Speech by President Bashar al-Assad at Damascus University, 20 June 2011. This is a translation issued by the official Syrian news agency, Sana.
June 20, 2011
Peace be upon you, upon all those who are protecting this dear and precious homeland. Peace be upon the people, the army, the security forces and all those who have been working to insure the prevention of sedition; burying it in the detestable snake holes where it belongs. Peace be upon every mother who has lost a dear son, on every child who lost a father, on every family that lost a beloved one. Peace be upon the souls of our martyrs whose blood has grown into chrysanthemum in the spring and summer when the seasons of flowering and fruition have been replaced by seasons of conspiracy and killing. But even season of conspiracy gives flowers in Syria. They bloom into pride and impregnability.
Today, and through you, I address every Syrian citizen throughout the homeland. I wanted to speak to you directly in order to strengthen the interaction and spontaneity that have characterized our relationship for years. I wish I had the chance meet every Syrian citizen in person, but I am convinced that meeting some of you on any occasion makes me feel that I am reaching out to all of you.
Through you, I would like to send my greetings to every brother and sister, every young man and woman, every mother and father expressing adherence to their national unity, working hard in order to ensure the country’s safety, while giving everything in their power in order for it to remain strong. It took me some time to address you, despite the fact that many of the Syrians I met recently urged me to speak sooner. It took me this time because I did not want to make my speech a platform for propaganda. I did not want to speak about what we “will achieve” but rather about what we “have achieved” or what is “in-process of being achieved.” I wanted the substance of my speech to be based on what I heard and felt through my meetings with Syrian citizens throughout the past weeks. Credibility after all has been the foundation of my relationship with the Syrian people; a relationship built on deeds rather than words and on substance rather than form. This relationship was built on the basis of trust which grew through the meetings that we recently held.
Although these meetings included relatively small groups, when compared to the larger Syrian population, they clearly established the greatness of our people who showed patriotic awareness, goodness, intelligence, and pride. Of course, delaying my speech until today gave rise to many rumors in the country—rumors that were heard by both you and I.
Rumors, however, are not important. What’s more important is time. Every day brought with it new information, and so did every meeting I held with the many popular delegations that I met. As a result of these rumors, however, every delegation wanted to check about me personally and how authentic or not these rumors actually were. I want to say that every rumor you heard about the President, his family, and his work is absolutely groundless. All of them, whether malicious or innocent, are untrue.
Today we meet at an important juncture in the history of our nation. This is a moment in which, through our will and determination, we strive to make a point of departure from a past burdened with pain and unrest—where innocent blood, which has pained every single Syrian heart, was shed. We aim at a future full of hope; hope that our homeland will restore the harmony and tranquility that it always enjoyed, based on strong foundations of freedom, solidarity and engagement. We have been through difficult times.
In terms of our security and stability, we have paid a heavy price. What happened was an unprecedented ordeal that overshadowed our country and led to a situation of distress, confusion, and frustration. This was due to riots, the killing of innocents, terrorizing the population, and sabotaging both public and private property.
A number of martyrs died and others were injured during these incidents, being ordinary citizens, security personnel, and the Armed Forces. That was a great loss to their families and loved ones, a great loss to the homeland, and an extremely heavy loss for me personally. I pray the Almighty God to have mercy on the souls of all martyrs, and offer my deep and heartfelt condolences to their families and relatives.
In as much as we feel the loss and pain, we are prompted to contemplate this profound experience, both in its negative aspects, vis-a-vis the loss of life and property, and in its positive ones, in terms of the test it has constituted to all of us. We discovered our true national element with all its strength and solidity, on the one hand, and weaknesses on the other. Since turning the clock back is futile, our only option is to look forward.
We took this option when deciding to shape the future, rather than standing by and letting the future shape us and the events around us. We have decided to control events rather than letting events control us—we will lead rather than be lead. This means that we should build upon rich experiences that have singled out deficiencies. In all this, we keep looking forward while taking a long hard look at the past in order to understand the present. It is only natural that the common question today is: What is happening to our country, and why? Is it a conspiracy, and if so, who stands behind it? Or is it our fault, and if so, what is this fault? And of course there are many natural questions during these circumstances. I do not think there is a stage in Syria’s history where it was not the target of some sort of conspiracy, both before and after independence. Those conspiracies took place for many reasons, some relating directly to the important geopolitical position that Syria occupies.
Others were linked to its political positions, principles, and interests. Conspiracies are like germs, after all, multiplying every moment everywhere. They cannot be eliminated, but we can strengthen the immunity of our bodies in order to protect ourselves against them. It doesn’t require much analysis, based on what we heard from others and witnessed in the media, to prove that there is indeed a conspiracy. We should not waste time discussing it or being frightened by it. Rather, we would to identify the internal weaknesses through which this conspiracy can infiltrate the country. Then we should work on correcting these weaknesses. The solution, at the end of the day, is for us to solve our own problems and to avoid ramifications that could weaken our national immunity. Germs exist everywhere, on the skin and within the guts.
Throughout the history of scientific development, scientists always thought of ways to strengthen the immunity of our bodies. This is what we must think of because it is certainly more important than analyzing the conspiracy. I don’t think that data will show all details anytime soon. Probably the truth will not emerge for years to come. Some, however, say that there is no conspiracy. This is also not objective, not only for the crisis, but for the circumstances and the historical context of Syria.
