Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Syrians say Assad's offer of dialogue is disingenuous. (Photo: James Gordon/Flickr)
In today’s Syria, Bashar al-Assad seems to think he is directing a new movie called “The Dialogue” – except the cast is old and so is the script.
The film begins like a thriller with scenes of noisy protests on the streets of Dara’a, Hama and Homs; a “kind-hearted leader” then seeks talks on reforms with the public, and the world can view it all live via satellite.
But the ungrateful Syrians failed to appreciate this drama, featuring actors young and old, famous and little-known. The streets have turned bloody as the guns of the military roared with live munitions, and the authorities emptied prisons to “maintain” law and order.
The writer of this movie missed some basic realities.
The protesters peacefully demanded democracy and prosperity after 40 years of occupation by one family. The king refused to listen to his own people and kept to the tradition of tyrants. This mighty minority leader sent out his forces with standing orders to kill and arrest the “saboteurs”.
The inclusion of such ugly realities in the storyline of the movie could have won Bashar’s orchestrated drama some public credibility.
Instead, more than 100 days of fearless, concerted demonstrations have united the nation but failed to convince the Assads to pack their bags. Reading from the same old script, Assad chose to trick the public with so-called dialogue - but with those he deemed to be opposition leaders.
For his drama, he invited some of the best actors in the country to convince the Syrian people of the sincerity of his promised reforms. They acted well, under the instruction of director Assad, but the numbers shouting “Irhal, Irhal” (leave, leave) rose to record levels.
At the same time as this supposed dialogue, the number of disappearances, injured, imprisoned and killed continued to rise.
After three speeches within the space of 100 days, the Syrian national dialogue conference was held on July 11 and 12. The talks brought to the table everyone but the real opposition, which continues to see compromise as impossible.
The opposition is moving ahead with a clear mind and a clear “no” to dialogue on any political solution as the regime has so far killed over 1,300 people, arrested thousands and occupied towns and villages.
So the dialogue was devoid of any credibility, with real opposition figures not invited and the courtiers of the regime showering it with praise.
The qualification for being part of the dialogue was simple: accept Bashar as a well-intentioned leader. For an ordinary Syrian, invitation to such a dialogue with the Assad family was unthinkable. The country’s Alawite strongman always refers to protesters as terrorists, agents or viruses.
The dialogue was nothing but a mock internal discussion within the regime which organised it, chalked out its agenda, and announced its favourable results.
Deputy president Farouk al-Shara announced improved democratic pluralism by allowing the formation of more political parties beyond the prehistoric Baath party.
Beneath the veil of such false promises, Assad’s troops raided Homs and Hama - armoured vehicles and tanks spread the real message of the regime’s “democratic pluralism”.
The handpicked participants at the national dialogue conference bought the official conspiracy theory behind the uprising, while the Syrians just laugh at the absurdity of this idea.
The conference condemned and forbade attacks against personalities, public and private properties but in effect gave the green light for damaging foreign embassies.
Foreign minister Walid Moualim candidly said in an interview that Syria did not need European countries or the United States. When Washington questioned Assad’s legitimacy, intelligence agencies attacked its embassy in Damascus.
Daoud al Sherian, a Saudi writer, wrote in the Al-Hayat newspaper, “By targeting western embassies in Damascus, the regime has hammered the final nail in its coffin.”
The failure of the so-called dialogue in Syria reflects the regime’s weakness and confusion about its future. With demonstrations swelling every Friday and Bashar losing all foreign friends – including Qatar and Turkey - the regime wants to neither leave power nor implement true reforms.
Thus, the average Syrian is bracing for more state terror.
The decision has been made in the streets: death with dignity or life with freedom. Assad, the movie director, knows that control of the script is now out of his hands. His final scene would have been predictable, because the tactics, tools and goals of tyrants are always the same, more or less.
But in fact Assad has been reduced to a villain. The direction of this film has been seized by the oppressed. Assad’s movie of his success in subduing the revolution is being transformed into a documentary about the people’s victory.
Maryam Hasan is the pseudonym of a Syrian journalist.
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