It’s part of the “Arab Spring” that’s been taking place largely out of Western view. Protesters have been challenging the Syrian government for weeks, despite aggressive efforts by President Bashar al-Assad to stamp out dissent. But details about events on the ground are hard to come by – the ruling regime has essentially banned journalists. We explore what’s at stake as unrest grows and the challenges of following the events as they unfold.

Guests

  • Theodore Kattouf President, AMIDEAST; Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria (2001-2003)
  • Katherine Zoepf Reporter, The New York Times; Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow, The New America Foundation
  • Ausama Monajed Syrian political activist; Spokesman, National Initiative for Change

Transcript

  • 13:22:15

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's a potential revolution that most certainly is not being televised. For two months now, Syria has clamped down on challenges to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, a violent pushback that, depending on who you talk to, has already led to hundreds of deaths and thousands of detentions. But unlike so many of the other uprisings of the so-called Arab Spring, most of the unrest in Syria is largely taking place outside the view of the Western world. Journalists are essentially shut out of the country and many Syrians are reluctant to share their stories out of concern for their own safety.

  • 13:22:50

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThis weekend, the violence and unrest in Syria spilled over its border with Lebanon and spilled into the eternally complex Arab-Israeli dispute, further complicating matters for a country that many consider to be a lynchpin for any potential solution to restore peace to the Middle East region. Joining us in studio to discuss all of this is Katherine Zoepf. She writes for the New York Times. She was based in Syria and Lebanon from 2004 to 2007. She's also the Bernard L. Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation. Katherine Zoepf, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:23:22

    MS. KATHERINE ZOEPFThank you for having me.

  • 13:23:23

    NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Theodore Kattouf. He was the ambassador, U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2001 to 2003. He's now the president and CEO of AMIDEAST, the nonprofit organization engaged in international education, training and development activities in the Middle East and North Africa. Ted Kattouf, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:23:45

    MR. THEODORE KATTOUFMy pleasure.

  • 13:23:46

    NNAMDIAlso with us is Ausama Monajed. He is a Syrian political activist who lives in London. He serves as a spokesperson for the opposition group, the National Initiative for Change. Ausama Monajed, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:23:59

    MR. AUSAMA MONAJEDThank you.

  • 13:23:59

    NNAMDIKatherine, for the past two months or so, the unrest in Syria has been, at least for most Americans, an extremely opaque situation. Few journalists have had access inside the country. People are relying on videos and photos that have trickled out and the stories that people inside the country have been willing to share. But yesterday, the violence in Syria spilled over into Lebanon. What happened yesterday on the Lebanese border, from what you can tell?

  • 13:24:26

    ZOEPFWell, it -- in the border town of Talkalakh in western Syria, there seem to have been some attacks on Syrian military installations. And what activists have been saying happened is that there were some members of the Syrian army who defected, who decided that they were -- that they stood with the protestors and actually began attacking these army positions and a number of people in the town fled over the border.

  • 13:25:06

    NNAMDIElsewhere, Israel is pointing the finger at Syria for instigating protests along its border with that country, where at least 12 protestors were killed. What's the significance about what happened along that border yesterday, both inside of Syria and throughout the rest of the region, Ted Kattouf?

  • 13:25:26

    KATTOUFWell, it's Israel independence day and the Palestinians kept the Arabic word for the catastrophe, the Nakba. But Syria clearly has never allowed the protests to get to the point where they literally cross a cleared minefield and climbed the fence from the Golan disengagement line into Israel and some actually under the Druze village there, the village of Syrian Druze in the Israeli controlled part of the Golan. So, it appears to have been a warning shot by Syria that if others are out to, quote, "destabilize Syria, Syria can destabilize the neighborhood."

  • 13:26:14

    NNAMDIIndeed some Israeli officials are pointing the finger at Syria and at its ally Iran, accusing them of instigating those protests to deflect attention from the deadly repression of the anti-government demonstrations in Syria. Do you think that is credible, Ausama Monajed?