External political positions, after all, are applying pressure on Syria and trying to interfere in the internal affairs of our country. Their target is a price that we know in advance, related directly to us abandoning our principles, rights, and interests. What do we say about these political positions? What do we say about all of this media pressure? What do we say about these sophisticated phones that are found in Syria in the hands of vandals? What do we say about all the fraud that we witnessed recently? We certainly cannot say that this was an act of charity.
It is definitely a conspiracy, but again, we will not waste our time discussing it. I said this before in my speech before the People’s Assembly and at the Cabinet: “We must focus on domestics.” In today’s speech I will only address the domestic situation, without referring to external factors, neither positively or negatively. What is happening on the street has three components. First are those who have demands or needs that they want the state to meet. I have previously spoken about rightful demands. This is one of the duties of the state towards its citizens; where it should work tirelessly in order to meet those demands to the best of its capacities.
All of us, in our positions of responsibility should listen to them, talk to them, and help them, under the umbrella of public order. Law enforcement does not justify neglecting demands of the people. The urgent need of some people also does not justify the spreading of chaos, the breaking of laws, and harming of public interests. I met a large number of those who belong to this component. And when I say those who have needs, I do not mean the demonstrators in specific. I rather mean all those who have needs. Although some of them also have needs, they did not demonstrate, and yet, we need to deal with them as well.
The delegations I met with were from all sectors of society and all religions as well. We need to differentiate between those people, and others who were involved in destruction. The latter are a small group. It is true that they made an impact; they tried to manipulate others. They tried to manipulate the good majority of the Syrian people in order to achieve different purposes. Differentiating between the two groups is very important.
The first constitute a part of our national component and all of the demands I heard from them were raised underneath the national umbrella. They had no foreign agenda and no foreign connections. They were against any foreign intervention under any pretext, asking to engage, however, rather than be marginalized. They wanted justice. Many issues were raised.
For instance, there are unsolved accumulated issues dating back three decades since confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood. That was a black phase, and generations are still paying the price for that period, like being refused government employment, for example, or not being given security permissions. In other words, we held certain individuals responsible for other the mistakes of other individuals—which is not right. We have started to solve these problems.
Delegations from Hama and Idlib in particular, raised such issues during our meetings. As I said, we have started solving these pending issues and we will solve them completely. We cannot continue living in the shadow of a dark phase in our history that happened three decades ago. These issues relate to the justice and injustice every citizen can associate with. There are other issues related to passports, although two years ago we instructed all ambassadors to start issuing passports even to those who are wanted, whether they fled the country or left it but believe that they are “wanted” in Syria.
A large number of those were afraid and did not go to the embassies to receive their passports. Even after the amnesty was declared, they did not collect their passports. There is still a kind of fear which prevents people from making an initiative towards state institutions. This fear makes them feel injustice despite the fact that this injustice does not exist. Talking about the amnesty, in my recent meetings I felt that it did not satisfy many people. The fact is that it is the most comprehensive in twenty three years. I believe a similar one was given in 1988.
Nevertheless, there is a desire that it should be more comprehensive. We do not usually address names, we put criteria, like saying we give amnesty to all, except drugs, terrorism, issues of public morality, etc. Nevertheless, and based on what I heard from a number of people, or information I received from people I did not meet, I will ask the Ministry of Justice to make a study of the margin that we can use in order to make the amnesty more comprehensive, even in a future decree which includes all the others without undermining state security and interests, on the one hand, and the rights of private individuals, like those whose relatives were killed, on the other.
The second component consists of outlaws and wanted for various criminal cases who found in the state’s institutions an enemy and a target because they constitute an obstacle for their illegitimate interests and because they are sought by the state’s institutions. For those, chaos was a golden opportunity that should be grasped in order to ensure that they remain free and persist in their illegal activities. If it is only natural that we seek to enforce the law on all, it does not mean that we should not look for solutions with a social nature in order to prevent those people from choosing the wrong path and encourage them to be good citizens fully integrated into society. You may be asking about the number of these outlaws and wanted individuals? I myself was surprised with this number.
I thought they were a few thousand in the past. The number at the beginning of the crisis was more than 64,400 people. Imagine this number of wanted persons for various criminal cases the verdict of which ranges between few months and execution, and they had escaped justice; the verdict of 24 thousand of those is three years and above. Of course, a few days ago that number dropped slightly to less than 63,000 because some turned themselves in to authorities.
Thus, the number is 64,000, may be more or less, and this equals in military terms almost five military divisions, almost a whole army. If a few thousands of those wanted to carry weapons and engage in sabotage, you can imagine what damage can be caused to the state.
The third and more dangerous component, despite its small size, consists of those who have extremist and takfiri ideology. We have known and experienced this kind of ideology decades ago when it tried to infiltrate Syria; and Syria was able to eliminate it thanks to the wisdom and intelligence of the Syrian people. The ideology we see today is no different from that we saw decades ago. It is exactly the same.
What has changed, however, is the methods and the persons. This kind of ideology lurks in dark corners in order to emerge when an opportunity presents itself or when it finds a handy mask to put on. It kills in the name of religion, destroys in the name of reform, and spreads chaos in the name of freedom. It is very sad to see in any society in the world some groups that belong to other bygone ages, that belong to a period we do not live in and we do not belong to.
In fact, this is the biggest obstacle in the reform process because development starts with human beings. It does not start with computers. It does not start with machines. It does not start with legislation or anything else. It starts with human being. Therefore, we have to encircle this ideology if we really want to develop.
In any case, there are other components. I did not talk about the external component and its role in this crisis. I did not talk about the components that we all know. There are people who are well paid to carry out video cameras, film and collaborate with the media. Some are paying money for those to participate in demonstrations and to do the video filming. These components do not concern us that much.
