapo that created it at the hands of Himmler, the head of Nazi intelligence, and it was subsequently imported by terrorist and dictatorial regimes in the Arab world and Eastern Europe where it was developed further with special features like the torture chair they have at the Palestine Section in Damascus and which is known as No. 235. This is an electric and not a manual chair, and it is calibrated such that the torturer or the intelligence officer can cause the harm they wish to inflict or can control the degree of pain depending on the confession they want to extract.
As to the cancer, it has nothing to do with the conditions of incarceration. Its just fate and luck. It is possible that the prison conditions could have contributed to the malfunctioning of the cells. I always work within the law and I cant make an accusation that is not substantiated or documented. As you know, we were accused unsubstantiated facts and of false claims, and we cannot play the same game.
Q: We understand from your statements that
you met with Lebanese prisoners, while there are claims that there is not a single
Lebanese detainee in Syria.
A: Yes, this is a complicated and thorny issue, and I have spoken about it dozens of times with or without an occasion. However, I wish to point out to the Lebanese opposition, and especially the grassroots organizations that defend human rights like SOLIDA and others yesterday they were in Damascus and they returned empty-handed without meeting anyone. I say to the Lebanese who follow this issue and to international organizations, and I have already told Amnesty in London, that as long as the file of Khan Aboul-Shamat, the secret detention place 40 kilometers northeast of Damascus on the road to Baghdad, east of the Dannir Military Base, as long as the file of this place has not been opened, and as long as the international community does not request an inspection of this place and conducts a field investigation there, they will not be able, and no one will be able to know the secret fate of the Lebanese and many others, Syrians and others, and they number in the thousands. That place, and I am the first one to speak up about it, and unfortunately no one yet has had the courage to speak up on it because they fear of being accused of treason.
That place is where weapons have been, and are being, tested. Chemical and biological weapons are being tested on political prisoners for the benefit of the atmospheric intelligence. I am afraid, and I am very sorry to have to say this, and I say it for the fourth or fifth time, I am afraid that many of the missing Lebanese are found there, after they have been disfigured and maimed by chemical and biological experimentation. It is naturally for this reason that the regime cannot release them because they will cause a scandal as examples of a horrible crime. I believe that the fundamental obligation of the organizations is to focus on this issue. To create an international committee to inspect this place because it is very important.
This, in addition to the mass graves of Wadi Umayrah, near the desert military prison of Tadmor where thousands of political prisoners are buried who were liquidated in the Tadmor prison. From Moslem brothers and Iraqi Baath to Egyptians and Lebanese, and they are in the thousands. There is also another mass grave only for political prisoners, and it is a side section of the Sheikh Hassan cemetery in Damascus, and the Dahdah cemetery. This is where the intelligence services carried the remains of the martyrs who fell under torture to bury them at night in these cemeteries. For example, Moudar Al-Jundi who is one the most famous political prisoners in Syria died under torture and he was buried in this area. There is also another cemetery in Jdaidit Artouz, a small town near Damascus with a shooting range for training of military police. Executions were carried out there, near a mass grave I wonder how the mass graves of the Fascist terrorist regime in Iraq are uncovered and become the talk of the whole world, whereas everyone remains silent, including Syrian and Lebanese opposition, on the mass graves of Syria.
I did meet Lebanese prisoners, the first time in Saidnaya prison early in 1992. I met dozens of them, and I am proud to prove Rafiq Hariri, Adnan Addoum, and President Emile Lahoud wrong when they claimed at the end of 2000 that there were only 35 Lebanese political prisoners detained. This is what Rafiq Hariri declared when he was in Damascus, and I have smuggled a list of 56 detainees who were with me at that time and managed to send it to the Arab Committee for Human Rights and to Mr. Gibran Tueni who published it in the An-Nahar. Which forced Adnan Addoum, Rafiq Hariri and the Lebanese president to retract their false statements and admit that there were indeed 56 detainees who were then transferred to Lebanon in December.