  • 13:26:32

    MONAJEDWell, this is certainly the case. Only few days before the, you know, the border protest, Rami Makhlouf, who's a cousin of Bashar al-Assad, in a New York Times interview that the security of Israeli is of the security -- or the security of Syria is of the security of Israel. This is a message that if either of us kills, either of us will cause trouble and cause more trouble in the region. You know, any person who lives even in the southern area of Syria and want to go to the border, there are three different permits they need to go through and it's a very complicated matter and -- you know, checkpoints to go through before reaching the, you know, the minefields of the border area.

  • 13:27:19

    MONAJEDOur information and sources say that a month ago or five weeks ago, Ahmad Jebril, the Palestinian leader who's in Syria, was liaising with the Syrian intelligence, through (unintelligible) and others and also with some chiefs from Hezbollah who came to Damascus and also the Iranians there to orchestrate this play on the Nakba Day to seek -- they have synchronized protest on the borders, Lebanese and, you know, southern borders, Golan southern borders. Also, Hezbollah people made sure that the Palestinians who came by buses facilitated by Palestinian groups arrive in the border area, and also the buses used by the Palestinians went to the Golan borders, also where the vehicles of the security services.

  • 13:28:15

    NNAMDIIf you'd like to join this conversation about Syria, you can call us at 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to kojo@wamu.org. Ausama, you were part of a group that calls itself the National Initiative for Change. It's a group of opposition figures who are trying to organize the movement against the ruling regime. How would you describe the people who belong to this movement and what would you say are your goals because of the lack of independent journalistic presence out in Syria, it's been very hard for journalists there to pinpoint the strength of your organization.

  • 13:28:54

    MONAJEDYeah. The Initiative consists of 150 reputable names inside the country and 25 people outside, 175 in total. The people inside the country are broad based, from broad-based backgrounds, all religious backgrounds, political backgrounds and regional, also, backgrounds. The first statement we issued was calling upon the Syrian army to protect the Syrian people, protect the civilians and do its job, basically, by not firing at people. When the army, when they graduate, they swear to protect the land, the borders and the people.

  • 13:29:29

    MONAJEDAnd also calling upon two personalities in the army in particular, two generals, the General Ali Habib, the secretary of defense, and the General Davoud Rajha, the joint chief of staff of the Syrian army. Why these names, two names in particular? Because, you know, General Ali Habib is an Alawite and Davoud Rajha is a Christian. This is a message to the minorities in the country that we do not only want you to be a part of the transitional period, we want you to safeguard the transitional period, to play this whole leadership role.

  • 13:30:01

    NNAMDIDid you ever get any responses to that? And what evidence can you provide that there are segments of the military that might be sympathetic to your cause?

  • 13:30:09

    MONAJEDWell, there are certainly, you know, defections in the army, not at senior levels, but still at a battalion level. Various incidents and we have witnesses, we have videos, we have also generals who defected or colonels who defected. In the 5th battalion, there were, you know, was exchange of fire, or the 4th battalion in the southern area, the 13th battalion, also 4th in Banias. So, the Syrian army consists of 250,000 soldiers. They do in the military service from across the country from all regions.

  • 13:30:50

    MONAJEDAnd any battalion or brigade you send to any town to kill the uprising, you would expect that some people are, you know, belong to this area . They're not going to shoot their relatives. This is not the case perhaps with the 4th division, which is headed by Maher Assad, Bashar's brother, where these soldiers are handpicked, you know, and...

  • 13:31:15

    NNAMDII'm glad you got back to President Bashar al-Assad. But allow me to reintroduce our guests in case you're joining us. We're talking about Syria. The voice you were just listening to is that Ausama Monajed. He's a Syrian political activist who lives in London and serves as the spokesperson for the opposition group, the National Initiative for Change. Also joining us in studio is Katherine Zoepf. She writes for the New York Times. She was based in Syria and Lebanon from 2004 to 2007.