That is why, and recalling the course of events, it is found that escalation and chaos have always been the response to every reform announced or accomplished. When they lost all justifications, taking to arms was the only available choice remaining to them in order to execute their plan.
In some cases, peaceful demonstrations were used as a pretext under which armed men took cover; in other cases, they attacked civilians, policemen and soldiers by attacking military sites and positions or used assassination. Schools, shops and highways were closed by the use of force, and public property was destroyed, ransacked and put to fire deliberately. Cities were cut from each other by blocking highways. All of this has posed a direct threat to the normal daily life of the citizens and undermined their security, education, economic activity, and communicating with their families. They distorted the country’s image in the outside world and opened the way, and even called for, foreign intervention.
By doing so, they tried to weaken the national political stand, which adheres to the full return of national rights and supports the legitimate rights of our brothers and supports their resistance. They invoked detestable sectarian discourse which we have never endorsed and in which we only see an expression of a hateful ideology which has never been part of our religion, history or traditions and which has been an anathema and a sacrilege to our national, pan-Arab and moral identity. In all these issues, and with the exception of the first component, I am talking about a small minority which constitutes only a very small part of the Syrian people.
That is why it is not cause for concern, but once again I say this should be addressed. When they failed in the first stage, in manipulating the first component, those who have demands, they moved to armed confrontation and acts of violence. When they failed in this, they moved to a new kind of action. They started this in Jisr al-Shughour by committing the atrocious massacres whose images we saw in the media, when they killed security men and destroyed the Post Office. The Post Office is public property: people living in the city use it. There is a great deal of hatred. The important thing is that they possessed sophisticated weapons which did not exist before. They had sophisticated communication systems. They moved to another kind of action.
Near the town of Ma’aret al-Nou’man, they tried to strategic fuel and gas depots. They were able to take control of them. They surrounded the army units which tried to restore them. We were surprised that they have modern four wheel drive vehicles on which they installed sophisticated weapons capable of dealing with helicopters. They also had communication equipment. They tried to commit another massacre in Ma’aret al-Nou’man against a security check points. They almost succeeded had not the people of the town intervened to protect the patrol by hiding them in their houses. Some of the town people paid the price by being tortured and having their bones broken. I appreciate the work of all of those who took this patriotic stance and hope to meet them soon.
Of course there were many people who tried to do similar things, to prevent sedition in different parts of Syria. Many of them succeeded, and some of them have not succeeded so far. Had it not been for this patriotic feeling that many people have, the situation in Syria could have been much worse. The response came from the Syrian people who have once again come up in force to express their national and patriotic feelings in a manner that superseded all expectations.
All this under the heavy shadow of a media campaign launched through satellite TV stations and in cyber space which made it difficult to distinguish what is real from what is illusory and what is genuine from what is fake. But the patriotic feelings and the historic intuition that our people possess, and which are based on an accumulation of experience across generations, were immeasurably more powerful.
The importance of this experience, then, is that it showed the extent of national and patriotic awareness which is the most important guarantee for the success of the development and modernization process we are embarked on and which is based on three pillars; awareness, morals, and institutions.
The absence of any of these pillars will definitely lead to a deviation of the process from its intended objectives and consequently lead to its failure with all the dangerous consequences on our society and our future. What some people are doing today has nothing to do with development, modernization, or reform. What is happening is a form of destruction, and with every act of destruction we are driven away from our objectives in modernization and development and from our aspirations. And here I do not only mean material destruction, for rectifying this can be easy. I rather mean psychological, moral, and behavioural destruction which becomes difficult to correct as time goes by. And we see that some people are trying to endorse such practices and are gradually enshrining disrespect for state institutions and what they stand for on the national level. This will lead to a slackening of the patriotic and national feelings which are essential for the creation and the protection of the homeland.
This is exactly what our enemies want us to do and this is the direction they want us to take. Today we have a generation of children who grew up witnessing these events or learned disorder, lack of respect for institutions, lack of respect for the law and hatred for the state. The consequences of this will not be felt today but later on, and the price will be high. And here I want to raise the question of whether this chaos has produced more job opportunities for job seekers or whether it has improved public conditions. Has it improved the security which we have enjoyed and prided ourselves on? There is no development without stability, and there can be no reform through destruction, sabotage, or chaos.
On the other hand, laws and decisions on their own will not be sufficient to achieve any progress in isolation from the appropriate environment. That is why we should rebuild what has been destroyed and we need to correct these destructive elements or isolate them. Only then can we proceed with development and modernization. All the above is concerned with principles.
As to practice, however, it should be based on reality; and when we talk about reality we need to talk about people. That is why I started a long series of meetings which have included all sections of society from Syrian regions and governorates in order to see this reality and understand it as it is or to have as close an idea as possible about reality from the different perspectives of the Syrian people and in a manner which helps us arrange the priorities of state institutions in line with the priorities of our citizens. I wanted to understand the details directly from the citizens and without the other channels which might do some filtering of the information. They might pass the information in full, but without the emotions involved; and relationships between people are not only facts and information.
There are emotions too. I wanted to build everything I wanted to say in the future on these meetings. Actually, the substance of this speech and what I am saying today is based on the dialogue I had with the citizens. I met people from all sections: demonstrators and non-demonstrators.
In fact, I consider these meetings, despite the difficult circumstances surrounding them, the most important thing I have done throughout my years in my official position. Despite the pain and the frustration in the general atmosphere surrounding these meetings, I can say that the benefit I got from them was astonishing.
