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Syria’s Dictator Must Go

An exclusive interview with a leader of the Syrian opposition.

by
Joseph Puder

Bio

April 7, 2011 - 12:00 am
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President Obama alienated Saudi King Abdullah when he announced that “Mubarak must go.” Obama followed that call with another, this time for the ouster of Libya’s Col. Moammar Gaddafi. Mubarak and Gaddafi haven’t killed as many of their own people as have Syria’s Hafez Assad and his son, sitting dictator Bashar Assad. But we have yet to hear President Obama call for “Assad to go.” Rather, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called Assad “a different leader” and a reformer, and the administration has been silent when it comes to this brutal anti-American killing his own people who are demonstrating for a genuine democracy and freedom.

More significantly, those opposing the Syrian dictatorial regime are from diverse ethnic and religious groups, including Alawis (the kinsmen of Assad), Kurds, Christians, Druze, and Sunni Arabs. The Syrian opposition seeks the abolition of the state’s emergency law and demands the rule of law through the ballot box. Contrast this profile with that of Libya’s opposition groups, whose leaders’ ultimate purpose and attitude toward the West are still largely unknown (there are allegations of rebel connections with al-Qaeda).

Sherkoh Abbas, president of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria and a leader of the Syrian opposition, demands the abolition of Article VIII of the Syrian constitution, which has heretofore given the Baath party exclusive powers to govern. The opposition further demands a new constitution that would represent all Syrians — Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Druze, and Alawis. It is time, Abbas and the opposition contend, for Syria to become a federal state, affording protection to minorities by establishing autonomous districts governed accordingly.

During a telephone interview from Dubai, Abbas delineated further demands that have been agreed upon by all opposition members, including the repeal of laws and decrees instituted by the Assad regime, which allowed for the arbitrary confiscation of properties and funds, and the return of these assets to their rightful owners.

Furthermore, they want the corrupt members of the ruling Baath party held accountable — and they want the passage of strict legislation which would prosecute any such corruption in the future.

Personally, Abbas noted that he “would like to see the abolition of the national differentiation between the two main ethnic groups in Syria: Arabs and Kurds. This would amount,” he said, “to ending the discrimination and persecution of Kurds, the granting of citizenship to disenfranchised Kurds, the reversing of the Arabization policies of the Assad regime, which pursued the ethnic cleansing of Kurds and their return to their historical Kurdish regions of northeastern Syria.” Such changes would mean the abolition of the patronage system, which discriminates against Kurds in consideration for employment and housing.

Asked what kind of a Syria he would like to see, Sherkoh Abbas said Syria must be governed by a system that rewards merit — “a democratic, secular Syria that is a friend to the West, and at peace with Israel, a state that would exclude the Muslim Brotherhood and the extreme forms of Arab nationalism from power.”

Of all the Arab countries that have hitherto experienced uprisings, and whose dictators have been forced out of power (Tunisia, and Egypt, and possibly Gaddafi of Libya and Saleh of Yemen), Syria’s Assad is by far the most anti-American and poses the most danger to the region. He is a major sponsor of terrorism and has allowed the country to be used as a transit point for al-Qaeda terrorists to enter Iraq and kill American servicemen.

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