  • 13:31:41

    NNAMDIAnd Theodore Kattouf was the U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2001 to 2003. Ted Kattouf, Bashar al-Assad came into power shortly before you arrived in Damascus as ambassador. How would you compare the challenge that he's facing right now to the one that his father bid back in the early '80s, which resulted in tens of thousands of people dying?

  • 13:32:06

    KATTOUFWell, they were both crises, but the build up to the massacre in Hama in 1982 more or less occurred in slow motion. It was underground movement of basically the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, maybe some people even more radical than they. There was urban guerilla warfare, a number regime figures were assassinated at the time. It had a sectarian overtones to it. There was a massacre of Alawite cadets up in Aleppo, the large northern city, where some of these radicals got into the military academy, separated out the Sunni Muslim cadets from the Alawites and gunned down the Alawites.

  • 13:32:56

    KATTOUFSo Assad was able to -- Assad (word?) was able to over time get the population largely behind him, isolate these people. And then when there was an opportunity in Hama, when they were -- his army was going door to door and they met resistance and calls from the mosques to fight the army, he sent his brother up there and they mercilessly put down the uprising. And that kept the peace for 30 years. This is much more of a mass movement, peaceful, largely peaceful, not 100 percent, but largely peaceful. And it involves a wide range of people across the country.

  • 13:33:38

    NNAMDIWhat hope did you have for Assad (word?), I guess, Bashar al-Assad as a reformer back then and what hope do you have for his leadership now?

  • 13:33:48

    KATTOUFWell, there was some hope that Bashar was going to reform many aspects of his father's system. And very early on, even before my arrival, he had given people to believe that he would welcome debate and discussion groups and the like. For reasons that have never been clear, however, they started to get nervous about this. They crack down on intellectuals and the like who had been participating in such discussion groups, wanting them not to continues. So, it seems to me and it seemed to me even back years ago that Bashar really wanted to work in reform within the system.

  • 13:34:28

    KATTOUFHe didn't really want to radically or even significantly change the system. He just wanted to make it more efficient and he was looking more at a Chinese model, where he would bring prosperity to Syria, but the Baath Party that he heads would continue to be the vanguard party, if you will.

  • 13:34:49

    NNAMDIAgain, the number to call is 800-433-8850. Here is Gary in Washington, D.C. Could you please all don your headphones, please, so that you can hear Gary on the phone. Gary, you're on the air. Go ahead please.

  • 13:35:02

    GARYHi. I want to know more about these religious minorities, the Alawites have been mentioned and the Druze. What are -- who are these groups and what are their religious beliefs that make them different? And what kind of sects of Christianity are prevalent in Syria?

  • 13:35:20

    NNAMDIAusama?

  • 13:35:22

    MONAJEDWell, the Syrian population is almost 70 to 75 percent Sunni Arabs. And we have about 10 to 12 percent Christians, mainly Orthodox or, you know, smaller numbers Catholics. It's actually of all types of Christians are there and there also is Ismailis, a tiny minority and Alawites, 12 percent, and less than 5 percent Druze. What they believe in, you know, it varies from, you know, one sector to another. But mainly, the Druze and Alawite also share some religious beliefs with the Christians and various of Christians, what we know Christians are or what Catholics are, what Orthodox are.

  • 13:36:17

    NNAMDIGary, thank you very much for your call. Katherine Zeopf, you covered this region on the ground for several years for the New York Times. Now, you're covering it from New York. You're newspaper has only been able to get inside of Syria for a few moments since this uprising began. What's been your strategy for following the events taking place inside of Syria?

  • 13:36:36

    ZOEPFWell, we have a couple of Syrian stringers who are working on the ground anonymously and it's -- they're working under incredible risks. It's, you know, in fact difficult sometimes to be in touch with them. They often will use Skype or chat, Internet chat programs like G Chat, you know, different ones on different days, depending on what they feel is safest. Also, we're following the information that activists like Ausama are providing us with. We're able to follow some of the events on YouTube.

