Q&A: Ammar Abdulhamid on Syria’s uprising

Rights activist says the international response to violence in Syria is merely “symbolic” and “rife with hypocrisy”.

Ammar Abdulhamid
Syrian rights activist Ammar Abdulhamid has been living in exile in the US since 2005

Rights groups have estimated that at least 1,600 people have died since the start of the uprising in Syria in March, but that number might increase considerably by the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Since Sunday alone, at least 150 people have been killed in Deir ez-Zor, Hama and Al-Buka-mal – a bloody progression from battles and sieges in other cities and towns such as Deraa, Homs, Latakia and Jirs al-Shughur.

But how long can the protests – and the severe crackdowns on them – continue?

Ammar Abdulhamid is a Syrian human rights activist and founder of the non-profit Tharwa Foundation (which promotes democracy and development in in Syria as well as the broader region).

He told the foreign affairs committee of the US House of Representatives in the spring of 2008 that, “Change in Syria is not a matter of ‘if’ anymore, but of ‘when’, ‘how’ and ‘who’.” 

Three years later, he still feels the same, and the questions seem closer to being answered by the nation of Syria itself.

Abdulhamid tells Al Jazeera what he thinks of the of the international response to the unrest and how he sees the government and protesters arriving at their end games.

You note on your blog that “world leaders are appalled” at what is unfolding in Syria – do you think that is a sufficient response?

This response is not only insufficient, but is rife with hypocrisy and cowardice. After months of peaceful protests and bloody crackdown, you’d think world leaders will have developed some contingency plans for dealing with this situation.

Instead, they seem content with looking on as the Assads [the family to which president Bashar al-Assad belongs] perpetrate one massacre after another against the people. 

Read more of our coverage on Syria’s uprising

What sort of response are protesters hoping for from various members of the international community?

We were hoping at least for a call on Bashar al-Assad to step down by now to allow for a transition to democracy to take place.

We were hoping that a regional power like Turkey, where the PM had said not too long ago that he won’t allow for a repeat of Hama, to show that he meant what he said.

We were hoping that the Russians and Chinese, not to mention the Brazilians, the Indians, and the South Africans, will see the banality of continuing to support the Assads and will endorse a strong UNSC [United Nations Security Council] resolution against them.

Instead, we got a lesson in hypocrisy and doublespeak. 

The European Union expanded its sanctions against Syria on Monday. Do you think Syrians on the ground (whether pro- or anti-government) will see that a symbolic gesture?

Symbolic gestures cannot prevent massacres and stop the bloodshed, we have had enough of them. 

Realistically, how will those sanctions affect the Syrian government now and in the following weeks?

Sanctions are hurting the economy, but with Iran and some Arab states willing to bail out the regime, the Assads might survive long enough to commit more massacres and plunge our country into civil strife, which is what they have been trying to do since day one of the revolution. 

How do you see things progressing during “Red Ramadan”?

If the majority of the protesters remain committed to the peaceful character of the movement, we might emerge victorious yet.

This battle of wills revolves for the most part on the ability to keep marginalising the fanatics. Considering the stance of the international community. and the strong commitment by the Assads and their supporters to bloodshed and to playing the sectarian card, this will get more difficult by the day. 

Can you see a breaking point coming up in the turmoil that has now been going on for months? If so, what would that breaking point look like to you?

Should the protesters manage to keep the momentum going despite all this violence on the part of the authorities, and despite the push by the few to take up arms, we might begin to see some serious fractures within the regime by end of Ramadan. 

Given that from the perspective of the protesters, the fear barrier has long been broken, do you see the Assad family recovering in any measurable way and returning to having the sort of authority it has had for decades?  

The end is coming, but the question is: How bloody is it going to be?

Should the Assads succeed in dragging the country into civil war, pitting confessional [religious] groups against each other, then they can hang on for a while longer and the end will be very bloody.

On the other hand, foiling their plans by resisting the urge to seek vendettas, and by keeping the revolution peaceful, will hasten their demise, and will minimise the amount of violence and bloodshed. 

Follow D. Parvaz on Twitter: @DParvaz

Source: Al Jazeera