Another story that proves the lies of the Syrian regime concerning the Lebanese detainees. I had met a Lebanese prisoner named George Chalaweet and I remember him very well, a tall and well-built guy, slightly tan. I met him the first time when they closed the military prison of Mazze, and all the detainees, including George, were transferred to Saidnaya and to Tadmor prisons. This took place on Wednesday 6 or 7 September 2001, and the group of prisoners going to Saidnaya included George Chalaweet, and I was with him in the same car. They made a mistake because of administrative reasons, and they put me with the rest of the detainees, because I was supposed to be in solitary confinement. The mistake was made, and they got me into the car with George Chalaweet and two Syrian officers who were detained since 1980, sentenced to death but their sentences were suspended.
They were Brigadier General Halawe and a colleague of his, whose name escapes me, and they were with George and they can testify to this. And after one week, on 13 September, when I was transferred to Saidnaya prison yet again in solitary confinement, the first thing I did was to inquire about George Chalaweet and if he had made it here. The prisoners searched the entire prison, naturally in secrecy and through contacts they had with other prisoners, but they found no trace of him in Saidnaya. Not in common cells and not in the ground floor cells. So where was George Chalaweet? This is a very important question. When I arrived in Paris and held a press conference at the office of Reporters Without Borders, I said that George Chalaweet and another prisoner by the name of Tony I cant recall his family name now from the district of Mount Lebanon were the last Lebanese individuals I saw in Syrian prisons.
The next day, the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Farouq Al-Sharaa replied and accused me of lying. He said that there is no trace of George Chalaweet and Tony, so where are they? Then to everyones surprise late last year, the Syrian government sent an official admission to the High Commission for Human Rights at the UN in Geneva saying that George Chalaweet was indeed still alive in Syrias prisons. So Farouq Al-Sharaa lied when he said that George or Tony or anyone else of the prisoners do not exist.
About Tony, they said he was a Syrian prisoner, when in fact he is a Lebanese national of Syrian origin. His family has carried the Lebanese citizenship for a long time now. That the Syrian regime now admits to the case of George Chalaweet in an official memorandum to the UN High Commission for Human Rights means that all the regimes claims regarding the Lebanese detainees, such as the claims that there are no Lebanese detainees in Syria, are false claims and outright lies. The best evidence of that is George Chalaweets case.
Q: Why is it that you were luckier than
others and you were released? Is it true that you offered specific concessions?
A: I am known for not making concessions, and the regime has gotten to the point where it is accusing me of insanity. It is unheard in Syrias history that the Minister of Information Adnan Omran issues a personal attack against me in a statement. Typically a minister or other official or authority issues a statement attacking an organization or a party, but against an individual? This is a precedent never before seen in Syrian history. His statement accused me of insanity and a suit was filed against me. I have 7 lawyers in Damascus, among them Anwar Al-Bunni and Khalil Maatooq, and they filed a suit against Adnan Omran who, of course, refuses to take receipt of the suit. He has contempt for the law and pisses on all the judiciary and the law in Syria.
I do not make concessions, and if I were of those who do I would have gotten out early on with my colleagues and I would not have been selected for solitary confinement for 10 years separated from all the other prisoners. They used to say about me He is as stubborn as a mule. In Human Rights matters, there can be no compromise because this is not a political question. In politics there is room for compromise to reach middle common ground. In Human Rights, we are dealing with rights, and no one can compromise on rights, whether they are individual or collective.
Q: Is it true what they say, that your folks
are subjected to harassment and retaliation in your country Syria?
A: Unfortunately, yes. In Syria the late President Hafez Assad established the practice of collective punishment. When they cant get their hands on a political prisoner or an activist or a member of the opposition who is outside the country, they begin retaliating against his closest relatives. For example, in Tadmor-Palmyra prison there is a common cell called the Youth Cell. This is its official name and it clearly indicates who its occupants are. At one point, this cell comprised 147 children whose ages ranged between 9 and 13 years old, all of whom hostages in lieu of their parents who had escaped outside the country. This is a regime that takes children as hostages, and seeks revenge on families.