The love I felt from those people who represent most of the Syrian people is something I have never felt at any stage of my life. I certainly reciprocate the love of these people and the love of every Syrian citizen whom I do not know, but hope to meet in similar meetings. But what I hope more than that is to turn this love to action.
This, of course, can happen, with your help. These meetings have been useful, frank, in depth and comprehensive. They covered all issues without exception; some of these issues were local, at the level of the city or the governorate, and some were country-wide. My priority was the issues which have a bearing on the largest sections of the Syrian people, and they have been given precedence over local issues, important as they are. Citizens expressed an anger mixed with love and a sense of blame mixed with loyalty because they felt that their state has distanced itself from them by adopting certain policies or by getting involved in certain practices.
I sensed that their suffering was multifaceted; for part of it was related to services and living standards and some related to undermining citizens’ dignity, ignoring their views or excluding them from participation in the development process of which they are the objective and the substance. But I also felt the love of this people who have always given me, through their sincerity, pride, and steadfastness, the strength to proceed with our political stances and our resistance and noncompliance.
I felt that there is a strong desire to eradicate corruption as a major cause for the lack of justice and equal opportunities and for feelings of unfairness, injustice, and oppression, in addition to its dangerous moral consequences on society. What is more dangerous still, are the cases of unfair discrimination among citizens on abominable narrow-minded bases. This on its own is sufficient for undermining the most powerful of nations.
Corruption is the result of moral degradation, the spread of patronage and nepotism, and the absence of institutions, which means the absence of the protector and the guarantor of national feelings which are replaced by narrower feelings of identity.
That is why we need to start working immediately in order to strengthen institutions by passing developed legislation and providing these institutions with officials capable of bearing responsibility instead of being born by the positions they occupy. And there will be no leniency towards those who are unable to shoulder this responsibility.
But we cannot succeed unless we find the appropriate channels through which citizens can participate and play a role in oversight and in pointing to errors and failures. I told many delegations that the state can address, fight or reduce corruption at the higher levels, while we need to find channels for addressing the problem at lower levels.
This is the task of the Anti-Corruption Commission whose mechanisms have been studied by the committee set up for the purpose. These are nice words, but how can they be achieved; for it is easy to say what needs to be done, but putting these words into action is the decisive factor.
As I said, I aimed, through these meetings, to have a more in depth knowledge of reality, but I found myself at the heart of genuine national dialogue. National dialogue is not restricted to specific elites. It is not a dialogue between the authorities and the opposition, neither is it necessarily limited to political issues. It is a dialogue between the different sections of society about all national issues.
If we assume that the government can be given a certain size and the opposition a certain size, it is true that in all countries and all societies, the largest section of society is that which does not belong to either. We cannot talk about a national dialogue, about planning for the future and about drawing Syria’s future for decades and generations to come by neglecting the largest section of the people. Hence the idea of national dialogue which have started recently.
There is no doubt that I was part of a national dialogue; nevertheless, I cannot claim to have accomplished it, because in the end I am only an individual and those I met were hundreds or thousands, and the country includes tens of millions. Hence, the basic idea was to launch a national dialogue in which the widest social, intellectual, and political stakeholders take part in an institutional forum. For this purpose, a national dialogue committee has been set up charged with identifying the principles and mechanisms for ensuring comprehensive dialogue on the different issues of concern to Syrian citizens.
The dialogue will allow, on the one hand, a discussion of the proposed draft laws at this stage, and on the other, provides an opportunity to drawing Syria’s future in a comprehensive sense for future decades and generations and help us all arrive at a mature vision for this future. It will push forward the political, social, and economic dynamics in our country until political parties can play a wider role in public life after a new party law is passed.
A number of views have been expressed about the possible format of the dialogue. And one of the first tasks of the national dialogue committee is to consult with different stakeholders in order to arrive at the best format which enables us to accomplish our reform project within a specific timeframe. As I said in my meeting with the cabinet, everything should be tied to a timeframe, and I believe that you are all calling for a timeframe for everything we talk about. We can say, then, that national dialogue is the title for the present stage.
When we started with this idea, we thought that the dialogue should be at governorate level. What I have noticed in my meetings with citizens from different governorates is that the issues themselves are not looked at from the same perspective, and the reason is the large social diversity we have in Syria. Although there are points of convergence, still there are differences to a certain extent.
So, in the beginning we thought of conducting the dialogue on governorate level as a first phase in order to move later to central dialogue. The issues raised in this central dialogue will be determined according to agreements reached or the issues around which there was a consensus in the governorate dialogue.
However, and after setting up the Dialogue Commission, and in order to reduce the time needed, and as a result of the conditions Syria is going through, they thought of starting directly with central dialogue. There were questions raised which have now become part of the mandate of the Commission. If we want to start dialogue, who should take part, what are the criteria, how to identify the different axes, who takes part in the discussion over which axis, and other technical details.
At this moment there is confusion, although this has been explained on television: about the role of the Commission. The Commission does not conduct the dialogue, it rather supervises the dialogue. It lays the mechanisms and identifies the timeframe. After the end of the dialogue, what is agreed upon is referred to the Commission. If there are laws to be passed, they are passed by the president, and if there are other issues which need certain measures, the state follows them up.
In any case, the commission did not want to have a monopoly over setting the criteria. It decided to hold a consultative meeting in the next few days to which it invites more than a hundred personalities from the different sections of the Syrian society in order to consult with them about the criteria and the mechanisms. After that, dialogue starts and the Commission identifies a timeframe, one month or two months, in accordance to what the participants in the consultative meeting decide.
