Syria talkingpoints 08_31_11
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Syria talkingpoints 08_31_11

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With all the misinformation the regime continues to propagate, it is key to ensure we are communicating effectively the reality of what is happening in Syria.

With all the misinformation the regime continues to propagate, it is key to ensure we are communicating effectively the reality of what is happening in Syria.

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    Syria talkingpoints 08_31_11 Syria talkingpoints 08_31_11 Document Transcript

    • 32 Questions on Syria 8/31/111 - What’s going on in Syria? Since March 2011, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world, millions of Syrians have taken to the streets to peacefully demand the end of Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime and a change to a democratic form of government.2 - What was the trigger for the protests? Triggered by the torture of children who, inspired by revolutions in Tunisia & Egypt, sprayed anti-regime graffiti in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, what began as provincial grievances against corruption, nepotism, and human rights abuses has now reached a tipping point, with large segments of the Syrian population supporting change – there are major protests in every city, every day.3 - How has the Assad regime responded? The Assad regime’s response to the peaceful pro-democracy demands has been terrible and violent. As of mid-August 2011: • The United Nations has conservatively reported that more than 2,200 civilians have been murdered, including hundreds of children • More than 350 Syrian soldiers have been killed by the regime for disobeying orders to shoot unarmed protestors • More than 3,000 civilians have disappeared • Approximately 50,000 persons have been detained. They face torture and, in many cases, death • More than 15,000 people have become externally-displaced refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan • There are tens of thousands of internally-displaced civilians4 - What are the Syrian people demanding? Political platforms are evolving with a focus on developing a nation free from sectarian privileges and that represents all Syrians equally. Since March 2011, protestors have been calling for the fall of the Assad regime and have rejected the regimes disingenuous announcements of so-called reforms. There is no room for dialogue with the regime – there is no going back, as too many lives have been shattered and the regime has lost credibility and any opportunity to deliver substantive, meaningful reforms. The protest movement has held three key pillars to date:www.AllianceForSyria.org www.facebook.com/AllianceForSyria www.twitter.com/alliance4syr 1
    •  This is a peaceful revolution – no to violent resistance  The Syrian people are ONE – no to sectarianism  This is a Syrian people’s revolution – no to foreign military intervention5 - But wasn’t Bashar elected by the people? Assad “inherited” Syria in July 2000 after the death of his father Hafez Al-Assad, who ruled Syria as a police state for 30 years. At the age of 34, Bashar al-Assad, an ophthalmologist who studied in England, was thrust into power through the regime’s nomination. His election was rubberstamped by a referendum vote of over 97% (according to government statistics), but he was the only candidate on the ballot. Interestingly, the Syrian constitution’s age requirement for President was changed within hours, from 40 to 34, to allow this nomination. Does this sound like Bashar al-Assad was freely elected?6 - But doesnt Bashar al-Assad need time to reform the country? This regime had 11 years to deliver reforms, yet provided only symbolic reforms until street demonstrations started in March 2011. In fact, even the little relaxation of the police state that occurred after Bashar al-Assad’s “inheritance” of the throne (in a republic) was followed by serious repression, imprisonment, and torture of peaceful activists (the Damascus Spring). The regime is a de facto continuation of the one Bashar al-Assad inherited from his father, Hafez Al-Assad. While the president himself changed, the inner circle and the “mafia” running the nation has not.7 - Didn’t Bashar improve the nation? Actually, he did not. The gap between rich and poor has grown exponentially in Syria over the past 10 years. By opening Syria’s protected economy to the world market, and by favoring certain members of the regime elite to engage in business deals, Bashar al-Assad has enabled the wealthy to become wealthier, while the poor have become poorer. The president’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, is but one example of a business tycoon who monopolized Syrian industries – most famously the cell phone industry – and who charges a 10% tax on nearly every major business contract in Syria. As such, Rami Makhlouf has earned the nickname “Mr. 10 Percent.” Stability has not been a problem in Syria over the past 40 years as it has been at the expense of personal freedoms. The GDP in Syria is still one of the lowest in the region and three-fourths of Syrians live on less than $70 / month. The unemployment rate is as high as 20 % (exact figures are not provided by the government).www.AllianceForSyria.org www.facebook.com/AllianceForSyria www.twitter.com/alliance4syr 2
