The Opposition Meeting in Antalya (1 June 2011) First Impressions


First impressions of the Opposition Meeting in Turkey sent by a friend”

Syrian opposition activists walk past a poster of President Bashar al-Assad with his face crossed off during the opening session of a three-day meeting in Turkey to discuss democratic change.The writing on poster reads: ‘The blood of the martyrs will make this throne unbearable for you. Get out!’

1- logistics were very poor. Little if any organization. no clear written agenda.
2- they all realized that the first objective must be to push ahead and save time.
3- Kurds and Islamists made up over half of the total. Tribal leaders were also present.
4- By far the most impressive were the young activists. They were connected to the demonstration movement on the ground in Syria. They had contacts.
5- There was little infighting. Most members of the opposition were rather guarded.
6- While one can accuse the attendees of being politically immature, it would be a huge mistake to underestimate them.
7- The events in Daraa and elsewhere are not driven by Salafists as the government claims.
8- When some were asked about the possible large loss of lives should the regime fight back, the response was to point to Algeria which gave up one million people to get rid of the French. In other words, they are mentally prepared.
9- While Damascus may not take this group seriously enough, their determination is very strong. They will not go away easily.
10- To many, Bashar al-Assad’s first speech was the moment that he lost a huge number of the young activists.

Syrian Opposition Meets in Turkey


Wall Street Journal

ANTALYA, Turkey—Syrian opposition activists meeting here offered a glimpse of the challenges ahead, trying to pave a political future as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad relies increasingly on violence in order to cling to power. The meeting represented a first instance of cooperation among historically disparate opposition groups and personalities since Syria’s protests began in mid-March.

But common histories of exile among Syrians living in Europe, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, as well as elsewhere in the Middle East, were overwhelmed by differing visions on how to push the opposition movement forward…..

Syrian security officials also tried to disrupt the conference taking place in this Turkish city some 280 miles from the Syrian border. In Antalya, activists said a handful of pro-regime supporters flown in from Syria harassed people as they arrived at the airport. The pro-regime group tried to enter the conference hotel on Wednesday, activists said, but were held back by Turkish police.

Molham al-Drobi, a representative for Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood at the conference, said a general amnesty for political prisoners announced Tuesday that would apparently lead to the release of thousands of imprisoned Brotherhood members was meant to “intercept and overshadow” the conference.

One area of agreement among the 200 opposition members in attendance was the need to improve logistical support for street protesters—and pressure for greater international diplomatic support—which could eventually oust Mr. Assad.

But there was no consensus on a political process to start to plan for a transition away from Mr. Assad’s authoritarian rule.

Syrian opposition activists walk past a poster of President Bashar al-Assad with his face crossed off during the opening session of a three-day meeting in Turkey to discuss democratic change.The writing on poster reads: ‘The blood of the martyrs will make this throne unbearable for you. Get out!’

Several young activists said they almost pulled out of the conference late Tuesday because they weren’t consulted on the formation of a 31-person committee to eventually lead the implementation of a support strategy for the protest movement. But others said it was significant enough that so many opposition activists were meeting face-to-face for the first time in this uprising, with one activist calling it a “getting-acquainted party.”

“The platform for us is agreed upon: to bring down the regime,” said Ammar Abdulhamid, a Washington-based activist. “Every single person here is in consensus on this,” he said, sitting in the corner of a hotel lobby where men huddled, women planned a fast in solidarity with their relatives in Syria, and children ran around wearing “Free Syria” caps and pins. Chiefs of Syria’s large Bedouin tribes roamed in traditional robes. “We know it’s a logistical nightmare,” Mr. Abdulhamid said. “But there seems to be a consensus.”

Those who flew in from Syria are risking permanent exile to ensure that the catalysts of the uprising take part in the dialogue on how to break the three-month stalemate between protesters and the regime.

“There are broad parameters we have—anything [opposition groups abroad] organize in terms of support along those lines is OK, anything that violates it is not,” said Ahmad al-Raad, one of two young men at the meeting who helped to administer the Syrian Revolution group on Facebook. Those include that the demonstrations remain peaceful; a rejection of external military intervention; and rejection of any political dialogue before violence against protesters halts and tens of thousands of detainees are released.

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday released a report on Deraa, the southern cradle of Syria’s protests, in which it condemned Syria for “crimes against humanity” and urged the United Nations Security Council to take responsibility for holding accountable people involved in the crackdown.

Activists in touch with Western diplomats here say they received assurances the U.N. Security Council will meet Thursday to pass a resolution condemning the regime’s violence and urging it to allow human-rights inspectors. They said they expect Russia to abstain from using its veto.

A more complicated scene developed overnight at the hotel as both Kurds and members of the exiled Muslim Brotherhood turned up in larger numbers than expected after an earlier decision by both groups not to join the conference. Some 65 Kurds at the meeting made Syria’s ethnic Kurdish community, the largest anti-regime constituency currently in Syria, the best-represented here. There appeared to be divisions among the Kurds on their positions, while Syria’s Brotherhood—about 40 of its members attended—deliberated all day on whether its members in attendance officially represented the party.

