February 02, 2014
The first round of the Geneva II peace talks ended Friday, with little tangible progress to show after a week of meetings between government and opposition delegations. Among the talks’ limited successes was the Syrian government’s agreement to endorse—“with some reservation”—the Geneva Communiqué, the statement of principles that was put forward following the Geneva I conference in June 2012. The Communiqué calls for the establishment of “a transitional governing body” with “full executive powers.” Syrian National Coalition spokesman Louay Safi called the announcement “a positive step forward,” but nonetheless insisted that the government has no interest in ending the bloodshed in Syria and stated that his organization would not sit “endlessly” in peace talks.
Many Syrians inside the country share Safi’s skepticism, with one activist in Homs’ besieged Old City telling Syria Direct that “we all know the regime often betrays” its word. The roots of this distrust run far deeper than Syria’s nearly three-year-old civil war, stretching back across more than four decades of autocratic rule by Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez before him.
“A 1994 mural depicts Hafez al-Assad and Bassel al-Assad, Bashar’s father and elder brother. Photo courtesy of Nikolaos van Dam, The Struggle for Power in Syria.
Susan Ahmad is a prominent media activist and former English language spokesperson for the Revolutionary Council in outer Damascus. She spoke with Syria Direct’s Abdulrahman al-Masri about the Assad regime’s misleading rhetoric and Syrians’ deep-seated distrust of their government.
Q: Syrians often tell us “we know this regime”—how does the Syrian government behave toward Syrians? What is the message you have been getting for 40 years?
The regime is a group of people who are ready to kill anyone who says “no”—to destroy the whole country to stay in power, to lie and lie and pretend like nothing wrong is going on. What we have experienced with this regime is that every Syrian is worthless. The most important thing is staying in control and gaining money no matter how. You can’t get employed without paying a bribe and kissing the hands of some officials.
If you are an ordinary person, you have no rights or privileges as a citizen.
Being a Syrian means not being able to say a word against the regime, otherwise you’ll be arrested and tortured to death, because the regime recruited people to observe and report what others say about it.
The regime made Syrians believe that walls have ears, so nobody dares criticize the regime or say a word against it.
Q: How would you explain to Americans and foreigners the style in which Bashar and Hafez speak to Syrians?
They didn’t used to respect Syrians! They saw them as numbers, as a tool that they can use for their own interest. Bashar used to address Syrians whenever there was a foreign threat to mobilize people and show the world that he was a strong leader. He used to give empty slogans and look like a hero. I remember Bashar’s address when there was an Israeli threat of attacking Syria; he went on and on talking about our victories, and how we embarrassed Israel before and can do that in the future. At the end, he said “Syria is protected by God”—the next day there were banners with this statement as if we had achieved a great victory!
The strategy followed by Bashar and his father before him is to make people busy winning their bread so they won’t have time or the ability to think of getting a better regime.
Q: One person we interviewed said about Geneva II that “the regime will agree and then drown everyone in details.” What does that mean?
This is one of the regime’s mottos: Go into details and let people drown in details so they will forget about the main point.
Officials have said that many times, and it’s the regime’s policy to manipulate people and let them forget about the main cause while paying attention to minor things.
Q: Could you give an example of the regime using this strategy?
The most recent example is what’s going on in Geneva.
The regime is focusing on mentioning terrorism, while the most dangerous terror is the regime. It has never happened in history that a regime shells its own people just to stay in power.
The presidency is a job—the president is an employee, and should resign or step down when he’s unable to do his job properly or when people decide that he can’t be their president anymore. The presidency is not inherited. No one owns Syria to do whatever he wants.
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