Syria needs freedom
By: Charbel Khouri -UALM

The young Syrian President Bashar al Assad must surely be starting to get a little nervous about the repercussions of the new status quo in the Middle East Bashar al Assad witnessed the demise of both the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and then the Baath regime of his neighbour Saddam Hussein in Iraq. As both Afghanistan and Iraq make their first tentative steps in the transition from dictatorship to democracy alarm bells must be sounding in the halls of power in Syria. Bashar al Assad and his ‘old guard’ whom he inherited from his father along with the Presidency should be getting worried because his regime is not much different from the two deposed regimes and he certainly doesn’t want to meet the same fate.

Bashar al Assad came to power after the rubber stamp parliament amended the Syrian constitution to allow him to become president. He was sworn in as Syria’s youngest president amid promises of reform and change. In actual fact in the first few months of his tenure there were positive signs. Hundreds of political prisoners were released and the government even allowed the establishment of a private newspaper. It seemed that Assad was willing to ditch his fathers brutal policies and begin to implement much needed reform. But it wasn’t to be, Bashar never lived up to his promises and failed to implement anything he mentioned in his inaugural speech.

Had he delivered on what he promised and worked to implement reform and democracy in Syria, he might not be in the predicament he is currently finds himself in and the US could even have looked favourably on his regime. But unfortunately for Bashar al Assad and his group of thugs it seems as though time has run out. He has shown time and again that he and his Baath regime are not to be trusted. The fact that they weren’t invited along with their Lebanese puppets to the latest round of Mid East Peace talks in Sharm el Sheik and in Aqaba is a clear sign that the current Syrian government is not considered to be a partner in peace and does not have a role to play in the ‘new’ Middle East. Like the regimes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein the dictatorial regime of Bashar al Assad has no place in the new democratic Middle East.

Syria is a country that with the proper leadership could play a very important and pivotal role in any future Middle East peace agreement at the moment though Syria is an obstacle to any comprehensive peace settlement. The current government not only refuses any peace talks with Israel but it also doesn’t allow Lebanon, the country it has occupied for 28 years to engage in peace talks either. The puppet Lebanese government who receives its orders from Damascus via Anjar has effectively tied the Lebanese and Syrian peace tracks together ruling out any peace agreement with Israel.

Lebanon has always wanted peace with all its neighbours and in 1983 Lebanon was very close to signing and ratifying a peace agreement with Israel. The May 17th Agreement as it was known would have ended the state of war which exists between the two states and would have put Lebanon on par with Egypt and Jordan the two other Arab countries whom have ended hostilities with Israel and concluded peace treaties with the Jewish State. Unfortunately for Lebanon and the whole region the May 17th Agreement was never signed due to the fact that the Syrian government of the then President Hafiz al Assad applied enormous pressure and threatened Lebanon with horrendous consequences if the Lebanese Government went ahead and ratified the agreement. Thus a chance at peace was lost and Lebanon was left to deal with the consequences.

A simple solution to getting the peace process back on track is to remove from power those whom are an obstruction to peace. Bashar al Assad has proven that he does not want peace. This became obvious if it wasn’t previously, straight after US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit to Damascus. The visit’s aim was to press upon Syria’s co-operation on certain issues among them ending Syria’s support for terrorism and ending its occupation of Lebanon. The Secretary of State has made it clear in several separate statements that the Syrians are not co-operating to the level that is expected from them. What is needed now is a government in Damascus who is willing to steer Syria in a new direction, the direction of peace, democracy and reform. While signs are evident of increasing dissent in Syria any opposition is swiftly dealt with and thus the opposition is unable to make any progress for the simple fact that their work is hindered by the state and its merciless Gestapo style moukhabarat (secret service). The same cant be said for the opposition abroad however, opposition groups outside of Syria have flourished in recent times since they are able to go about their political work without fear of persecution, kidnapping and torture.

One such vocal opposition group is the US based Reform Party of Syria (RPS). The RPS is an opposition group that has put forward a comprehensive political agenda for reform and freedom in Syria. The RPS is a group of Syrian-American individuals from all religions and political persuasions. Apart from pushing for internal reform on all levels the RPS also touches on foreign policy issues, with calls for the withdrawal of the Syrian Army from Lebanon. They recognise Lebanon as a sovereign, independent country a view that is welcomed by the Lebanese people who have long suffered under the harsh and brutal Syrian occupation. The RPS realises that the Baath regime of Bashar al Assad is a liability to Syria and the region and is an obstacle in the aim of achieving total peace in the area. It is by no coincidence that groups such as the RPS and others who have similar goals are quickly expanding and are receiving large amounts of attention. The Syrian people finally have a voice to express their views albeit from abroad.

Should Bashar al Assad continue defying international pressures and should he choose ignore the new dynamics in the region, he and his Baath regime cronies will quickly find themselves on the receiving end of the wrath of the oppressed Syrian people with scenes in Damascus mirroring the jubilant scenes of Baghdad. The sentiment of the Syrian people was summed up very well by an anonymous young man in downtown Damascus on CNN who when asked his thoughts on the euphoric scenes in Baghdad, replied with a wry smile that "We too have many statues here!" alluding to the fact that the statues in Syria will one day come down as they did in Iraq. For the sake of peace and freedom, lets hope its sooner rather than later.