Thursday, April 07, 2005

Of Expatriates and Ex-patriots!

Indeed, it is about time. Indeed reform is an almost impossible undertaking without their support. Yes indeed, it is about time for Syrian expatriates to come back. And they should come back in droves.

The Syrian government has already pledged publicly that it will grant passports to all regardless of the circumstances surrounding their departure. At this point in time, I don’t think the regime is being devious or Machiavellian in taking this decision. I don’t think it is attempting to lay a trap for anybody. It is simply trying to get out of the quagmire it finds itself in at this stage in great part as a result of its own policies.

Indeed then, the expatriates, at least those who don’t have actual sentences hovering over their heads, should take this opportunity to come back. They should come back in groups of 50-100 people at a time. They should make a show of it and they should begin clamoring for reforms from the inside.

The idea is to get enough international and internal attention to launch an effective reform campaign and challenge the status quo in the country. In this, they can acquire the necessary internal recognizability and legitimacy that they need and they can help lead the country into the future. Their knowledge and expertise will indeed play a crucial role in that.

Still, having lived for an extended period of time abroad, I know, from first-hand observations, that expatriates can be as troubled and troubling as anybody around here. They are often as divided along the same ethnic, religious, sectarian, and ideological lines as all other Syrians, and are often as apathetic and politically unmotivated and seemingly unmotivatable.

Indeed, the Syrian expatriates are so divided and apathetic they have so far failed to take advantage of the freedoms and opportunities make available to them in their western exiles to establish credible opposition parties, and conduct a credible opposition campaign against the current regime, despite all the facilities available to them there. They have even failed to take advantage of the revolution in technology and the spread of satellite dishes everywhere in the country, which, in a variety of ways, can effectively provide them with a way for broadcasting their message, uncensored, directly to the Syrian people. But do they really have a message?

Many of the expatriates who come here with interest in investing in the country behave in a very contradictory manner. They expect red carpet treatment from the very people they know and accuse of being responsible for all the corruption and oppression that is taking place in the country. Then they leave heartbroken and incensed when that doesn’t happen. They don’t try to meet opposition members and dissidents. They don’t try to really probe into the “unofficial” political scene. They simply shun the dangers that come with that. That’s not their job anymore, they say, after all they are expatriates, or should we say ex-patriots?

Some say that they want to invest in the future of the country, but, it seems, that they want the country’s future to be invested in them as well, perhaps even solely in them.

Now, this might sound like a strange, harsh and rash criticism from someone who is planning on becoming, once again, an expatriate (or even ex-patriot) himself. But the key word here is “once again.” For, I was an expatriate once, and I did come back, and some sense of patriotism was indeed involved in my decision to come back (although, admittedly, this was not necessarily the only or even the decisive factor here). It has been eleven years now since my return, and the decision to leave is shaping up to be the hardest decision in my life, so far. Yet, it still may not be final.

For, if enough expatriates came back, armed with the “right” attitude, I may not have to leave, and I will not be so isolated.