  • 13:37:25

    ZOEPFThere have been a number of the demonstrations that have been up online almost in real time. Actually the -- it's been very impressive how quickly, given the stricture that they're working under, that the activists are able to make the information available using new media. So we're using a combination of those things. But it is very difficult.

  • 13:37:50

    NNAMDIYeah. I know that Anthony Shadid of The Times got in for a very short while in Syria.

  • 13:37:54

    ZOEPFFor an afternoon, yeah.

  • 13:37:55

    NNAMDIAnd was able to conduct an interview there. But you recently reported about Dorothy Parvaz, an Al-Jazeera journalist who went missing in Syria and apparently was sent to Iran by the government a few days later. Tell us -- give us a synopsis of that story, if you will.

  • 13:38:09

    ZOEPFWell, Dorothy Parvaz is a reporter for Al-Jazeera who holds citizenship, Canadian-American and Iranian citizenship. She apparently entered Syria about two weeks ago on her Iranian passport. And the Syrian officials announced that she had entered, saying that she was tourist instead of a journalist. And she was held -- she seems to have been held for several days in Damascus. And then last week, the Syrian government announced that she had been deported to Iran. Iran has not yet confirmed whether or not they have her. But it's a very...

  • 13:38:52

    NNAMDIAnd she has been incommunicado ever since.

  • 13:38:53

    ZOEPFShe's been incommunicado. I spoke to her fiancé last week. Their family is very concerned. They have not been able to get any information about where she's being held and ion what conditions.

  • 13:39:05

    NNAMDIAusama Monajed, you've said that you were detained and tortured yourself in Damascus seven years ago. What happened?

  • 13:39:14

    MONAJEDIt was a very bad experience. And obviously apparently because of my activities and back in the university time and afterwards. But what happened to me then doesn't really even come close to what is happening now to all of the activists on ground and the shooting and the in differentiation of the shooting between women, kids and men. Even the kids are -- they found these, they send them to bring food. The snipers of the army and security forces, they realized that the kids all come bringing food to the families, because the families cannot go out. So they started to kill, you know, kids.

  • 13:39:48

    MONAJEDWe have videos of girls and 4-year-olds, 7, 11, horrific images, have been, you know, being killed. And today, actually, in fact, a mass grave was discovered in Dera'a. And we are able to have videos of these graves and some ID cards and some wallets, you know, been taken there. And it's one of the moments before the security forces arrive and the special forces arrive to enforce a siege around the whole graveyard. But, you know, the activists manage to take the phones away and to upload the videos online and, you know, disseminate the information back in the country and feed it to the national media with these videos every day.

  • 13:40:31

    NNAMDISo you don't see any significant -- any distinction, any significant distinction, between the regimes of Bashar al-Assad or his father Hafez al-Assad?

  • 13:40:39

    MONAJEDOh, absolutely not. It's exactly the same structure, the same operators, mainly the same personalities or even worse because they are younger. They lack political experience and the strategic vision.

  • 13:40:49

    NNAMDIWell, Ted Kattouf, why is it that in some quarters we were lead to believe that Bashar al-Assad could be a reformer, is this an image that he carefully nurtured himself, or is this an image that was developed because he did do some studies in the west and got married to woman albeit of Syrian heritage, who he met in the UK?

  • 13:41:10

    KATTOUFWell, he, as you indicated, he has cultivated the image of a reformer, and he's done some economic reforms that I'm sure he thinks are quite significant, although to my eye, they're quite modest, and very little and very late. So you have things such as permission to open private universities. Well, I say you had private universities in Syria before the Baath party. He gave permission to have majority owned private banks. Well, Syria was the center of Arab banking before the Baath party and the Nasserist party.