    • Furthermore, Syria’s national resources, such as oil and natural gas, go directly into the presidential budget, and are unaccounted for in the national budget.8 - But didnt Bashar announce reforms to address protesters’ demands? Bashar’s announcements have been purely symbolic and designed to appease the masses. The so-called reforms have not led to any tangible or meaningful change in the Syrian society. For example, in April 2011, the decades-old Emergency Law was repealed as an empty concession to the ongoing protests. This law was never the problem in itself; rather, the problem is that the regime is above the law. The invasiveness of the security forces into every aspect of life, with or without emergency laws, has only fueled the problem. Bashar even “decreed” in August 2011 a multi-party system. This is also a farce: How can a multi-party system exist when Article 8 in the Syrian Constitution guarantees the Ba’ath Party as “protectors of the nation”? With every announcement that Bashar makes, we see his so-called “reform” in action as protesters are shot in the streets for calling for change.9 - Will the regime fall? Absolutely – Syria has reached a tipping point, with large segments of the Syrian population supporting change – there are major protests in every city, every day. The regime will fall – it is just a matter of when, and how many more people will be killed in the process. The regime has so much blood on its hands that it is past the point of return – almost every family in Syria has had a family member killed, tortured, or imprisoned. It is personal for people.10 - Why will the regime fall? The brutality we have seen has only strengthened the resolve of the Syrian masses – with every Syrian who is tortured, detained, or murdered, more people who may have been “on the fence” realize that the regime has lost legitimacy, and is no longer in a sustainable position. Also, the momentum of the Arab streets is substantial – after witnessing the fall of dictators such as Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Gaddhafi, the Syrian people understand that this may be their only chance for a better life.www.AllianceForSyria.org www.facebook.com/AllianceForSyria www.twitter.com/alliance4syr 3
    • 11 - How will the regime fall? Many scenarios are plausible, with a combination of the following resulting in a situation where the regime can no longer survive:  In-fighting within the regime, among the brothers, as we saw in the mid-80s between Hafez al-Assad and his brother Rifaat. Ultimately, Rifaat was exiled from Syria.  Bankruptcy of the Syrian economy (currently on a lifeline from Iran) – the economy has been at a standstill since the protests began.  Divisions within the army – defections are increasing daily, and it is only a matter of time before a “free Syrian army” is mobilized.  Continued peaceful civil disobedience further keeps the nation in paralysis, ensuring that the regime can no longer govern.  Foreign international pressure, both economic and diplomatic, which is slowly tightening the noose around the regime’s neck. Please note, most Syrians living in Syria, as well as their expatriate counterparts, have been opposed to foreign military intervention.12 - But wait, aren’t there many Syrians who are pro-regime? We saw the protests! While there is a diverse set of opinions in Syria, the pro-regime rallies (aka the “minhibak” or “we love you” rallies) have been orchestrated directly by the regime.  They always take place on workdays so that government workers and students can be pressured to attend. For government workers, it’s a day out of the office; for students it’s an opportunity to get out of class. Often, these rallies are compulsory, where government workers and students are not permitted to miss them.  They are always choreographed with flags and celebrities, despite being publicized as spontaneous. Finally, there are no attacks on “mnhibik” rallies from the so-called Salafists, infiltrators, armed gangs, or foreign agents accused of being behind the protest movement – if there were, how many would still protest? Although there are pro-regime elements within Syrian society, the overwhelming majority of Syrians have made their voices clear. They have demanded an alternative to the ruling regime. The Syrian people have spoken.13 - Who makes up the Syrian opposition? The opposition is extremely diverse. For more than 40 years, being vocally opposed to the Syrian regime has not been an option. Naturally, this has led to a political vacuum in Syria, which is now being filled by:www.AllianceForSyria.org www.facebook.com/AllianceForSyria www.twitter.com/alliance4syr 4
