On the Record In Syria


"A clutch of brave pro-democracy activists are daring to speak out in Syria," Canada's Globe and Mail reported earlier this month, "emboldened by intense pressure on Bashar Assad."

Nearly all the dissidents interviewed by reporter Paul Koring asked to have their names affixed to their comments. "If they had said those things a few years ago, and especially if they said them for attribution, they would have just vanished," one surprised Syrian told the Canadian reporter. (Koring's piece is here, but it is now behind a screen requiring would-be readers to sign up for archive access.) These critics and activists have apparently decided that their goals are better served with their names out there. Here are their comments.

Muhammad Kamal al-Iabwani, a physician and a member of a group of 10 activists who call themselves the Damascus Spring, told Koring that when Assad came to power, he "promised us reform and democracy, and then we found ourselves in prisons. We must see some changes, not just hear promises." Al-Iabwani was in jail for three years. Six other members of his group remain imprisoned.

Dissident Louay Hussen told Koring that "The government is only still in power because there is no alternative, no parties, no popular movements. . . . All the excuses, all of the rationale for this regime is gone."

Machouk Alkhaznawi, a Kurdish cleric who has repeatedly denounced Assad's regime during Friday prayers, said, "Either the regime will change, or the regime must go." He added that "I couldn't have said this five years ago because the Americans weren't in Iraq five years ago. The reason I and others can speak out is because the Americans are trying to get rid of dictators and help the oppressed."

Yassin Yassin al-Haj Saleh, who spent 16 years in prison, distanced himself from the U.S. "Our agenda is not the same as the Americans," he said. "We who are interested in the future of democracy and the future of Syria must be patient." He added that, "When the regime was strong, it suffocated the country, but it was also the cement that held our society together . . . People are afraid, but now they are afraid not of the regime, but of the collapse of the regime."

One dissident who spent years in prison and who preferred to stay anonymous told Koring that, "If the outside pressure continues, then the barriers of fear will be broken . . . The regime is losing its grip because of outside pressure, but that pressure must be maintained."