This dialogue is a very important process, and it should be given an opportunity, because the whole future of Syria, if we want it to succeed, should be based on this dialogue in which all parts of the Syrian spectrum take part. We cannot always expect a vision from the state or from the government. A few scores of people cannot plan for millions of people. This is the importance of this dialogue.
As to the urgent needs and demands of the people, they have been put into implementation before the beginning of the dialogue. We have lifted the emergency law and abolished the state security court, steps which will ensure the organization of the work of relevant agencies in a manner that enhances and protects people’s dignity without undermining the country’s security. We also passed a law regulating the right to peaceful demonstration which strengthens the possibility of expressing views and positions in a free, peaceful, and organized manner as a healthy condition which helps the state rectify failures and correct trends. Questions have been raised about the issue of arrest and detention, for some people found that detentions continued after lifting the state of emergency.
I believe that most people, whether in the state, inside and outside the competent authorities, did not understand the meaning of the state of emergency nor the meaning of lifting the state of emergency.
However, we stressed the import of this issue. What is important is that any case of arrest takes place after permission is obtained from the Attorney General. There is a specific period allowed for investigation. If they want to extend this period, they should obtain permission from the Attorney General or from the judicial system.
But there is a specific time limit. When somebody is caught in the act, there is no need for permission, but the same procedures are followed with the permission of the Attorney General. However, lifting the state of emergency does not mean violating the law. This should be clear.
Lifting the state of emergency has nothing to do with legal punishments or the nature of these punishments. Based on our conviction that citizens should be better represented in elected institutions, particularly in the People’s Assembly and local administration councils, a committee was set up to draft a new elections law.
This will strengthen the role of these institutions for the public good and enable them to be more effective and ensure wider participation. This will enhance the principles of justice, equality, integrity, and transparency. These principles will be the hallmark of the future which we seek for our country. This issue is now subject to public discussion. The Committee has finished the draft law, and I believe it is going to be an important law, because most of the criticism I heard from the citizens revolves around their representatives in the different councils.
This law will give the opportunity to citizens to elect the people who will represent them and represent their interests. Another committee was set up to draft legislation and design the necessary mechanisms for fighting corruption. I believe that it concluded its work yesterday and proposed a draft law which is now subject to public discussion.
The Anti-Corruption Commission has been set up in order to reduce it and turn it into an unwanted exception rather than a widespread phenomenon or an inevitable reality. Citizens will play a wide role in oversight and participation in this process. No success can be achieved in eradicating this epidemic without the full participation of all citizens.
The media plays a central role in this regard, for they should be the eye and the voice of the citizen. And we have started a large workshop in order to modernize the media, expand the scope of its freedom and strengthen its responsibility so they become a transparent medium of communication between citizens and the state. The law will be subject to public discussion, in order to receive and incorporate feedback before it is passed. I believe the Media Committee has until July 24th to complete its work.
As to the local administration law, it has been put in draft and is being discussed. I believe it is one of the most important steps which will be taken in terms of its impact on development or in terms of participation in local administration. It will contribute to addressing a number of problems which cannot be solved under the present central administration. It will regulate the authorities and relationships between the different levels of local administration and will have a positive impact on the general performance and consequently on the citizens.
Syrian nationality has been given to Kurdish citizens registered previously as foreigners. This will enhance national unity and contribute to more stability in the long term. There have been over thirty six thousand applications so far, and the number of identity cards given so far is over six thousand seven hundred.
Setting up a committee to study a new party law was a major step for political development and widening the scope of democratic life. A new party law will enrich party diversity and allow for more participation for different trends in political life. These laws, this political package I have mentioned, will create a new political reality in Syria through broadening popular participation in the affairs of the sate and making citizens responsible through their contribution to decision making, oversight, and accountability. They will lead to deep transformations at the level of political dynamism and mass activity.
This will also lead to reconsideration of many principles of political activity in the country and consequently make it necessary to revise the constitution in order either to amend some of its articles or make a new constitution in line with the economic, political and social changes in Syria during the past four decades since it was passed. This package will be presented to national dialogue.
Of course there are a number of points which need to be mentioned regarding this package. Some people believe that there is a certain degree of procrastination on the part of the state regarding political reform. In other words, they imply that the state is not serious about this reform. I want to stress that the reform process for us is a matter of complete and absolute conviction because it represents the interest of the country, and because it expresses the desire of the people, and no reasonable person can oppose the people or the interest of the country. What is more important is that there is no opposition to reform.
This is a question which has been put to me. I personally have not met any individual in the state who opposes reform. Everybody is enthusiastic for reform. The problem, however, is what reform do we want? What are the details? The package of laws which I have mentioned consists of laws in the general sense. But what are the details which we want and which we believe are useful? Some people expect that the law is passed and the president signs it, so it is easy. Can this happen? Does this lead to positive results and achieve the public interests? Maybe. And when I say maybe I mean that all possibilities are there.
We cannot do something crucial and carry out a full reform process after fifty years of a certain political structure, and move forward by leaping into the unknown. We need to know where we are going and what to expect. What we are doing now is making our future, and making the future is a sort of history.
The history or the future which we are making will affect future generations for decades to come. Even if they make amendments in line with their circumstances in the future, still what we do now is something of crucial importance which will affect Syria’s future. That is why we need to have the broadest possible participation; and hence the importance of national dialogue. We need the broadest possible participation in order to have a wider take on things and to have a far-reaching impact on the future.
