Sunday, April 30, 2006

Voices from the Past: Syrian Women and the Vote

I found the following document a couple years ago. It is part of the proceedings of the Syrian Arab Congress of 1920. You may recall this is the time when delegates to the congress declared independence and were trying to establish a constitution before France said it was having none of that. During these proceedings delegates discuss whether or not to grant women the right to vote. The give and take among the delegates is intriguing. It is also sobering to see that some of the delegates, in 1920!!, had more progressive ideas than some of our modern day compatriots.

This document is of personal interest to me as it contains words uttered by my grandfather whom I had never met as he died many years before I was born.

(Photo: A.K.; Fossilized dinosaur footprint, Texas)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Reform the Syrian Way

Ali Abdallah, a Syrian journalist and democratic activist was rearrested along with his sons and his whereabouts remain unknown (see Amarji). His plight was also recently reported by Reporters Without Borders.

Mohammed Ghanem, a Syrian novelist and political activist who runs the website: was also recently arrested. Details of his arrest was also reported by Reporters Without Borders and other human rights organizations.

Arbitrary arrests of activists and opposition members continue as the Syrian regime continues to move backwards seemingly emboldened by the perception that international pressure has eased. Let's see if that false sense of security persists after Brammertz pays a visit to Bashar.

Regardless of the results of the international political brinkmanship, as a Syrian blogger seeking change, it is my duty to publicize the plight of these individuals so that news of their arrests is as widely disseminated as possible. I hope to continue doing that.

The Syrian regime should be held accountable. Any talk of reform without the basic right of free expression is meaningless.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Birth of the Syrian American Congress

The political turmoil in Syria over the past year has mobilized the Syrian expatriate community to form the Syrian American Congress in September 2005. This is a welcome development and although clearly instigated by well-meaning people who would like to see positive, peaceful change happen in Syria, its mission statement is mealy-mouthed and vague. The second clause of its mission statement declares that the Congress supports "human rights, civil liberties and democracy for all people everywhere". For ALL people EVERYWHERE? It is a noble sentiment but the emphasis of the SYRIAN American Congress, you would think, should be on the Syrian people. I wish the statement was less timid and more forthright (easy for me to say, hiding behind my anonymous blog) .

At any rate the Syrian American Congress is holding it first annual conference in Chicago on May 20th. The title of the conference is "Syrian Americans and Syrian Reforms". Among the featured speakers is the human rights activist Radwan Zyada as well as two of the Regime's chief apologists, Syrian ambassador Imad Mustafa and minister of expatriate affairs Bouthaina Sha'ban. It should be interesting and I will be making every effort to attend.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Requiem to the Cedar Revolution

I remember vividly how thrilled I was at the sight of the massive demonstrations last March in Beirut. At the same time, as a Syrian, I also sensed that the passionate, red hot nationalism manifested during those demonstrations was bound to spill over into xenophobic excess (understandable, perhaps, but still inexcusable). Yet the sight of a million Lebanese, about a quarter of the country's population, spontaneously making their voices heard was unprecedented in Lebanon or anywhere in the Middle East and the prospects of what that meant for the region made me giddy with anticipation. This demonstration of the power of ordinary people, I thought optimistically, not the 150,000 US troops in Iraq will change the face of the region for the better. Lebanon, was perhaps the only place in the region where such a demonstration of people power could have been mounted. The reasons are many: an educated, politically, culturally and religiously diverse citizenry, an essentially free press and recent experience with the ravages of civil strife. In contrast to the monochromatic public discourse in most Arab countries, the Lebanese were routinely exposed to contrarian views that challenged what passed as conventional wisdom in most of the region. Add thirty years of occupation and the Lebanese people were primed. But, in hindsight, the most important factor in this rare demonstration of Lebanese unity, and perhaps the reason it was unsustainable, was that the perceived enemy was foreign.

Some skeptics may dispute the fact that these demonstrations were spontaneous. I disagree. The powers that be with their inbred leaderships, their sectarian outlooks, and their cynical political machinations were incapable of imagining such a powerful response to the murder of Hariri. Once they realized the potential power of the movement, they co-opted it (Hijacked, in the words of the Grateful Arab). Following the pullout of the Syrian troops, the unity of people power, was promptly replaced by the old, narrow-minded preoccupations of the established parties. They spoke of the lofty ideals of Lebanes unity in public but practiced their old worn game of sectarian politics behind closed doors. There were no new faces just the same old names of recycled politicians, some -ultimate opportunists- thinking nothing of making an about face in their political persuasions. Many Lebanese continue to blame the Syrians for the present impasse; that argument is wearing thin a year after the pullout of Syrian troops. Syria's proxies (Lahoud and Hezbollah) certainly contributed heavily to the present stalemate but rather than doing Syria's bidding, they were trying to maintain their own power and push their agendas (Although I am not sure Lahoud has an agenda).

The ultimate success of the Cedar revolution will rest on its ability to force Lahoud out before the end of his term. This is vitally important not only for Lebanon but as a precedent setting event for the whole region. The ouster of Lahoud will embolden the Syrian opposition and perhaps shake the cowed people of Syria into action. Unfortunately, a year out, I fear that much the Cedar revolution's momentum has been dissipated.

I hope I am proven wrong.

(Watercolor, Yas., age 7)