  • 13:41:50

    KATTOUFMore English teaching in school. It was the Baath party that did away with more or less English, when they came to power. So in a way, it's just restoring things that the Baath had uprooted previously. Now, quite honestly, people like myself had advocated engagement with Bashar, but not so much because any of us thought that he was a political reformer, but because you want to wean them -- you wanted to wean him away from Iran.

  • 13:42:21

    KATTOUFYou wanted to get a comprehensive peace, and by definition, you can't have a comprehensive peace without Syria and Israel. And there -- he did want to open up the economy. He did want to join the world trade organization. He did want an agreement with your (word?). But he really has not delivered the goods, and a lot of what we're seeing is impoverished people in the countryside, and in the small cities and towns rising up.

  • 13:42:51

    KATTOUFThe big cities where the economy has done better, particularly Aleppo and Damascus, have not been as evident in all of this.

  • 13:42:58

    NNAMDIGonna take a short break. When we come back, we will talk about those protests in Syria, and take your calls at 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow, e-mail to Kojo@wamu.org, or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:44:59

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about Syria. We're talking with Theodore Kattouf.

  • 13:45:27

    NNAMDIAnd Katherine Zoepf writes for the New York Times. She based in Syria and Lebanon from 2004 to 2007. She's currently the Bernard Schwartz fellow at the New American Foundation. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. This question for each of you or all of you. The government in Syria acknowledged late last week that peaceful demonstrations have been taking place, and that some of those protestors have legitimate demands.

  • 13:45:54

    NNAMDIOne official said that the government would be beginning a dialogue with opposition members. What sense do you have for whether this actually a turning point in this conversation, Katherine?

  • 13:46:06

    ZOEPFWell, I think Ausama might be able to better speak to this. I know that the Syrian government has announced in the past these kinds of initiatives, and, you know, the main problem to me seems to be that, you know, that they've spent -- since Mid-March they've been calling, you know, these -- the protestors traitors and they've been calling it conspiracy. It's very difficult to say on one side that this is a conspiracy, and the other side okay, well, we're going to, you know, to engage these people. I don't know...

  • 13:46:47

    NNAMDIWell, Ausama, until now the regime headed by President Bashar al-Assad has blamed all the demonstrations on armed gangs and Islamic extremists. But now they're saying that the peaceful protests were legitimate and they're willing to have a dialogue.

  • 13:47:02

    MONAJEDAbsolutely. They called the peaceful protests in Syria Islamic militia, because they want to market this whole violent repression in the West, and in the Western media. They wanted to sectarian card, they failed. They wanted to use the violent card. They failed. They even brought arms to the protestors and said, hey, I mean, some people said you have to defend yourself, and so -- and they took all the, you know, arms and AK-47s and the bullets and handed them to the nearest military check point, and they said we are not going to fall in your trap.

  • 13:47:33

    MONAJEDSo this whole call for dialogue, if it shows anything, it shows how the regime is frustrated and how it's vulnerable at this stage because of the, you know, wall of fears being cracking very swiftly and dramatically. Who are these people that they want to have a dialogue with? They called them traitors and CIA agents, only days ago. How are they being, you know, formulating discussion with them and so on. They asked for the protest to stop one week so they can have a dialogue. We are asking them to stop the killing one hour so we can have trust.

  • 13:48:12

    NNAMDITed Kattouf, what would the government of Bashar al-Assad have to do to win credibility that it is in fact interested in having a serious dialogue with people who are opposed to it?

  • 13:48:25

    KATTOUFHonestly not sure there's anything they can do right now. Too much blood has been shed, too many promises made and not fulfilled. So I think that the regime is just casting about for ways to survive. Now, if I -- if I may...

  • 13:48:42

    NNAMDIPlease do so.

  • 13:48:42

    KATTOUF...I would just -- there's a point I would like to make, however. And Mr. Monajed would probably not care for this remark. But I think the regime has sufficient support in the army and in the security services to survive for now. So I would expect this regime to still be there at the end of the year whether or not the opposition excepts, as is unlikely, the offer for dialogue. But I just do not see these demonstrations as yet having reached critical mass, particularly in Damascus and Aleppo, the two largest cities.