    •  Youth activists, who are the backbone of the revolution and who organize communities into local and national committees.  Syrian intellectuals and members of banned parties within and outside Syria who have long demanded democratization but have been crushed in the past.  Syrian artists, including actors, political cartoonists, and singers, who have high profiles in Syrian society, yet are being treated violently by the regime.  Syrian expatriates, who had to leave their home country for a variety of reasons – political, financial, or other.  Religious figures from different sects (e.g., Sunni and Alawi leaders) who have refused to “worship” the president.  Others who have worked with and benefited from the Syrian regime in the past, but who lost their privileges. These people left to live abroad and now are eager to return to Syria. These individuals (e.g., Rifaat Al-Assad, Abdul Halim Khaddam) have been marginalized by the Syrian people, and are not taken seriously in any circles.14 - Why isnt the opposition united? Much has been made of the lack of an organized and united opposition, whether within Syria or abroad. This has been a major success for the regime. Brutality pays: over the past 40 years, through massacres, human rights violations, the culture of fear, sectarian divisions, and military and political impotency, virtually no institutions that could have been used as a means of opposing the regime have been left intact. With this reality, this explains why at the outset of the uprising, the organized opposition inside Syria was weak, and externally not very cohesive. However, despite the systematic assault on activists and community leaders across Syria (estimates are that one activist disappears every hour), the opposition and decentralized protest movement is maturing into a well-connected network of organizers, activists, and community leaders. All are preparing for the inevitable collapse of the Assad regime by electing local representatives and connecting them nationally and internationally, and formalizing political platforms.15 - Is the opposition cozying up to anti-Arab, anti-Syrian elements in the west? The Syrian opposition is very diverse. As with any fragmented network, many opportunists have jumped on board without keeping in mind the best interests of the revolution. It is critical to note that the Syrian people will not accept an externally-fabricated opposition that does not reflect the aspirations of the Syrian people. A classic example is Farid Ghadry (the Syrian Chalabi), based in Washington, DC who has previously appeared before Israels Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to address interests in Syria. He has been summarily rejected within opposition circles.www.AllianceForSyria.org www.facebook.com/AllianceForSyria www.twitter.com/alliance4syr 5
    • In addition, the Syrian people will not accept former agents of the regime, who have now switched sides. Perfect examples of this are Abdul Halim Khaddam and Rifaat al-Assad, who had at some point been as brutal to the Syrian people as the regime itself. There are also examples of human rights advocates speaking at Zionist organizations. While it is impossible to monitor every individual statement, these people do not represent the movement itself, and the general consensus is that Syrians oppose these sort of engagements.16 - Is the opposition serving a foreign agenda? The opposition started from within Syria for political, humanitarian, and socio- economic reasons, and will remain centered in Syria. Syrian expatriates are providing as much financial, political, and moral support as possible to the peaceful movement; however, the revolution remains grounded in serving one priority: the average Syrian citizen’s agenda.17 - Does the opposition have a plan for “What’s Next”? Rebuilding the nation after 40 years of systematic destruction of all civil society in Syria is no easy task. There is a lot of work to be done; the goal is to implement a practical foundation behind which Syrians of all backgrounds can rally. The opposition has matured and become much more organized, holding conferences in cities such as Ankara, Istanbul, Paris, and Brussels. These opposition groups are already connecting with groups inside Syria and laying the foundation for the “day after” the inevitable fall of the Assad regime.18 - But who will lead Syria if the regime falls? There are thousands of activists and community leaders who are willing to unite and lead their nation forward. Despite the systematic assault on activists and community leaders across Syria (estimates are that one activist disappears every hour), the opposition and decentralized protest movement is maturing into a well-connected network of organizers, activists, and community leaders. All are preparing for the inevitablwww.allianceforsyria.org Page 6 8/31/11e collapse of the Assad regime by electing local representatives and connecting them nationally and internationally, and formalizing political platforms. Many have raised the concern that no key personalities are known entities – while this is true, the future stability of Syria will no longer need to depend on the cult of personality that has been dominant over the last 40 years of Assad rule.19 - But the regime says these people are foreign infiltrators?www.AllianceForSyria.org www.facebook.com/AllianceForSyria www.twitter.com/alliance4syr 6
