Monday, January 30, 2006

The Breakthrough!

My “comrades in arms” and I have just concluded our first conference for the Syrian opposition groups in the US. The conference was organized by the Syrian National Council in the US, in cooperation with the Ahrar Movement and the Syrian National Council in Canada. It featured an amazing assortment of representatives of political currents and views, including representatives of the Syrian internal opposition groups, who have taken a tremendous risk by accepting to take part in such an event.

The last day, Sunday, also featured a a most wonderful and inspiring phone conference with the recently freed Damascus Spring dissidents: Riad Seif, Walid al Bunni, Fawaz Tillo and Habeeb Issa, as well as the sublime spark behind the Atassy Forum Mrs. Suheir Atassy.

Despite the fact that discussion tended to veer into the usual old polemics and diatribe against the regime, a sense of focus and purpose prevailed throughout the two-day conference, and the concluding statement did a pretty decent job in summarizing the main points of agreements between the various groups, which seem quite capable of paving pave the way for the eventual establishment of an actual opposition platform or current in the very near future.

These points included for the very first time a clear and an unequivocal legitimization by the internal opposition groups of the activities of their external counterparts, as well as a clear cut call for more coordination between all opposition movements wherever they happen to be. Considering the importance of the people taking place in the conference and the fact that they did represent all strands of the Syrian political spectrum, reaching such an agreement is by no means a small feat. Indeed, the chasm of the inside/outside dichotomy seems to have finally been traversed - A development that could indeed set the grounds for the adoption of more practical and dynamic measures in the work of the Syria national opposition in the future.

Indeed, the few proposals I have made in my paper, Managing Transition, were well-received, and I expect some serious developments along these lines in the next few months.

Meanwhile, the Day of February 1 is upon us. No, I don’t expect much in terms of positive response at this stage, but my friends and contacts in Syria assure me that at least 300-400 hundred people have so far pledged to abide by the proposed work-stoppage.

Whatever the case may be, next time, and there will definitely be a next time and soon, such a call is bound to receive greater support, attention and endorsement. Or so, I have reasons to hope.

On the final day of the conference, we also had a chance to a listen to a plea for the release of Dr. Kamal Labwani, made by his brave wife, Samar. Dr. Labwani was the first well-known figure in the Syrian internal opposition to have braved the waters of extending his hands to the country's external opposition as well as to the international community appealing for the freedom of his people.

Despite all the personal differences that some participants had with the views, if not the sharp mannerisms of Dr. Labwani, they were all willing to concede the importance of the role he played in arranging for this breakthrough in communication between the inside and the outside.

On this occasion, pleas were also made for the freedom of the other Damascus Spring prisoners, including the renowned economist, Dr. Aref Dalila, as well as all other prisoners of conscience. This naturally resonates with our recent discussion on this site regarding the lauching of a letter writing campaign, or something along these lines, demanding the freedom of Dr. Dalila. Well, on Sunday, we made a certain modest effort in this regard. But this is only the beginning, I promise.