I spent a few days in Damascus at the end of February, and was able to get a ground reality view of the effects of the Bush administration’s (former) campaign for the forced ‘democratization’ of Middle Eastern societies on the work of Syrian citizens with long experience struggling for human rights and democracy in their country.
Bottom line: “Very bad indeed.”
That was the verdict rendered on the Bushites’ ‘democratization’ campaign by Danial Saoud, the President of the venerable Committee for the Defence of Human Rights and Democratic Freedoms in Syria (CDF).
Saoud was himself a political prisoner from 1987 through 1999, and has been President of the CDF since August 2006. He was adamant that what Syria’s rights activists need most of all right now is a resolution of their country’s state of war with Israel.
Speaking of Condoleezza Rice he said,
- Her pressure on the regime had a very bad effect for us. Now, for 18-24 months the Americans and Europeans have put a lot of pressure on the regime– but the regime then just pushes harder on us.
Mazen Darwish, who is Saoud’s colleague in the CDF’s three-person Presidential Council, told me,
- Before the US invasion of Iraq, people here in Syria liked us, the human rights activists, and we had significant popular sympathy. But since what happened in Iraq, people here say ‘Look at the results of that!’
Saoud stressed that for Syrians, the question of Israel’s continued occupation of Syria’s Golan region itself constitutes a significant denial of the rights of all the Syrian citizens affected– both those who remain in Golan, living under Israeli military occupation rule there, and those who had fled when Israel occupied Golan in 1967 and have had to live displaced from their homes and farms for the 40 years since then. “Golan is Syrian land, and we have all the rights to get it back,” he said.
In addition, he and the other rights activists I talked with pointed to the fact that the continuing state of war between Syria and Israel has allowed the Syrian regime to keep in place the State of Emergency that was first imposed in the country in 1963. “All these regimes in this area say they are postponing the issue of democracy until after they have solved the issues of Golan and Palestine,” he said.
- So let’s get them solved! Everything should start from this. The people in both Syria and Israel need peace. We need to build a culture of peace in the whole area.