When some people say that the president should lead the reform process, this does not mean that he can replace the people and carry out the reform process on his own. Leadership does not mean that one individual should stand alone but rather he should be in front and the people proceed with him. Leadership is a process of consultation and interaction.
And here I reiterate the importance of national dialogue. What are the things that the dialogue should focus on? We are talking about an election law. Which election law is in the best interest of Syria? Do we want small constituencies, medium-size constituencies or large constituencies? Every option has its positive and negative aspects. Which election law achieves full integration for Syrian society and does not lead to fragmentation? Which election law is better suited to the new party law which we want? What is the party law which leads to full integration of Syrian society and preserves Syria’s unity and at the same time prevents Syria from turning into a ball rather than a player, as it used to be decades ago. There are so many questions which need to be raised.
As to the election law, do we want to elect an individual or a programme? There are questions, and so far we do not have answers. Even if we have an answer, we should not say that this is the right answer and proceed carrying all the negative aspects to the future generations. We should take responsibility together. We have people with a great degree of awareness, and the question is that of discussion.
So, we need to answer these questions, and these are only samples of a larger variety of questions. There are others; do we pass the party law and the election law before the elections for the People’s Assembly? The majority say yes. Some people want to separate the election’s law from the party law and want the new Assembly to pass the party law. Do we want to postpone the People’s Assembly elections for three months, as some people have proposed or do we have them on time?
As far as we are concerned, we do not want to adopt a certain answer for these questions. We want to be impartial as a state. What is important is public consensus. If there is no consensus on these and other issues, we will have a big problem in Syria. As to the constitution, this is a slightly separate question. Do we replace a few articles of the constitution, including article (8), or do we change the whole constitution since it was written about forty years ago, and it might be better to change it completely. Some people suggest that we undertake certain steps now and amend some articles, and later on make a revision of the whole constitution.
And if some articles need to be amended, then they should be amended by a new People’s Assembly. If what is needed is changing the whole constitution, this needs a public referendum.
There are numerous questions but the main question is within this framework. I can raise them without giving a timeframe, but it is better if we give a timeframe even in light of all these questions. Now, most committees have completed their work with the exception of the Media Committee which will complete its work in July.
The Party Law Committee will finish in the next few days. If we complete the Party and Election Laws, the most important for political reform, we can start the national dialogue directly and discuss all these laws and the laws which will be passed later. Concerning national dialogue, I do not want to set a timeframe on their behalf, but some of those involved suggest a month and others suggest two months. In any case, if the People’s Assembly elections are not postponed, they will be held in August, and we will have a new People’s Assembly in August. We can say that we can complete this package by the end of August.
By the beginning of September all this package will be completed. The constitution is different because it needs the People’s Assembly. If the new People’s Assembly is elected in August, it can directly start studying the constitutional amendments. If they are postponed as a result of a decision taken in the process of national dialogue for three months, the package will be completed before the end of the year, i.e. in five months. However, if we want to have a full revision of the constitution and to have a new one, the process is completely different.
Then we should have a constitutional assembly which proposes the constitution for the public referendum. But what we will do immediately is to set up a committee to study the issue of the constitution in order to save time.
The committee will start its work in the next few days and we will give it a month, which I think is sufficient. It will refer its studies to national dialogue, and then we will have a clear time frame, let us say three months until the beginning of September or five months until the end of the year. But we are moving ahead with all the laws and with studying the constitution which will be the last phase.
A lot has been said about the delays in reform. I talked about this in front of the People’s Assembly and said that we are a bit late. Some people started to ask why they are late. There is no justification. I said that we are late but did not say that we have stopped. In other words, the law for lifting the state of emergency was ready about eighteen months ago and the draft party law was also ready about a year ago.
We started preparing the local administration law less than a year ago. The reason why we have not passed the first and second laws is that we believe that the local administration law, which is the most important in the reform process, has two aspects to it; elections and participation. Getting to the local administration law, in any case, requires amending the election law. So it was a matter of priorities, and we did not neglect the other laws. We looked at priorities then in a different way from that we look at them now.
Amidst this huge workshop of reform, laws and dialogue, we have not forgotten the day to day living problems of the Syrian citizen which remain more urgent. The government passed a number of decisions with the objective of improving people’s living standards.
One of the most important decisions was to reduce diesel prices, for it was one of the most frequent demands made by all the delegations which I met without exception. I hope that its impacts on the living standards will be felt in the near future, particularly among the poorer sections of the Syrian population.
We also worked on reducing constructions costs through reconsidering with the Engineers’ Association the related fees in order to ease the financial burdens on citizens to the extent available resources allow. We hope that the general reduction of costs will push the economy forward, increase job opportunities and compensate the large losses suffered by the Syrian economy during the current events. They would increase the suffering of the citizens if we do not face them with rapid procedures that mitigate the pressure at the present and reverse its direction later on. This is a group of measures aimed at alleviating the crisis and reducing burdens on Syrian citizens. There are other measures taken by the government; but what is important now is for all of us to work in order to restore confidence in the Syrian economy.
The most dangerous thing we will face is the weakness or the collapse of the Syrian economy. A large part of the problem is psychological; and we should not allow fear or frustration to defeat us. We should defeat the problem by returning to normal life. Returning to normalcy has a moral impact, and the economy is affected by the psychological condition of the population. We should go back to normal life as far as possible.
The crisis might give us a bloody nose, might give us pain, might shake us, might throw us on the ground, but we should rise again stronger and more tenacious in order to carry out our life normally.