  • 13:49:16

    KATTOUFNor do I see enough defections from the military to make me believe that the regime can't continue to shoot its own people and stay in power.

  • 13:49:24

    NNAMDIWhich brings me to this question, Ausama Monajed, why not put the administration to the test? Why not say, okay, yes. We're willing to have dialogue even though you have guns in your hands and we don't, because we'd like to see where this dialogue will go.

  • 13:49:39

    MONAJEDWell, absolutely, but there is no faith. There is no trust. To have a dialogue, you have to trust between two bodies to at least the minimum level acceptable by these two sides to believe that this is a legitimate call. When they said we lifted the state of emergency in Syria, and we are going to be like any western civilization, if you want to demonstrate, you have to go to the administrative interior and seek a permit. People went there, they got shot in the head or detained and no one knows where they are now.

  • 13:50:07

    MONAJEDSo there's -- these are only myths and big fat lies the regime is only trying to promote. That's number one. Number two, I agree with Ambassador Kattouf. I mean, this is not a short-term struggle. It is a long term struggle and the critical issue here is to keep it as non-violent and as peaceful as long as we can. We know that there is still obviously the top army generals are one of the pillars of support of the Syrian regime. The pillars of support are the security forces, number one.

  • 13:50:42

    MONAJEDNumber two is the Alawi sect. Number three is the top army generals, and number four, the Syrian Sunni business elite who are associated with the regime. So it is going to be a long fight and Syrians are willing to do the fight and not only talk the talk, but to walk the walk short of cross country. Whether Aleppo and Damascus is going to join, obviously it's the affluent class of Syria or middle class and they're gonna join always last. We not expect them to join at the beginning. They have so much to lose.

  • 13:51:15

    MONAJEDAnd let's not forget the majority of the Christians and others, you know, sects in Syria, they live in Damascus or in Aleppo. So that's also one part that always minorities join the last. So it doesn't mean that the uprising is gaining momentum horizontally and, you know, vertically, we've seen more numbers in the streets every week, and we are seeing more towns and villages and cities joining the uprising every week. And the shift in the regional powers. I mean, we've seen Turkistan, we've seen (word?) recently, and the Israeli public opinion.

  • 13:51:53

    MONAJEDAnd the elite in Israel (unintelligible) . So certain important powers in the region are shifting and moving quicker than Europe, and Europe is quicker than the U.S.

  • 13:52:05

    NNAMDIBut Ted Kattouf, here's why this is all important. Two years ago, Seymour Hersh wrote in the New Yorker that a lot of people felt that there was low hanging diplomatic fruit with Syria, that the Syrians had been looking to cut a separate peace deal with Israel since the early '90s, and that the White House could put pressure on Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran by engaging with Syria. Would you have agreed with such a statement then, and where you do you think Syria should fit into the White House's regional strategy for the Middle East now?

  • 13:52:36

    KATTOUFWell, Sy Hersh is a very talented journalist, and where I -- what I would say is this, is that it was possible, not necessarily probable, but it was possible in my opinion to have a peace deal between Syria and Israel. But virtually everything would have had to have been on the table, and by everything, I mean regime survival. Basically Bashar would have wanted to know that okay, if I make peace with Israel, you're going to ensure I get economic aid.

  • 13:53:09

    KATTOUFYou're not going to work against me, you're going to accept that we have to do reforms our way and the like. So it would be very much situational whether he would accept a peace, and of course, Israel would have to give him all of the Golan. But if I may, I want to just comment quickly on something Mr. Monajed said.

  • 13:53:25

    NNAMDIRight.