When they failed to capture me the first time they took my daughter Sarah as a hostage to the Military Intelligence Section in Lattaqieh, and she was only 11 months old. They took her with her mother and put her in an underground cell for 3 weeks the weather was miserable that winter then they released the mother and placed her under house arrest at my parents home, and they kept the baby as a hostage to force me to surrender myself. Naturally I did not surrender. So they later had to return Sarah to my family.
Now there is nothing they can do to me, so they have started retaliating against my parents. Bashar Assad and his government issued 3 decrees forcing my brothers Salah, Amjad, and Mamdouh from their jobs as teachers because they refused to issue a statement condemning my comments, disowning me, and calling me an agent and a spy for imperialists and Zionists and other such labels from the cheap list we are accustomed to hearing in Syria and the Arab world. And with all this, they could not accomplish anything. There is benefit whatsoever from collective punishment.
Q: What do you think is the contribution of
Arab regimes to the bankrupt state of Arab intellect and to the terrifying decadence that
is most evident in the rupture of communication between the regimes and their peoples?
A: I have a special concept for what is going on, and I call it Internal Colonialism. Most Arab countries were under external colonialism, British or French. When that colonialism ended, power was seized by a group of regimes flying nationalistic and liberationist slogans and that were either liberal or comprehensive ideological totalitarian regimes such as the Fascist Baathist project in Syria and Iraq, or the dictatorial Nasserist project of Abdel Nasser. We subsequently discovered that these regimes were in reality no more than a continuation of external colonialism, at least in its practices. They repressed everyone in the name of social and economic development, and they claimed that development is a priority over freedoms. In the end, and after decades, we did not get the development but we lost democracy, and we found out that we are facing an internal colonialism, a genuine colonialism that is no less brutal than the external one, but in fact and on most occasions exceeded it in brutality. There is no better example to this than the Fascist regime of Saddam Hussein and the Syrian regime.
A comparison I had previously made in one of my articles is between, on one hand, French colonialism that ruled over Syria for 26 years, and on the other hand Baathist colonialism that has ruled over it from 1963 to the present. The losses that we suffered in terms of human and material losses during the liberation from French colonialism pale in comparison to those losses we took under the Baathist regime, especially under Hafez Assad. For the sake of illustration, consider the trial of Ibrahim Anano, one of the great revolutionary leaders who was charged by French colonialism of many accusations, each of which sufficed to sentence him to death under French law. He was tried in Beirut, at the time the seat of the French justice system, but he was exonerated of the crime of killing two French citizens, even as the Prosecutor sought the death sentence. In spite of all that, he was exonerated one month from the start of the trial.
That was external colonialism. What about internal colonialism? What have Hafez Assad and his son Bashar done? It is enough to point to Aref Dalila for example, who is a professor of economics and my teacher. He gave a lecture in the summer of 2001 and he talked about corruption and the need for reform in Syria, and about democracy and openness and transparency He was arrested and sentenced by the State Security Military Court to ten years This is unbelievable. This is internal colonialism. I now believe, and some in the Arab world think my beliefs are radical, non-patriotic and anti-nationalist etc., and I assume full responsibility for my beliefs.
I am now calling for toppling internal colonialism before we even think of toppling external colonialism. I said that before the American invasion of Iraq, and I am maybe on of the few voices in the Arab world who stood for the American invasion of Iraq, not out of love for the Americans and their invasion, but only because the Iraqi people had reached a point where they could not possibly get rid of the terrorist tyrant without such an operation. I am sorry that change dos not come from within, but what are we to do if the Iraqi people lose tens of thousands of dead and victims, and millions of displaced and exiled outside the country? In spite of all this, there are some big mouths in the Arab world, especially among the intellectual and the cultured elites, who say they are against Saddam and against the occupation. How can that be? I just dont understand. For decades now, Saddam has been slaughtering Iraqis without any hope in sight, and you were not able to rescue the Iraqi people. Now the people (of Iraq) have rid themselves of the internal colonialism, and if they decide to get rid of external colonialism I will stand with them. But enough slogans.