    • In a country that has been ruled by an extremely harsh dictatorship for 40 years, it is ludicrous to presume that foreign infiltrators would be able to spring up overnight and continue to have a presence in Syria for months on end. The only evidence of foreign infiltrators has been that of Hezbollah and Iranian snipers and guards, who have assassinated peaceful demonstrators and trained regime security forces to continue their brutality against a peaceful civilian population.20 - Isn’t Bashar providing security & defending Syria against violence by “armedgangs”? In a nation that has been ruled by a harsh dictatorship for more than 40 years, it is absurd to presume that armed gangs have suddenly appeared in every town, village, and city across the country. The only evidence of armed gangs has been that of pro-regime “Shabiha” (the regime’s armed thugs and death squads) who have brutalized the population at the orders of the regime.21 - But the regime says these protests are religious fanatics, Salafists? It is clear that the protest movement represents every corner of Syria – from Lattakia on the coast, to Deir Ezzor near the Iraqi border, to Damascus. To claim that these millions are religious fanatics is not only ludicrous, but also a gross distortion of reality. For one, there is no organized religious opposition in Syria, as it was effectively wiped out by Hafez Al-Assad in the 1980s. Even the word “Salafi” was only introduced into Syrian discourse by the regime within the last 6 months. In addition, one of the main chants throughout Syria has been “Alshaab Alsoory wahid” or “The Syrian people are one!” – that doesn’t sound like fanaticism, does it? The regime has tried to play this card for a few reasons:  To convince the population that only the current regime can ensure stability.  To play on the fears of sectarian strife, which run deep in the minds of many Syrians, given the history of brutal minority rule and the civil wars in Lebanon and Iraq.  To scare religious minority groups (e.g., Christians and Druze) into continued submission.  To prey on Western fears of Islamic fundamentalist penetration.22 - Who says the protestors are peaceful? While a small number of protesters may have resorted to violence, there is no organized armed resistance. In cases of violence, it is mostly in response to securitywww.AllianceForSyria.org www.facebook.com/AllianceForSyria www.twitter.com/alliance4syr 7
    • force / Shabiha attacks, but even then, they are a small minority of those involved in the uprising. The few of those who have resorted to violence have largely used Molotov cocktails, stones, and hunting rifles, which are no match for the full military power of Syrian forces, including tanks and helicopter gunships. Army defectors have repeatedly confirmed that they were ordered to fire on unarmed protesters. These are the terrorists and armed gangs to which the regime refers to.23 - Who is killing the brave Syrian soldiers? There are very few documented accounts of Syrian security personnel being killed by protestors; however, there are numerous eyewitness reports from military defectors recounting situations in which soldiers who defected or refused to take up arms were shot by officers or fellow soldiers.24 - But the regime says the revolution will benefit Syria’s “enemies”? This regime is the enemy of Syria, and for decades has compromised the national ideals and aspirations of the Syrian people. For example, more bullets have been fired at Syrian protesters on any single day since the uprising began than on the Golan front over the past 40 years. The Assad regime has gladly collaborated with the US to support the War on Terror. Even Rami Makhlouf, Bashar al-Assad’s cousin, recently stated, “If there is no stability here, there’s no way there will be stability in Israel.” It is time for the Syrian people to control their own destiny by building a strong nation that protects the nation, not the interests of the regime.25 - But isn’t this fabricated by the media? This is all blown out of proportion! With very little access by international press (as it has been restricted by the regime to enter the country) the people have become citizen-journalists documenting the atrocities, protests, and funerals across the nation. If this is blown out of proportion and all footage is skewed, one must ask, why is the regime not allowing foreign press into the country? Or, why doesn’t the regime allow UN observers to freely move around the country?26 - But won’t revolution will destroy the economy? The Syrian economy has been at a standstill; however, the nation’s economy has been manipulated for the personal benefit of the regime, specifically, the Assad family for generations.www.AllianceForSyria.org www.facebook.com/AllianceForSyria www.twitter.com/alliance4syr 8
