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November 19, 2011

Meeting with Bashar Alassad

Translation by Sheila on Walls

This is what Bashar Alassad said during his meeting with us:
by Houssam Arian on Friday, November 18, 2011 at 3:03pm (from FB)

First, I would like to point out that I refused to publish the disastrous aspect of our debate earlier. What I said, was published by Alsafir Newspaper in one sentence that boils down to this: We went to propose solutions, not to ask for personal favors, despite that, some of the people present did have personal favors to ask. I would also like to say that I resent the question: “what are your demands?” that we heard over and over from every regime representative that we met and earlier over the broadcast of “the students’ voice”. It felt like we were there on a begging mission.

On May 5, 2011 and through a phone call that I received from the Student union of Syrian students, I was informed that my name came up along with a group of other Syrian youth from all over Syria, to attend a meeting with the president Alassad to discuss the current situation. I was also told that the meeting will take place in two days, i.e. on May 7, 2011. I accepted and traveled to Damascus to attend the meeting at the presidential palace. We all went in. A group of 14 young men and women. After they welcomed us and we introduced ourselves, the meeting started. I chose to be the last to ask any questions about problems and solutions, hoping not to steal anybody else’s ideas without realizing it. Here is what amazed me in terms of the answers that we received:

We have to activate the role of the Baath party, because in the last few decades, the Syrian citizens did not feel the importance of the ruling party in the government.

This was the president’s answer to a young woman who came from Homs, when she asked about the proposed idea to cancel article 8 of the constitution with the utmost speed, so that we avoid arguments and allow the opposition free speech and permit the establishment of parties opposed to the Baath party.

Military service, in its current condition is in fact national service. Even if you thought of a doctor manning a check point and fighting. In doing so, he is in fact serving his nation.

This was the answer that one of the participants from Qamishli received, when he suggested that we should transform the concept of military service into national service. This will allow us to use the young conscripts in their fields of expertise, like sending engineers to participate in government projects or sending teachers to teach in underserved areas. This will achieve two objectives: first, is covering all the schools in Syria and second, is saving a good amount of money that can be used to improve the schools infrastructure in some areas.

It was the turn of a guy from Hasakeh, who had a simple request: can we stop the beatings and killings by the intelligence services. If they are trying to arrest someone, why don’t they do it with a little respect?

The answer was that we are working on training police forces specializing in dealing with demonstrations. They will start their work within the next few months.

I believe that these were the most important questions asked before it was my turn and I asked three questions:

The first was that since the government account of what is happening in Syria is the truth and not lies and fabrications, why don’t we allow the press to come to Syria and see what is going on to prove once and for all that the Syrian government is telling the truth.

The answer was that we do not need the outside press for two reasons: first, because press agencies have reporters all over the world except in Syria, this is why they need to get their news from our Syrian press and we will give them the truth about what is happening on our soil, second, our press throughout these past years never had the chance to shine on the world stage. Today it is taking advantage of this opportunity to increase its expertise in this field.

My second question was: Arabs in general tend to lean to the emotional side. This characteristic is a good one, but can prove detrimental if it is not dealt with properly. This is why I suggest that the intelligence services avoid random arrests and treat detainees in a humane and civilized manner.

The answer was that yes, we are emotional, and to overcome what you talked about, we should first and foremost, follow the truthful press on this earth. this will help guide us on where to go with our emotions. I have also answered your friend that we are working on training the police to deal with the demonstrators with respect.

My third question was: since you have the leadership, the wisdom and the judicial system, why haven’t we seen till this day any trial for those who are complicit and guilty of killing Syrians like Atef Najeeb?

The answer was with a lowered head: yes, Atef Najeeb is complicit, but no one filed a law suit against him. In addition, he is my first cousin and I have not seen him in 22 years.

Here I could not control myself and dared to interrupt him to point out that only yesterday a few of my friends were arrested during a demonstration that they were not even participating in. When we went to try to get them out through the judicial system, we were told: who are you going to sew? Here he asked me to give him the names of my detained friends, but I had one more question: what is the fate of the other detainees? He continued addressing the group saying:

yesterday there were 19 people arrested in Seif Aldowleh, all of whom are hobos.

I interrupted him again to say: of the 19 that you just mentioned, 5 are doctors. In addition, the arrests that night exceeded 200. Then I continued: and how about the new demonstration law?

His answer was: we do not care who is demonstrating, rather who is documenting the event and sending it to the foreign press.

After a few seconds, his personal guard came in to tell us that our time was up. Before we left, the president asked if one of us would volunteer to appear on Aldunya news channel live, to talk about our meeting with him. He received no answer from anyone of us. Everyone was quiet for a little while, when he interjected: has it reached that level? The answer came from me and the person next to me simultaneously: and a lot more.

Dissident: A tiny push will end al-Assad regime

Friday, November 18, 2011

Barçın Yinanç
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
People in the Baath party are waiting for another vessel to come along to jump from the regime ship, says a member of the opposition. There will come a time when the regime will fall with a tiny push, according to Khaled Khoja, who is a member of Syrian National Council, which is seeking for international recognition.
The second meeting with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was tantamount to moral recognition of the Syrian National Council, says its member Khaled Khoja (R), speaking in his personal office in Istanbul.  DAILY NEWS photos, Hasan ALTINIŞIK
The second meeting with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was tantamount to moral recognition of the Syrian National Council, says its member Khaled Khoja (R), speaking in his personal office in Istanbul. DAILY NEWS photos, Hasan ALTINIŞIK

Q: What makes you say the Syrian National Council (SNC) represents nearly 80 percent of the Syrians, which is a very ambitious claim? 

A: The gist of the SNC was actually a gathering of diaspora opposition who were seeking ways to support the demonstrators on the streets and had no claim to representation. But when the regime attempted to establish an alternative opposition group, the street forced the outside groups to assume responsibility. So we take our legitimacy from the street.

Q: What is the street? How can you judge their support from here?

A: There have been three consecutive Friday events when banners saying “SNC is our representative” were carried. There are three groups in Syria representing the streets and all three of them support us and have their representatives in the SNC, whose names are not disclosed obviously. The Muslim Brotherhood, Kurds and Christians also are represented in the SNC.

Q: The opposition meetings took place in Turkey. What was Turkey’s role during the whole process?

A: Actually Turkey did not really have a warm approach to the first congress in Istanbul.

Q: But even the fact that it let the congress happen is important.

A: But we did not ask for permission. Actually it was not really like a meeting of the opposition. It happened rather like a brain-storming by intellectuals. It was organized by Turkish NGOs. But opposition figures got to know each other in that meeting. When the regime sent a group to sabotage our meeting in Antalya, Turkish authorities said to them, go hold your own meeting in another hotel. They said this is a democratic country, people can hold meetings. It is then that we realized a change in attitude, and we said if we hold a congress the government won’t object.

Q: So Turkey was not behind this process.

A: No it was not at all. Its position was, “We neither say come here nor do we say go away.” But we also insisted for the meetings to take place in Turkey. Most of the participants have Syrian passports; there are no visa requirements for Syrians. We had visa problems with France, we tried but couldn’t organize it there. It is easy to come to Turkey from abroad. It is a secure country. At one stage there were discussions to go to Cairo. But some of our friends were attacked by Assad supporters in Cairo. We have easy access to media. Our friends from Paris were surprised as there were 20 cameras at our meeting. We need to be heard by the international media, which is present in Turkey. So there was not a better alternative.

Q: What now are your relations with Turkish government?

After the establishment of SNC we started to communicate at the level of Prime Ministry’s advisors and Turkey started to monitor the SNC. We then had our first meeting with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. The second meeting was like a moral recognition. Turkey has been looking for a solution through persuasion with minimum loss of life. Turkey was never focused on military intervention. We know from the Libyan experience, Turkey never wants Muslims to kill other Muslims, it will never give weapons. We were also told so by the Libyans when we went there. They said: “Turkey helped us a lot, but it gave only financial help. It did not give one single bullet.” But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey would not stand silent if there are mass atrocities. The Arab League’s call for the protection of civilians is very important. So I believe Turkey will work for the implementation of sanctions. But if the regime continues to escalate violence, then I believe the next step will be a process leading to the establishment of a no-fly-zone and/or safe zones on the Turkish and Syrian border.

Q: So you believe Turkey will look to that positively?

A: The conditions of the Arab League are very clear. With the decision it took, the whole region has entered a very historic process. What is important from now on is to secure a consistent process.

Q: But how will this take place?

A: We are against military intervention, the type we have seen in Libya. What is very important are the streets in Syria. It is very important that they maintain their unity despite provocation from the regime. The NSC did not close its doors to anybody. We keep giving satisfactory messages to even the supporters of the regime. The regime stands on three pillars: the army, the Baath party and the regime’s financial supporters. Defections have started in the army. The people from the Baath party are waiting for another ship to come along to jump out from the ship they are on. Businessmen started to transfer their money from Syria. The regime is weakening from the inside and there will come a time it will just fall down with even a tiny push. It may take between six months and a year.

Q: But there are also important communities like minorities who continue to support the regime because they fear reprisals. There are fears of civil war.

A: But there have not been ethnic clashes since the beginning of the events. If there had been, for instance Sunnis attacking Nusayri villages, believe me the regime would have made them public. We also have Nusayri supporters. There have never been clashes between Muslims and Christians or between Nusayris and Sunnis.

Q: How about the massacres in Hama and Homs.

A: But they were not seen as sectarian clashes. They were seen as the regime’s effort to make the Nusayri part of these clashes so that the regime would share the same fate.

Q: How then will the transition process be if the regime falls?

A: Our red line is that we are against the revolution taking up arms. We are against ethnic civil war. When the regime falls, this will mean that the current regime of fear, based on the intelligence agency and the Assad family that controls it, will fall, while all other state officials will remain in their position. The SNC will abolish itself once the regime falls.

Q: Some fear radical Islamists and extreme Arab nationalists will replace the current regime.

A: This is being said for all Islamic countries. It was said of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). It was said after the revolution in Tunisia. Islamists movements became more pragmatic and less ideological. We saw this in the Turkish model. Islamic movements focused on providing services, not on ideology. It is their biggest success and other Islamic movements need to get adopted to the global culture and to the thoughts of younger generations.

Q: What is your evaluation of the Syrian Free Army?

A: These are soldiers who flee the army saying their mission is to protect civilians, not to kill them. But the clashes are mostly directed at those fleeing and them shooting back. But they cannot do much when their ammunition runs out. They stand more of a chance if there is a no-fly zone or safe zones. This will also increase the fleeing. But we do not advise the Syrian Free Army to launch attacks right now because it will complicate the situation and lead to internal conflicts.

Khaled Khoja was born in Damascus to a family with Turkish roots. He was interred in Syrian prisons in 1979 when his father provided financial support to the Muslim Brotherhood when uprisings started in Aleppo. He fled Syria in 1982 for Turkey, where he built a career as a doctor. Facing capital punishment, he has not returned to Syria since.

Following the sart of unrest in Syria in March, he became the head of the Turkey committee of the Damascus Declaration. The Damascus Declaration in 2005 was a historic statement of unity by opposition figures criticizing the regime as being authoritarian and calling for reform. Since then he has been participating in the meetings of the opposition groups, becoming a member of Syrian National Council.

Friday, November 18, 2011

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