Syrian Opposition Meeting in Antalya: Day Two



Two friends have given feedback on the second day of the Syrian Opposition meeting in Antalya.

Syria: Opposition Drafts Declaration in Antalya


Both were impressed by the constructive nature of the second day. George Washington was not born, they conceded, but hard decisions were made.

The Muslim Brothers and Islamists were under intense pressure to accept the notion of a secular government where religion and state would be separate. They resisted this most of the day but ultimately conceded at the eleventh hour. We do not have the statement or wording on this “secular” statement. But the MB accepted to not contest the separation of state and religion in the conference statement. I will publish as soon as I can get the wording of the conference statement.

According to some, Amr al-Azm (son of Sadiq) Amr Miqdad (presumably from the large Deraa family), and Muhammad al-Abdullah all played an important role in mediating and facilitating the discussion. They worked very hard to get the secular statement accepted.

The young guys were impressive. “Anyone in Damascus who doesn’t take these guys seriously is stupid,” my source explained. They are no where near where they should be, but for a first meeting this was impressive.” There were many arguments between the young, new leaders and the old, established leaders who have been in exile for decades. The young leaders had no patience for the committees and bureaucracy of the older generation. They are getting communication lines in place, developing networks between towns and did not have time for the endless haggling of the older generation.

About 70 Kurds showed up which surprised everyone. Also the number of tribal leaders was impressive. They were wearing heir dish dashers and kafiyyas.

“People have just had enough of being treated like shit. They want to be treated like real human beings – this was what it was all about,” one person explained. They have given up on talking with the regime. They don’t want the Assad family anymore.

Another important accomplishment was the establishment of an executive board and an election. They voted on a 31 member executive body, nine of whom will be full time. Two different lists of 31 people were presented, then they voted  on which of the two lists would be picked. There was a lot of argument about who would be on the lists. It looks like they have agree on the people.

When the National Salvation Front was constructed in 2006, ex-V.P. Abdal Halim Khaddam waltzed in and took charge without a proper election. It was not a democratic opposition. At the very least, this opposition effort is proceeding by some sort of democratic procedure and there are elections.

Another aspect of the meeting that people liked was that the organizers of the conference excluded Farid Ghadary, Abdal Halim Khaddam, and Rifaat al-Assad because they are too tainted.  The conference came out with a statement refusing foreign intervention and proclaiming the integrity and inviolability of Syria’s boarders. “Everything must be done to preserve Syria’s unity and territorial integrity,” their statement read.

“I want those people in Damascus to feel threatened,” said one friend. “This meeting is more impressive than anything the Baath has accomplished in the last 40 years. When have they ever had a real election? This is a start. There was a real young group of people working on the road to Damascus”

They issued a statement that Alawis should feel safe. No group would be targeted.

The Antalya group will start their own Facebook page tomorrow.


Syria’s opposition has called on President Bashar al-Assad to resign immediately and hand over power to Farouk al-Sharaa, vice-president, to secure the country’s transition to democracy, writes Abigail Fielding-Smith in Beirut.

Opposition members meeting in Turkey rejected foreign intervention in the effort to end Mr Assad’s rule, and stressed the movement did not “aim to undermine any sect”.

“The delegates have committed to the demands of the Syrian people to bring down the regime and support the people’s revolution for freedom and dignity,” a statement issued by the conference said.

The conference – an unprecedented meeting of disparate activists from inside and outside Syria – also elected a 31-member consultative council to support the uprising, which started two and a half months ago.

Separately, Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, on Thursday called on the international community to take tougher action on the Syrian authorities’ repression of the protests, urging countries to “get on the right side of history”.

Russia and China have objected to a draft UN Security Council resolution condemning the crackdown in Syria, which Human Rights Watch has said could have involved “crimes against humanity”.

Syrian opposition tell Assad to quit immediately


June 02, 2011

Syrian opposition groups called Thursday for President Bashar al-Assad’s immediate resignation, in a joint declaration at the end of a two-day meeting in Turkey.

The statement, read out in the Mediterranean resort of Antalya, urged the “immediate resignation of President Bashar al-Assad from all functions he occupies.”

It urged the holding of “parliamentary and presidential elections within a period that will not exceed one year” following Assad’s resignation.

The dissidents vowed “to do whatever it is up to them to bring down the regime” in Syria, welcoming the declaration with applause.

Fears over crackdown

UN genocide prevention experts warned the Syrian authorities Thursday over “apparently systematic and deliberate attacks” on unarmed civilians.

Putting new UN pressure on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime over his crackdown, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s special advisors on prevention of genocide and responsibility to protect civilian populations said they were “gravely concerned” at the growing death toll from the “violent suppression” of protests.

“We are particularly alarmed at the apparently systematic and deliberate attacks by police, military, and other security forces against unarmed civilians taking part in the last two months of protests,” said the advisors Francis Deng and Edward Luck.

“The systematic and widespread attacks that are alleged to have taken place in Syria appear primarily to have targeted the civilian population,” they said in a joint statement.

“This underscores the need for an independent, thorough, and objective investigation into all alleged violations of international human rights law,” the experts said.