Here I want to express my thanks and appreciation for all the citizens who have taken part in the campaign to support the Syrian pound. There are people who have less than a thousand Syrian pounds, yet they contributed. Some have thousands and they did the same thing. One day, after we overcome the crisis,
God willing, we should ask all those who have money about the role they played, how they contributed to this campaign. This is a national duty. Administrative development remains the biggest challenge in the work of our institutions. And we will proceed in our plans by regulating authorities and controlling practices in order to prevent overlapping in the work of different institutions or in the work of individuals from inside and outside the state.
We should also adopt sound criteria for choosing personnel and assessing performance. In other words, we should prevent nepotism. Measures have been taken, and so far about one hundred and twenty security permissions, which have been part of bureaucratic procedures, have been abolished.
At the same time the work of the security systems has been recently separated from the work of civil institutions. We need to rely more on inspection, the judiciary, financial control and the Anti-Corruption Commission in its new format. The media contributes to oversight by providing transparency to government work, and it will constitute a channel of communication between state institutions and the citizens, in addition to other channels between state officials and citizens, either directly or through the organizations and trade unions which represent their interests.
We should also examine economic issues and we need to look for a new economic model.
In the past there were two models; the socialist and the capitalist. Many people believe that these models have fallen. Now we do not have ready-made experiences to take and implement. We need to look for a model which suits Syria.
The measures we have taken now have to do with dealing with the media and dealing with suffering. In other words, they deal with temporary problems and do not solve the problem in the long term. If we do not know the model suitable to Syria and which achieves social equity between the rich and the poor, the country and the city, we will have a problem. Because there is already a big problem in the disparity between the country and the city despite the balanced economic policy which Syria has followed in terms of providing equal opportunities and economic independence and relying on local resources.
I believe that this issue needs national dialogue on the economy, something we will do later in order to move ahead in this field. These are some basic titles for the next phase. These titles are the axes around which any other evolves. There is no doubt that one single speech would not address all the raised issues.
Therefore, the national dialogue will be the method through which any issue that enriches what I talked about in my speech or more than that could be raised.
The next stage is the stage of turning Syria into a construction workshop to compensate for time and damages, and to rectify rifts and heal wounds; when the blood of any Syrian citizen whoever he is and in whatever circumstances is spilled, this means that the entire nation is bleeding. Stopping this bleeding is a national responsibility every citizen should be involved in.
Sitting on the fence, however, is to deepen the wound. We are all responsible for protecting the security and stability of the country regardless of our positions and views. We will prosecute and hold responsible anyone who spilled blood or sought to do so.
The delay of legal procedures for bureaucratic reasons does not mean procrastination and does not mean indulgence because the damage that happened impacted everyone; and bringing all those responsible to account is the right of the state as much as it is the right of individuals.
The Judicial Investigation Committee is proceeding with its work without any intervention. It has full immunity and independence. I follow up their work from time to time, but it does not work according to political criteria. It works in accordance with legal criteria, which means that they constantly look for evidence in order to indict any individual. Some people believe that the Commission has not done anything yet. This is not true. It has arrested a number of individuals involved in the crisis and they are completing their investigation in order to bring them to justice and it will continue to move in this direction.
When we enforce the law, this does not mean revenge in any way against people who have violated the law without killing or destruction. The state is like a mother or father who embraces everyone and accommodates all her children; the state’s relationship with them is based on tolerance and love, not on hatred and revenge, and when the state forgives those who make mistakes, it aims at enshrining this sound relationship between the state and the citizens.
But this does not mean the abandonment of toughness when it comes to harming the public interest. There are those who say that some demonstrators continue to demonstrate because they demonstrated in the past and believe that they will be prosecuted by the state. We announced an amnesty for all those who turn themselves in during the months of April and May. There were those who turned themselves in with their weapons, and they were pardoned immediately.
And I say to all these people: try to contact the state and you will find a positive response and tolerance on part of state institutions, even regarding those who have carried weapons but did not use them against anyone. However, as for terrorizing citizens and committing acts of killing and terrorism, this is another issue and the state cannot but enforce the full extent of the law. At the same time, I call on all those who have left their cities or villages to return.
The return of the displaced is a very important issue, because a city dies without its people. And we cannot talk about normal life and economic life while there are people who left their towns and villages and went to other places. I call on every individual and every family who left their cities or villages to return as soon as possible.
And I stress that the Syrian government calls on all those who left Jisr al-Shughour and the villages surrounding it to Turkey to return immediately. There are those who tell them or suggest to them that the state will take revenge against them. I assure them that this is not true. The army is there for their security and the security of their children. So, we hope to see them soon in Jisr al-Shugour.
Every individual might ask how can I contribute? I want to do something. How can I contribute to solving this problem? Of course we do not have complete solutions but we can contribute now. I say that there is a role that the people can play and a role that the state can play. The state plays its role through the reforms I talked about; political reform, economic reform, and reform in other areas. The state has a role to play in providing services.
There are deficiencies. There are grievances. There are measures which have harmed the citizens. The state should rectify these deficiencies. Those who have been involved in acts of killing, terrorization and destruction will be brought to justice and prosecuted. It is the duty of the state to prosecute them. In this regard, some people debate whether the solution should be political or security-based.
They say that the security-based solution has failed, and consequently the state should proceed in the direction of the political solution. In fact, we in the state think that the solution should be political.