Please notice this nuance. On May 1 the Communists demonstrated and they held the sickle and the hammer and photos of Lenin and Stalin in the streets of Baghdad and under the protection of the Americans. Prior to that they could not even publish a trivial newspaper under Saddam!! I am for removing internal colonialism, and that should be the priority and the slogan of this phase. We must eliminate internal colonialism first before we are able to remove external colonialism.
Q: Do you believe that the American war on
Iraq will shock the Arab political mind into change? And if so, how?
A: Yes. I believe so and it has actually started. But unfortunately, what happened in Iraq, instead of having a positive change on the Arab intellectual mindset, meaning a re-examination of an entire set of ideas and ideologies that are prevalent since the fifties, we hear and see a more intense but otherwise same antiquated ideological refrain and populist sloganeering of the nationalist or extremist fundamentalist Islamic brand. Unfortunately these groups did not benefit (from the war) and are asking for turning around the American occupation and for attacking American interests etc Where were they when the Iraqi regime was slaughtering the Iraqi people? They were silent on what happened, as if in a deal with the devil.
There is a movement today in the Arab world that is just developing, which encompasses under its wing leftists, liberals, and even nationalists. This movement luckily supports taking a good look into a new set of ideas, and says that what brought us to this catastrophe, whether in Iraq or elsewhere, are the totalitarian regimes, the lack of democracy, and the inability of the people to maintain oversight over their destiny and to control their own daily lives and their political and economic fate.
I believe that what happened in Iraq, besides the misfortune of the invasion of a brotherly country, even an invasion has positive side effects whether in ridding us of Saddams terrorist regime or in shocking the Arab mind into believing that the cause of democracy is a high priority. When a society controls its own affairs and future it knows how to act. Therefore, there wont be any justification for an authoritarian dictatorial regime, and as a result, there wont be any possibility of outside interference. Its a blessing in disguise.
Q: Do you find a similarity between the
situation in the Arab world today and the one in Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the
fall of the Soviet Union?
A: I have always refused the comparison between the regimes in Eastern Europe and the regimes in the Arab world. There is only a similarity in tyranny and oppression, but the reality is that the regimes in Eastern Europe, despite their tyranny and oppression, created some kind of development such as, for example, the huge industrial base. But unfortunately these regimes were totalitarian ones. I believe that everything now depends on the American strategy. If it is sincere in wanting to create modern systems in the region, the present regimes will have to pack up and leave. However, until this very moment I am not sure that the Americans have a clear plan when it comes to democracy. These regimes are on the verge of collapse and if the West stops its backing even for a little bit they wont be able to resist more than a month, but unfortunately there are strategic interests that often dictate the rules.
Q: If the Syrian regime complies with the
American pressures, do you think it will remain in Syria?
A: Honestly, it did comply. The only strange difference here is that Saddams regime survived 12 years of American pressures whereas the regime of Bashar Assad did not last 12 hours, which is the (flying) distance between New York and Damascus, between Powells statements in Washington and his arrival in Damascus. So before Powell even landed in Damascus, Bashar Assad had already given in to all the demands, from closing the Palestinian offices to handing over the Iraqis to silencing Hezbollah, etc
Q: But yesterday we heard Burns saying that
the Syrians did not comply?
A: They did not comply with all the other demands and conditions. They closed the Palestinian offices and handed over the Iraqis and put pressures on Hezbollah to stop its fiery speeches and more of this kind of thing. But there are other demands they did not comply with like the disarming of Hezbollah because that is a bargaining chip in the Syrian regimes hand. Bashar Assad, and Hafez before him, fight from behind the back of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Their own front has been quiet since 1974 without a bullet being fired across the border, whereas they want Lebanon to liberate the Golan! I do not understand that equation. If you want to fight and liberate your land, what does Lebanon have to do with it? Why is the Lebanese peoples front active and does it have to pay the price for being the smallest and powerless in the region? Why does Lebanon have to pay the price?