Syria has refused to let a UN human rights mission into the country to investigate the crackdown which is said to have left hundreds dead. The UN Security Council is negotiating a resolution which would condemn the violence.

Syria: Opposition Drafts Declaration in Antalya

by Jillian York

Just a day after President Bashar Assad announced a general amnesty for political prisoners, a varied group of Syrian opposition members are meeting to create what one report referred to as a “‘roadmap’ for a peaceful and democratic transition in Syria.” The group is comprised mostly of exiles, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Syrian-American academic Dr. Mohja Kahf, a professor at the University of Arkansas, is live-tweeting the event, which is taking place at a resort in Antalya, Turkey.

Syrians attend the Antalya conference, flanked by images of Syrian martyrs

Late Wednesday, she wrote of the event: “Antalya:This is not your daddy’s old opposition conference #Syria New groupings forming, young faces,fresh energies.”

Dr. Kahf also tweeted that the members of the meeting would be holding a day-long hunger strike in solidarity with their fellow Syrians.

Also on Twitter, @abulyas was quick to point out that the conference was not an “opposition conference,” noting:

“#Antalya conf isn’t “opposition” conf. It brought many independent Syrians from the world united in purpose to end Syrian regime #march15″

Though the conference attendees are united in their cause, the conference has not been without its disagreements. Dr. Kahf noted a conversation she witnessed in the hotel lobby:

“Younger generation that is carrying this rev:don’t care abt old lines of diffs:Ikhwan,secularists” -lobby conversation Antalya conf #Syria.”

An article in NOW! Lebanon notes a young/old divide as well. There have also been reports that some Syrian opposition members refused to attend the conference, as well as some expressions of disappointment on Twitter from Syrians in the country.

LA Times – — Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo

Opposition leaders have been meeting for the past two days in Antalya, Turkey, to support the anti-government uprising in Syria. At the end of the conference Thursday, they issued their demands.

“The delegates have committed to the demands of the Syrian people to bring down the regime and support the people’s revolution for freedom and dignity,” said the statement issued by 300 pro-democracy activists and opposition leaders.

On Thursday, as activists conducted workshops on social networking and drafted their demands in a resort hotel, scores of Assad supporters gathered outside, some wearing T-shirts featuring a picture of the embattled president.

“We love Bashar,” they chanted on CNN.

Turkish police could be seen out in force in Antalya, ensuring that several hundred pro-government demonstrators could not reach the conference.

“What would post-Assad Syria look like? That’s the $50-million question,” Amr Al Azm, who helped draft the opposition statement, told CNN. “We’ve been able to begin to address what the alternative would like like … we’ve provided a road map,” said Al Azm, a Syrian American history professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio who was in Turkey on Thursday.

He is an unlikely opposition leader. Until March, he was a senior consultant on a project headed by Assad’s wife, Asma, that was supposed to reform Syria’s culture ministry.

“What changed for me was the violence, the unprecedented level of violence that seemed random and almost uncontrolled,” Al Azm told CNN. “There are people that I actually know that have had their fingernails pulled out.”

Large anti-government protests were expected again in Syria on Friday after prayers.

Protests close in on divided Damascus

By an FT reporter,

June 2 2011

Financial Times

In the affluent neighbourhoods of central Damascus, the crackdown on Syria’s anti-government protests feels far away.

Young Damascenes sit in western-style cafés in Shaalan, drink Italian coffee, smoke traditional water pipes and casually browse the internet on their laptops. “There is no problem here,” is a common refrain among locals. “It will all be over in one or two months.”

The centre of the Syrian capital has, along with the business city of Aleppo, remained relatively quiet in a more than two-month uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, president.

Outside of Damascus, brutal attacks have escalated. Syrian forces killed at least 13 civilians in the town of Rastan on Thursday, human rights campaigners told Reuters, raising the death toll in the central province of Homs this week to at least 56 civilians.

Even within the relatively calm capital, signs of tension are everywhere.

Driving through the city’s central Merjeh Square on a Friday, the usual day of pro-democracy protests, security men loiter on the street corners, dressed in riot gear and carrying batons. Plain-clothed intelligence men – the Mukhabarat – wait in buses with clubs and guns.

Others, drawn from the state’s large civil service, are sent to the city’s mosques to mix with worshippers and shout pro-regime slogans at the end of Friday prayers. More wait outside, ready to disperse any demonstrations as soon as they begin.

The regime is anxious to make sure protests do not spread to the capital. The middle classes and business community have benefited from the limited economic reforms introduced by Mr Assad since he took over in 2000 and still prefer stability, even if under a repressive regime.

“The regime knows that if they lose Damascus they are finished,” says Samir, a 30-year-old protester in the capital, who speaks in hushed tones in a quiet café. Mobile phones are switched off in case they are bugged and suspicious glances are cast at men sitting on neighbouring tables.

But the regime may already be too late. Barely half a mile from the city centre, thousands of people have taken to the streets in the middle class district of Midan every Friday since early April. “People from all walks of life and from all parts of the city are coming to Midan to protest,” says Samir. Youths and middle class doctors mix with Midan locals, he says, and the crackdown elsewhere in the city means numbers in Midan are growing…..