    • The gap between rich and poor has grown exponentially in Syria over the past 10 years. By opening Syria’s protected economy to the world market, and by favoring certain members of the regime elite to engage in business deals, Bashar Al-Assad has enabled the wealthy to become wealthier, while the poor have become poorer. The GDP in Syria is still one of the lowest in the region and three-fourths of Syrians survive on less than $70 / month. The unemployment rate is as high as 20% (exact figures are not provided by the government). Furthermore, Syria’s national resources, such as oil and natural gas, go directly into the presidential budget, and are unaccounted for in the national budget. One of the goals of the revolution is to ensure that the wealth of the nation is directly invested into the country, and not into the pockets of the regime.27 - What about sectarianism? Minority rights? Everyone in Syria has suffered at the hands of the regime, whether Sunni, Christian, Alawi, Druze, Kurd, Circassian, or any of the other ethnicities which make up the Syrian cultural fabric. This is the shared experience of the Syrian people under the Assad rule. The issue in Syria is not about minority rights; rather, it is about basic human rights and equality for all, regardless of sect or ethnicity. This is what is meant when protestors chant “Alshaab alsoory wahid” “The Syrian people are one!” Furthermore, the regime is desperately trying to instigate sectarian responses by using sectarian tactics:  Alawite-dominated military units (Republican Guard, Maher Al-Assad’s 4th Brigade) and militias and gangs (Shabiha) have been responsible for most of the killings.  These groups are aiming to provoke Sunnis across the nation by attacking religious institutions, burning Korans, and targeting religious leaders.28 - Won’t this revolution lead to a civil war? This revolution will hopefully not lead to civil war, especially if the regime fails in its attempt to divide the Syrian society. Sectarian strife is being promoted by the regime to create chaos in order to justify its existence. Bashar Al-Assad has already indicated that if the regime is forced out, they will burn the nation. However, as many in Syria have stated, the revolution must succeed, as the alternative to a new Syria will be too terrible to imagine.www.AllianceForSyria.org www.facebook.com/AllianceForSyria www.twitter.com/alliance4syr 9
    • 29 - But doesn’t the Assad regime defend the causes of the Arab people? The Assad regime has perpetuated a myth of resistance since it took over Syria. They have, for a long time, aligned their public narrative with the desires of the people, hence creating the illusion, both internally and across the Arab world, that they are brave protectors of Arab ideals. Their narrative, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. For example, more bullets have been fired at Syrian protesters on any single day since the uprising began in March 2011 than on the Golan front over the past 40 years. The Assad regime has gladly collaborated with the US to support the War on Terror. Even Rami Makhlouf, Bashar al-Assad’s cousin, recently stated, “If there is no stability here, there’s no way there will be stability in Israel.” Lebanese and Palestinian people have also been longtime targets of the regime; more Lebanese have been killed in the past 20 years by Syrians than by Israelis. Moreover, as confirmed by UNRWA, thousands of Palestinian refugees fled their camps in the city of Lattakia due to regime bombardment in August 2011. It is about self-preservation for the regime – if you are a threat to their control you will be dealt with accordingly.30 - What role does the international community play? The international community has an obligation to support the people of Syria in their time of need through political and economic isolation of the regime. Specifically the following five actions are required:  Declare Bashar Al-Assad’s regime illegitimate and call for him to step down.  Impose further sanctions on the regime and the industrial sectors propping up the regime (e.g., oil and gas).  Exert pressure through the United Nations to isolate the regime (e.g., UN Security Council resolution; referral to the International Criminal Court).  Pressure Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan to declare Syrians seeking refuge as refugees, not visitors, to enable UN access to provide protection and assistance.  Showcase solidarity with the pro-democracy movement by severing or minimizing diplomatic relations with the Assad regime.31 - What role should the UN play? The UN has a very specific role to play, and should focus on:  Adopting a UNSC resolution declaring the Assad regime illegitimate.  Pushing for the temporary suspension of all Syrian activities in the UN.  Pressuring the UNSC to refer regime leaders to the International Criminal Court.www.AllianceForSyria.org www.facebook.com/AllianceForSyria www.twitter.com/alliance4syr 10
    •  Assigning a special representative of the Secretary-General to go to Syria, act as a monitor, and report back to UN until the crisis is over.  Leveraging the full resources of UN humanitarian response to support Syrian refugees.32 - Why is Syria important to the US? Syria is essential for most US foreign policy goals in the Middle East: Syria is a key influencer in ensuring stability in Iraq; is at the core of both Iran’s and Turkey’s regional policy; is still in a state of war with Israel; and it is a major stakeholder in Lebanon’s political landscape. A democratic Syria will without a doubt be of interest to the US, especially if the Syrian people view the US as a friend in their time of need rather than a nation that stood on the sidelines while Syrians bravely demanded their freedom from a ruthless regime.www.AllianceForSyria.org www.facebook.com/AllianceForSyria www.twitter.com/alliance4syr 11