I dont think that the Syrian regime will comply with all the demands because if it does it wont have anything left. All the slogans it put up will vanish, and with them the Syrian regime will lose its raison dÍtre. The regime will have no slogans or pretenses to sell the Syrian street like the ones it has been selling until now, like nationalism, liberating the land and Palestine Even as far as the Palestinian claim is concerned, the regime said it will accept what the Palestinians accept, including the Roadmap. The Syrian Foreign Minister, Farouq Al-Sharaa, even added a demand for a Syrian Roadmap. I believe this regime has no more reason for being than to manage calm in the region and avoid a political void. Unfortunately, if the Syrian regime falls now, there is no substitute for it, neither in the opposition or elsewhere, and we have Iraq as an example of that.
Q: If the Syrian regime falls, do you think
that sectarian strife will ensue?
A: We in Syria never knew of such a thing called sectarianism. And it is a strange paradox that only during what is called the secular Baath regime, the secular Baathist regime is the one that incited sectarian feelings and fueled them in Syria. The first Prime Minister after the French mandate was a Christian of Lebanese descent. He is Fares Khoury and he was appointed for two terms and he was Syrias strong voice both internally and internationally. But during the secular Baathist regime no Christian attained any official position, and that is really a scandal and a crime. I do not worry about a sectarian issue in Syria. There might be the Islamic Fundamentalist movement that might be trying to stir up feelings of revenge towards the Alawi sect in Syria and, unfortunately, we do not see a clear position on the part of the Fundamentalist movement in regards to that issue. They continue to say that the Alawi sect is ruling Syria The Alawi sect is not ruling Syria, especially since the majority of the secular Syrian political prisoners are Alawis. I am an example of that, so is Dr. Abed Al Aziz Al Khayyir who is sentenced for 22 years and he is an Alawi from Kordaha and a relative of the Assads. He comes from the largest Alawi family. Twenty-two years is the longest sentence to be handed down to a political prisoner in Syria since independence.
The regime practiced sectarianism in Syria and counted on some of the sects prominent figures and army officers, but in reality it is not the Alawi sect that is ruling. Go to our village and you will see first hand the famine and poverty.
Q: Do you think that Syrias civil
society institutions are still existent under the Baath regime, and will they be able to
fill the void if the regime collapses?
A: There are no civil society institutions and this is a very serious and dangerous problem. The first thing these totalitarian regimes do when they get to power is destroy all expressions and organizations of civil society, in Syria like in Iraq. All the unions, associations, and student organizations are affiliated with the apparatus of the ruling regime, so if the regime collapses they will also collapse as they did in Iraq.
Q: You mean void and chaos?
A: Exactly. For this reason, if the Syrian regime had one iota of smartness and learned the lessons of Iraq, it has to immediately expand the base of democracy as much as possible to allow the institutions of civil society to reemerge because they represent the essential guarantee for the nation. After Bashar arrived and gave a small green light for the people, civil organizations were quickly re-energized but six months later they issued orders to terminate all forums and the figures of the civil movement were arrested.
Q: How do you see the Syrian occupation of
Lebanon and how do you envisage the exemplary relation between the two countries?
A: This is a very important issue. I always shame the Syrian opposition for not addressing this issue except for Riyad Al-Turk who took an honorable position regarding this issue back in 1976 when he stood against Syrian meddling in Lebanon. Lately after his release from jail, he went back to speaking up on that subject, in addition to very few other voices. But in general I shame the Syrian opposition and the Syrian democratic movement inside and outside of the country because it does not give this question enough attention. From a legal and theoretical standpoint Syria is not occupying Lebanon because there is a legal pretext that the Lebanese puppet regime gives Syria. But the reality on the ground in Lebanon and the truth are that Syrias actions in Lebanon are absolutely those of an occupier. All its practices are those of a force of occupation, even though in theory it is not one since the puppet regime in power in Lebanon provides it with the legal cover, so to speak.
