As Assad vows he’ll ‘live and die’ in Syria, SNC ‘kills’ Seif-Ford initiative?

President Bashar al-Assad today insisted he would “live and die” in Syria and threatened that any foreign intervention would have catastrophic repercussions for region and beyond.

His comments, a clear riposte to this week’s proposal by British Premier David Cameron that Assad could be allowed a safe exit and exile, coincided with a Doha meeting of Syria’s opposition at which the Syrian National Council reportedly vetoed a Western-backed initiative to restructure and re-launch the movement.

“I am not a puppet. I was not made by the West to go to the West or to any other country,” he told Russia Today TV. “I am Syrian; I was made in Syria. I have to live in Syria and die in Syria.”

The SNC claims to have killed a U.S.-backed proposal from veteran Syrian dissident Riad Seif for a more representative, inclusive and broadly-based opposition movement. Its move has raised concerns that the opposition to Assad’s regime is falling apart.

“It’s being asked to reduce itself in size, which means not take a leading role as the political opposition inside Syria,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center. “And it’s being asked to do that with no real guarantees that more support will be forthcoming.”

Key opposition factions with strong followings inside the country pulled out of the plan, which was due to be presented at a conference in Doha, Qatar, today. Three of the dissident bodies seen as integral to the U.S.-backed initiative said yesterday that they had refused to attend, diplomats and opposition figures told The Daily Telegraph.

“There are too many people against this initiative for it to work now,” said a Western diplomatic source.

The SNC leadership came under fire in Doha from female activists after elections failed to promote a single woman to its 41-member decision-making executive.

“Women were active in the uprising from the start,” AP reports:

Last year, human rights lawyer Razan Zaytouni (left), who went into hiding shortly after the revolt began, was awarded the Anna Politkovskaya Award for risking her life by breaking through the government’s media blackout to report on the brutal crackdown in Syria. The award, named after the slain Russian journalist, is given annually to a woman human rights defender standing up for victims in a conflict zone.

SNC members “harangued” Seif at the Doha meeting, “with some accusing him of pushing a U.S. agenda to sideline the Islamist-dominated SNC,” Reuters reports:

“Seif was not at all convincing yesterday. He told the council he was going ahead with the initiative with or without them,” an SNC source said.

Opposition sources said many thought Seif’s offer of 24 out of 60 seats would leave the SNC underrepresented in a proposed rebel assembly, which would later choose an interim government and coordinate with armed rebels to usher in a post-Assad era. But the sources also said the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, the most influential group within the SNC, had signaled its support.

“There are tensions and fears inside the SNC that they will cease to be relevant if they agree to the initiative. They want guarantees,” one SNC source said

Countries including Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia who have helped to arm rebels, as well as the United States and other Western powers, have lost patience with the fractious SNC and told it to make room for what U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called those “in the front lines fighting and dying”.

The SNC’s four-day conference is an effort to overhaul its structure and rebut charges that it is unrepresentative of the broader opposition. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the group can no longer be considered to be the opposition’s “visible leader” and that the administration had “recommended names and organizations which we believe should be included in any leadership structure.”

The “Seif-Ford” initiative, after Robert Ford, the US special envoy, has led to accusations of foreign interference in the opposition’s internal affairs.

“Some are calling this the Robert Ford plan or an American plan,” said the SNC’s Radwan Ziadeh, executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “This is just promises from the Americans that no one is believing. They don’t need Seif to come with a plan. This is unrealistic.”

In a meeting held late last night, SNC members reportedly interrogated Mr Seif on the initiative, and the list of names proposed to lead it. “We asked him why some of the names were on the list and he said he didn’t know. The West pushed this on him. How can you endorse a plan when you can’t defend it?” said an SNC member who had been at the meetings.

“Everyone feels that this initiative is imposed. They’ve weaved the cloth, but now there is no one to wear it,” said Ahmed Zaidan, the deputy head of the Revolutionary Council, a body that coordinates with armed groups inside Syria.

The opposition meeting will go ahead, but any leadership body is likely to have a majority from the SNC, which has little influence on the ground. “It may secure more funding but [the conflict] is about winning the support of the street to regain control. And the street does not support them,” said a diplomatic source.