The problem consists of political, economic and social demands. But what identifies the method of solving the problem is not the state’s view but the nature of the problem itself. It is not the state which wanted, desired, or forced those who are involved in acts of destruction; neither can we deal with those politically. This is not reasonable.
There is no political solution for those who carry weapons and kill. We want a political solution and want the army to go back to its barracks as soon as possible. We want security personnel to go back to their offices, premises, and positions, also as soon as possible.
The normal thing is for citizens to deal with the police and the judiciary. Citizens have nothing to do with the army or with security personnel. The problem is that the police force in Syria is small and the police have not been trained for such cases. We started recruitment, but the capacity is limited, and at the same time training takes a long time. In any case, and regardless of the crisis, if we want to regulate the relationship between the citizen and the state in this direction, this needs some time.
As to citizens, to the people, the first thing I want to say is we want them to support reform, and this is self-evident, because the people are demanding reform, so it is only natural for them to support reform. But supporting reform takes place by distinguishing between real reformists and those involved in destruction and sabotage, and also isolating those who want to ride the wave of reform in order to make personal gain.
We want them to prevent chaos. As I said, there are those who acted in order to prevent chaos; parents with their children, brothers with each other, friends among each other. It is a process of awareness raising. We want the demonstrations to be turned into pens, to written opinions, to ideas, to dialogue, to acts on the ground. Now I am not talking about something theoretical, I am talking rather about something practical. In many places, the security forces were withdrawn and the people of the region started to work with the state for the development process, in fighting corruption, in order to preserve the security of the villages and cities in which they live.
This requires the existence of channels between these people and the state. When we created these channels, they turned form demonstrators into individuals who wanted to build their country.
A demonstration is an expression of pain, of suffering that the state has not responded to. When the state responded, the situation became completely different. We can increase the number of these channels in order to turn every individual into a productive citizen. This is of course a temporary phase until political parties start to play their role in the future, for parties are the natural channel for transforming the energy of individuals into action on the ground and contributing to the return to normal life. This is the most important, even if the crisis went on for months or years, we should accommodate ourselves to it, we should corner it and make it limited to those who are concerned with the crisis. Now we have an army there. Until the army returns to their barracks, we have to support this army and ask for its support everywhere.
The army consists of the brothers of every Syrian citizen, and the army always stands for honour and dignity. Young people have an important role to play at this stage, because they have proven themselves to be an active power. There is the electronic army which has been a real army in virtual reality. There were those who took part in the blood donation campaign, and other initiatives. I met a number of youth delegations from different sections of society and found that Syrian youth enjoy a high sense of patriotism, and this is self-evident because they belong to this country.
This generation has to prepare itself for the next political phase so that we become the model for the whole region. Instead of taking lessons from others, we will teach them.
In this speech, I touched on a number of important points. I met a large number of delegations, and I have a list of issues which number over one thousand and a hundred big and small issues, and every one of those I met would wish that I raised the issue they touched on, for everyone believes that his issue is an important one. I mentioned these issues not because they encompass all our problems, but because they are the most important and most comprehensive. As to the other issues, we in the state are addressing them continuously.
The intensive meetings with public delegations have allowed me to expand the direct communication channels which principally exist between me and the citizens. These channels have formed a rich source of information on the reality with all its facts, and this is what any official needs. In the next stage, I will continue holding such meetings which, in addition to providing me with confidence, are the compass according which our internal policies will be built.
The same goes for foreign policy which I sought to base on the pulse of the street and reflect in every situation we faced; this popular pulse which does not accept anything short of Syria as an independent state both on its land and its decisions. This popular pulse which refuses to let the homeland be a ball instead of being a player on its own court. This pulse refuses to allow its role to be measured according to its geographical size rather than its historical importance.
Otherwise, Syria will be besieged within its borders, rather than reaching out to its natural and vital regional dimension, and thus to turn into a state of rival tribes living on the crumbs thrown to her children from outside the borders.
Through all of that, we must realize that achieving reform and development does not only represent an internal need, but it is necessary and vital to confront those plans; and therefore we have no option but to succeed in the domestic project in order to succeed in our external project. The pressures are directed against Syria's role in resisting the schemes of sectarian division in the region which will mean that there is neither resistance nor rights, but collapse and surrender.
Accomplishing security is our starting point; and the people are the most capable to be entrusted with maintaining security and protecting the homeland. I am saying this based on experience and reality, not out of courtesy. Those who protected the country through hard times, and those who protected it today are the people, the young people who confronted dangers, made initiatives and implemented things on the ground, forming popular committees and youth groups, making personal initiatives which kept the country’s name high and reflected its spirit and the pulse of its youth and people.
The power of the state is derived from the power of the people whose power is derived from their dignity, which in turn is derived from their freedom, which is again derived from the power of their state. So, let the people embrace the sate and let the army, the security personnel, the police and the people work hand in hand to prevent sedition, protect the homeland and ensure its supremacy.
Syria’s destiny is to face crises; but it is also its destiny to be proud, strong, resistant and victorious. Its destiny is to come out of crises stronger thanks to the solidarity and cohesion of its society, its deeply rooted values and the determination of its people who are endowed with intelligence, civilization and openness.
It is you who prevented the confusion between the greed and designs of superpowers, on the one hand, and people’s desire for reform and change on the other. It is you who protected the flower of youth from being sacrificed to the greed of international powers. It is you who prevented all attempts of sectarian sedition scrambling at the gates of the homeland and cut off the head of the snake before it could bite the Syrian body and kill it.
I say that as long as you enjoy this great spirit and this deep sense of identity, Syria is fine and safe.