Business reluctant to cut loose from Assad

By Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Beirut June 2 2011

Financial Times

The Syrian business community’s passive approach to the popular protest movement against the ruling Ba’ath party is depriving the uprising of crucial support that could help secure the overthrow of the regime, analysts say.

Many assert that as long as businessmen in Aleppo and Damascus, the industrial and commercial hubs, do not join the opposition the regime will continue to believe it will survive with a brutal crackdown.

“The . . . business community has long been attached to the regime because there aren’t lots of economic opportunities outside the government,” said Marcus Marktanner, a professor of economics at the American University of Beirut.

The limited economic reforms introduced since Bashar al-Assad inherited power from his father in 2000 have not radically changed the socialist-style economy, burdened by a complex bureaucracy and laws unfriendly to foreign investment.

But businesses involved in textiles – the country’s leading industry, two-thirds of which is based in Aleppo – food processing, car trading and electronics have benefited from government credits and trade privileges in recent years.

Lahcen Achy, a scholar at Carnegie Middle East Center, said the textile and garment sector had received government assistance. “They are now waiting to see what will happen and do not want to lose the regime support,” he added.

Analysts say the reforms have created an imbalance, leaving out rural areas and urban suburbs while a new wealthy class directly or indirectly linked to the regime has benefited.

The sense of deprivation has been exacerbated by an increase in global food prices and the country’s severe drought which has shrunk the share of agriculture in gross domestic product from 24.2 per cent in 2006 to 17.1 per cent in 2010, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Some of the towns most hit by the drought have been bastions of pro- democracy protests, including Deraa in the south, Deir Ezzor in the east and Banias and Al-Hasakah in the north-east.

“With the increase in food prices, the Syrian emperor was seen naked,” said Mr Marktanner. “People who have serious problems in feeding their families know food prices won’t go down and the regime cannot do anything about it.”

Syrians have watched more overt signs of wealth appear in the capital and in Aleppo in the form of luxury cars and international clothing brands.

The business community has also been frustrated by the regime’s intervention in economic activities and the Assad family’s growing monopoly on big projects. One of the first places that protesters in Deraa, the flashpoint of unrest, burnt down was SyriaTel, the country’s leading mobile telecommunications company run by Rami Makhlouf, a tycoon and cousin of the president.

But businessmen still appear to value the political stability that the Assad family has brought since the 1970s. The regime’s argument that the alternative to secular rule will be Salafists, radical Sunni Muslims, seems to have worked well so far in keeping business in check.

“Syrian businessmen think a fall of the regime in Syria is closer to the Libyan or Iraq scenarios than Tunisian or Egyptian scenarios while alternatives to the status quo remain unclear,” said one analyst.

Clinton: World should toughen up on Syria


Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States implored hesitant Arab countries and U.N. powers Russia and China to join the international condemnation of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, saying Thursday that they would be better off “on the right side of history.”

Repeating the president’s ultimatum of last month that Assad should either lead a reform process or leave power, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Syrian leader was clearly blowing his chance by pressing on with a brutal crackdown on demonstrators and political opponents.

Expectations that his government can change are “if not gone, nearly run out,” she said in Washington.

Egypt’s Christians Fear Violence as Changes Embolden Islamists

The New York Times,


May 30, 2011

A surge of sectarian violence in Cairo — 24 dead, more than 200 wounded and three churches in flames since President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall — has turned Christian-Muslim tensions into one of the gravest threats to the revolution’s stability. But it is also a pivotal test of Egypt’s tolerance, pluralism and the rule of law. The revolution has empowered the majority but also opened new questions about the protection of minority rights like freedom of religion or expression as Islamist groups step forward to lay out their agendas and test their political might.

Around the region, Christians are also closely watching events in Syria, where as in Egypt Christians and other minorities received the protection of a secular dictator, Bashar al-Assad, now facing his own popular uprising.

“The Copts are the crucial test case,” said Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch here, adding that facing off against “societal pressures” may in some ways be ever harder than criticizing a dictator. “It is the next big battle.”

But so far, there is little encouragement in the debate over how to address the sectarian strife. Instead of searching for common ground, all sides are pointing fingers of blame while almost no one is addressing the underlying reasons for the strife, including a legal framework that treats Muslims and Christians differently.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the 80 million Egyptians, say the revolution has plunged them into uncharted territory. Suppressed or marginalized for six decades here, Islamists entering politics have rushed to defend an article of the Egyptian Constitution that declares Egypt a Muslim country that derives its laws from Islam. Christians and liberals say privately they abhor the provision, which was first added as a populist gesture by President Anwar el-Sadat. But the article is so popular among Muslims — and the meaning so vague — that even many liberals and Christians entering politics are reluctant to speak out against it, asking at most for slight modifications.

“Our position is that it should stay, but a clause should be added so that in personal issues non-Muslims are subject to the rules of their own religion,”….

many liberals argue the sectarian conflicts prove Egypt should establish a permanent “bill of rights” to protect religious and personal freedoms before holding elections that could give power to an Islamist majority. It would “remove the sense of angst that exists today in Egypt,” said a spokeswoman for Mohamed ElBaradei, a liberal presidential contender.

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