Syrian opposition unites in exile

By Liz Sly,

June 1 2011

ANTALYA, Turkey — …On Wednesday… about 300 Assad opponents gathered at a hotel to try to give structure and voice to a movement that has been leaderless and disparate. Because most activists in Syria were prevented from attending the conference by security concerns, and given the history of squabbling within the exiled Syrian community, it was unclear whether the effort would succeed….

“These are people who could never have met in 100 years without pulling guns and knives,” said Amr Al-Azm, a Middle Eastern history professor and Syrian exile who was among the attendees. “That they are sitting in the same room talking in a civilized way is huge. If nothing else comes of this conference, that’s an important thing.”

For several days, the staging of the conference seemed in doubt as several leading figures — including activists in Syria — questioned its goals and motives. But as a consensus emerged over the goals, organizers expressed satisfaction that a diverse array of the forces opposing the government had showed up.

Lending credibility to the proceedings were several young protest organizers — including one still limping from a bullet wound — who managed to sneak into Turkey from Syria. The cyber­activists who distribute videos of the protests to the world were there, hunched over laptops and tweeting furiously. So too were members of the older generation of exiles, an eclectic assortment of academics, businessmen, leftists and liberals who have spent most of their lives abroad.

And finally, the graying veterans of the Muslim Brotherhood — who fled Syria after the last major uprising against the government three decades ago — turned up in force. They made sure their presence was noted by arriving late for the opening ceremony, noisily chanting “God is great.”

A high priority for attendees is the creation of a committee, to be elected Thursday, that can serve as the voice of the opposition in dealings with world powers, especially the United States. Despite more than 1,000 deaths resulting from the government’s campaign to suppress the protests, no world leaders have called for Assad’s departure. Activists say they are aware that fear of the unknown may be holding leaders back in Washington and elsewhere from criticizing Assad.

President Obama has condemned the Syrian government’s use of violence and has called for Assad to embrace reforms or step aside. That stance differs from the one the United States has taken in Libya, where the U.S. military has participated in a NATO-led bombing campaign and provided critical support to rebel forces.

“We have to show the world that the Syrian opposition is organized and is ready to present an alternative,” said Molham al-Drobi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood delegation.

Not on the agenda for the conference is the formation of any kind of structure that will resemble a government in exile.

Nor do the delegates want the committee to assume leadership of the revolt on behalf of those protesting inside Syria. “This uprising is leaderless. No one can speak on behalf of the revolution,” said Radwan Ziadeh, one of the organizers and director of the Washington-based Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

A road map for change

One top priority for the conference is to formulate a road map for the departure of Assad, a goal everyone can agree on. Most delegates seem to pin their hopes on a split within the army, but they are vague about how to bring that about.

Activists in Syria were suspicious at first that some of the opposition exiles would advocate negotiations with Assad, something protesters long ago rejected. But after delegates jumped on chairs and chanted, “The people want to topple the regime!” during the welcoming reception, those concerns apparently dissipated.

The conference does not aim to offer prescriptions for what a post-Assad Syria would look like.

Many secular activists expressed concerns at the strong showing of the Muslim Brotherhood, even though Brotherhood leaders said they would not seek a prominent role on the committee.

Some Kurdish groups boycotted, and a scuffle in the hallway between an Arab and a Kurdish delegate highlighted the tensions that could erupt among Syria’s diverse religious and ethnic constituencies if the minority Allawite-led government falls. Some delegates pointed fingers and whispered that others were beholden to the government, or perhaps affiliated with the loathed former vice president Abdul Halim Khaddam, who fell out with Assad in 2005 but was not invited to attend.

With expectations set low, some were declaring the event a success. Osama al-Samman, 25, a cyberactivist who runs an operation set up to disseminate protest videos, said he originally attended only to send reports on the conference back to the activist network inside Syria. But he ultimately decided to join as a delegate.

“My two criteria for success are that the conference supports the revolutionaries inside Syria and that it calls for the fall of Assad,” he said. “That has been achieved. Anything else is a bonus.”

Russia asked NATO countries not to promise military intervention to Syrian activists: “It is not in the interests of anyone to send messages to the opposition in Syria or elsewhere that if you reject all reasonable offers we will come and help you as we did in Libya,” Lavrov, 61, said yesterday during an interview in Moscow. “It’s a very dangerous position.” Bloomberg

Time: Syria’s Embattled Dissidents Grapple with Government Hackers, Wiretappers and Imposters

The protesters declare that they will not be cowed but as the regime tightens is repressive policies, there is often no other choice but to shrink into the shadows  Syria’s Embattled Dissidents Grapple with Government Hackers, Wiretappers and …

Eight people were shot dead in Hirak, a city in the south which is under siege, including an 11-year-old girl. Rights groups estimate the death toll from Syria’s uprising at near 1,000.

Here is video of the government’s response to the claimed torture of the 13 year old boyHere and here. Both are in Arabic and have not been translated or subtitled.

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