  • 13:53:25

    KATTOUFWe have to understand, the minorities in the Arab world are scared to death right now. When the dictator Saddam fell, who got it in the neck, it was the Christians, the Isitis, the minorities. Right now, we're seeing in Egypt the Coptic Christians are feeling very frightened, very embattled. Lebanon, in the '70s and early '80s, there was death according to identity card on both sides, or on all sides, because there many factions. So the Syrian minorities, be they Alawi, be they Christian, be they Druze, Ismailis and secular Sunnis for that matter, they don't know necessarily who all these people in the streets are.

  • 13:54:01

    KATTOUFAnd they don't know what would replace Bashar. So we should not fall into the trap of believing that everybody is for change right now. They're not.

  • 13:54:08

    NNAMDIWhich brings me to this Ausama, what concerns do you have that some people in the international community will make the same argument for Bashar al-Assad, that they were making for Hosni Mubarak. That he may be a dictator, that he may be brutal, but that in the final analysis, stability is better than chaos.

  • 13:54:26

    MONAJEDWell, what is happening in Syria now is chaos. And this is one of the things that everyone needs to understand, that this regime is willing to fight and kill everyone until -- for its survival. Any -- I think the theory that the (unintelligible) don't know is now collapsing dramatically. What we are seeing in Syria is chaos, and over any government that comes afterwards will be of interest to the international community. The (unintelligible) coming to Syria would not be friendly with Iran.

  • 13:54:55

    MONAJEDThey would not be friendly with vertical elements in the region, and will be naturally pro West. So I think there is no, you know, well-grounded reason for this fear of what's going to come next.

  • 13:55:10

    NNAMDIWell, certainly your organization, the National Initiative for Change, has clearly been reaching out to members of minority groups, but the point that Ted seems to be making is that the people who are in minority groups themselves have no such assurances.

  • 13:55:25

    MONAJEDI mean, the only assurances you have is that Syria has never witnessed a civil war, unlike Lebanon or other countries. And also, prime ministers in Syria was Christian, and when Syria was a democratic country, the Christians and all other sects were always represented in the government posts and diplomatic posts. And this is how we see our future Syria heading towards. You cannot get written assurances from 22 million (unintelligible) or at least 15 million, the minorities will not be, you know, persecuted.

  • 13:55:58

    MONAJEDBut the only thing you can see are the signs in the streets, the posters, the banners, the chanting, how all Syrians are one against dictatorship. You see the crescent and the cross signs across regions. You see the shops giving speeches and marches alongside Islamic scholars. This a very, you know, important element to note on how this whole regime -- there hasn't been any incident where there was a chanting against Alawites and the like, even in the areas where there is a very tense sectarian tension because of the regimes or pro-regimes people, activities against the, you know, the people of the religions there, but there's still the chanting is that all Syrians are one against dictatorship.

  • 13:56:49

    NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly, but Ambassador Kattouf, Senator George Mitchell, the special envoy president Obama dispatched on the Middle East peace process announced he would be leaving that job last week, which could lead some people to believe that the diplomatic moves available to the U.S. that are on the table in Syria and in both Israel and in the Arab territories and the Palestinian territories have lessened significantly.

  • 13:57:18

    KATTOUFI think that's right. I find it hard to believe that George Mitchell would have left if there was a vibrant negotiations going on. But the fact of the matter is we've reached an impasse. The Israelis insist on continued settlement activity, and encircling Jerusalem with more and more settlements. The Palestinians see this a bad faith and say they won't negotiate or come to the negotiating table until it ends, and so we're at an impasse. The U.S. government voted against a UN resolution opposing settlement activity. We vetoed it. So there's nothing really going on right now. It's very concerning.

  • 13:58:00

    NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Theodore Kattouf was the ambassador -- the U.S. Ambassador to Syria from 2001 to 2003. Thank you so much for joining us. Ausama Monajed is a Syrian political activist who lives in London and serves as a spokesperson for the opposition group, the National Initiative for Change. Thank you for joining us. And Katherine Zoepf writes for The New York Times. She was based in Syria and Lebanon from 2004 to 2007. Thank you for joining us, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows