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What Lies Beneath the Surface in Syria?

Several years ago, Farid Ghadry—a Syrian exile activist—published a piece in the Middle East Quarterly looking at what political trends lay beneath the surface of Syria’s Baathist dictatorship.

While Ghadry himself does not have any following in Syria or among Syrians, his analysis is nonetheless apt: He identified the discussions groups that arose during the short-lived “Damascus Spring” and hypothesized that they represented the proto-political parties which might develop.

  • Among the best-known discussion circles is the Al-Kawakibi Forum, named after Abdul Rahman al-Kawakibi (1849-1902), an intellectual who advocated an Arab renaissance modeled after the eighteenth century European enlightenment. Led by Majid Manjouneh, an intellectual from Aleppo, the Kawakibi Forum gained an immediate following…
  • Another forum that simultaneously rose to prominence was … named after Jamal Atassi, a Nasserite intellectual who died in 2000. The Atassi Forum supported 1950s-style Arab nationalism and was both vocal in its support of Palestinian statehood and its rejection of Israel…
  • The Syrian parliamentarian Riad Sa’if, since jailed for his anti-corruption activities, formed the National Dialogue Forum (Muntada al-Hiwar al-Watani), which, as a result of its discussions, issued the Manifesto of Social Peace (Wathiqat as-Sulm al-Ijtima’i), which called for transparency and accountability in the government.
  • Separately, Ma’amoun al-Homsi, another member of parliament, issued his famous August 7, 2001 declaration in which he asked Assad to respect human rights and begin lifting the emergency laws.

Of course, the Muslim Brotherhood may dominate a post-Assad Syria for the same reason which it might rise to dominate Egypt. Even if most non-Alawi Syrians do not support it, the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood is perhaps the best organized opposition movement in Syria.  Their rise would be inimical to American interests.  Here is what one Syrian Muslim Brotherhood activist wrote in 2001:

The verse [Qur. 9:5] does not leave any room in the mind to conjecture about what is called defensive war.  This verse asserts that holy war, which is demanded in Islamic law, is not a defensive war because it could legitimately be an offensive war.  That is the apex and most honorable of all holy wars.  Its goal is the exaltation of the word of God, the construction of Islamic society, and the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth regardless of the means.  It is legal to carry on an offensive holy war.

Make no mistake: The Western educated eye-doctor should go and quickly. The endless parade of Congressmen and Senators who paid homage to Assad in Damascus was truly shameful. Let’s hope, though, that the White House and the State Department have given some thought about what comes next, and how they might maximize leverage to influence the outcome on the day after.


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