Here I would like to discuss a very important point never addressed by any journalist. In his interview with the Kuwaiti daily Al-Anbaa two weeks ago, Bashar Assad said that security is under control in Lebanon, that the Lebanese authorities are strong, and that there is no more reason for the presence of Syrian troops on Lebanese soil!! Ok, this is new language, but he goes on to say that Syria is present in Lebanon because of the conflict with Israel. Here I would like to ask Bashar Assad and those who echo these words: What have the Syrian troops done against Israel since their presence in Lebanon from 1976 up until now? Israel ravaged Lebanese soil time and time again from land, air, and sea and despite all of that it was never confronted by the Syrian troops. Then why are you present there if you never fired a single bullet? Bashar admitted that the internal pretext (for the Syrian presence) no longer exists, so does the pretext of security, and the pretext he uses with respect to the Israeli issue is also basically gone, so what is keeping him in Lebanon??
I believe there is a gang within the regime, and it is a true Mafia gang made up of Mukhabarat Intelligence agents and army generals who have an interest in turning Lebanon into a farm because it is a cash cow to them, and they dont want to close that tap. This is a disaster. Imagine that most generals in the Syrian army, as well as their men, have become millionaires because of their presence in Lebanon. As far as I am concerned Syria should leave Lebanon today, not just to protect the Syrian army that has become forty thousand thieves and smugglers, and is politically, morally, and ideologically bankrupt and without any military value because of the lack of discipline and corruption, but more importantly because there exists a big wound between us and our Lebanese brothers. I am now ashamed when I see a Lebanese citizen. I am ashamed when I know that my countrys forces are acting as occupiers on Lebanese soil. I would like to apologize to every Lebanese citizen even though I am not responsible for these actions, not me and not the Syrian people.
That is only part of the story. There is also the fact that the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon wont be enough. There is another issue that needs to be solved to get true reconciliation, if I may say so, between Lebanon and Syria, between the Syrian people and the Lebanese people, even though there is no problem between the two peoples, and that issue is the Lebanese who are missing in Syria. This issue should be discussed out in the open, and in my opinion it constitutes a more important matter than the Syrian withdrawal because true reconciliation cannot be achieved between the two countries as long as there are Lebanese people who feel that their relatives are still missing in Syria, and that will remain a permanent disgrace on us.
We have to find out what happened to these people. If they have been killed, God forbids, the Syrian regime has to confess to their fate and prosecute whoever was responsible for their kidnapping and killing. As far as I am concerned these two matters (the withdrawal and the missing persons) are essential in order to attain real reconciliation between Lebanon and Syria.
Q: The relationship between the Lebanese and
the Syrian peoples is a strategic one and they cannot abandon each other.
A: Of course. In the past, in the 1950s, any opposition member, writer, or journalist who wanted to flee Syria used to find refuge in Lebanon. Lebanon was the shelter of freedom.
Q: Even the statement published yesterday by
Syrian intellectuals came out of Lebanon and not from Syria.
A: Yes, do you see the strange paradox there?
Q: Do you think that the Syrian
opposition that is emerging now will be capable of bringing about change?
A: I believe that change cannot happen in one push unless it is driven by an outside force like what happened in Iraq. Change is a cumulative process and the opposition has to work with this cumulative process. Today the petition was signed by 287 persons, but the next one should be the petition of a million citizen. This would be an indirect referendum about the legitimacy of the regime. Peaceful struggle should continue, and I am against violence. You have to build through an internal program of change in order to achieve results.
Q: Some have compared you to the
activist Vaclav Havel who got to power after being jailed. Do you find that to be a
A: No, and for a very simple reason. If my father were to be at the helm of the state, I would have to be in the ranks of the opposition. I am in the opposition by nature.
Q: Even with a decent government?
A: Even if the government was democratic, there has to be an opposition to maintain democracy. I have a French friend who always says that democracy in France is protected only by the opposition. Democracy is a daily struggle, and not a permanent state that needs protection and evolution. Opposition is a must.