Seif believes his Syrian National Initiative would help incorporate locally-based groups and rebel fighters into a more inclusive structure.

His proposal is the first concerted attempt to merge opposition forces to help end a 19-month-old conflict that has killed over 32,000 people, devastated swathes of Syria, and threatens to widen into a regional sectarian conflagration. The Initiative would also create a Supreme Military Council, a Judicial Committee and a transitional government-in-waiting of technocrats – along the lines of Libya’s Transitional National Council, which managed to galvanize international support for its successful battle to topple Muammar Gaddafi.

The SNC’s veto is unlikely to smooth relations between internally-based and exiled groups, say observers.

“It’s difficult to see how rebels doing the fighting would be happy taking orders from Syrians sitting in five-star hotels,said an analyst in Doha.

SNC figures in Doha played down the role of hardline Islamists, or Salafis, including former al Qaeda fighters in Iraq and other jihadis from abroad for whom Syria is the latest cause celebre. They are accused of beheading soldiers and others seen as pro-Assad and committing other abuses.

“The issue is not the Salafis, the problem is Bashar al- Assad. If we have the capacity to support the (rebel) Free Syrian Army, the extremist element will diminish,” said former SNC president Burhan Ghalioun. “We need arms and until now we haven’t had what we need. We need new arms, anti-aircraft arms. From the international community, we’ve seen many promises. But we wait and see.”

But other Syrian activists are expressing concern at the growing influence of extremist groups, the increasingly sectarian thrust of the conflict and an uptick in anti-Americanism.  

“Presently, each community in Syria, including the Alawite community, is having a minor civil war of its own pitting pro- and anti-Assad groups against each other, write Ammar Abdulhamid and Khawla Yusuf, citing infighting amongst Palestinians, Kurds and even the Alawites. 

“Border crossings with Turkey are controlled by Islamist groups, even though some tend to succeed in covering up their identity giving an impression of moderation, and even secularity,” they note. “Aid going to the rebels across the Turkish border, therefore, is being filtered through Jihadi elements. It’s no wonder that most of it end up with more extremist groups.”

Anti-Americanism is rife in all quarters. But while some rebels are pinning their hopes on a new more robust American policy of support following the upcoming elections, a policy that does not go beyond supplying rebels with arms, and that is not based on a serious understanding of the continually changing dynamics on the ground is bound to bring much disenchantment, feeding rather than alleviating anti-American tendencies.

The SNC’s move may jeopardize any new U.S. initiative to provide arms to the Syrian opposition, a move the Obama administration has hitherto resisted.

“I believe President Obama in his second term will be more assertive, perhaps from the first day after the election, not waiting for inauguration, to increase the lethality and the amount of weaponry going to the opposition in Syria,” said Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

But SNC head Abdelbaset Sieda said that his group does not believe international assistance linked to restructuring the opposition will be forthcoming.

“We faced this situation before, when we formed the SNC (last year),” he told The Associated Press. “There were promises like that, but the international community in fact did not give us the support needed for the SNC to do its job.”

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‘Exporting’ democracy?

The Arab Spring presents the US with more difficult choices than the post-Communist transitions in east-central Europe in balancing democracy and human rights with economic, security and other strategic interests.

“But the fact that it’s inconsistent doesn’t mean that it’s insignificant,” says the Carnegie Endowment’s Tom Carothers. He joins Georgetown University’s Charles Kupchan in correcting a number of distortions (not least from the program host) and misconceptions of democracy assistance.

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Equal citizenship rights in Egypt’s new constitution?

After Egypt’s climatic Arab Awakening, the Egyptian people were tasked with the establishment of self-rule.  Indeed, the events after the fall of the Mubarak regime were, in many ways, more tumultuous than the Tahrir Square protests themselves. Now, the focus is on the recently-released constitutional draft and how the constitution grapples with heated debate surrounding freedom of religion, expression, and speech and equal rights for women. 

What are the internal dynamics within the Constitutional Assembly, who are the major players behind the draft, and who has voiced opposition?  After the rise of Islamist movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom & Justice Party and the Salafi Nour Party, how have these movements evolved their ideology and practices “on the ground” and how has this impacted their advocacy within the Constitutional Assembly?  To what degree have non-Islamist parties had a voice in the constitutional process and, moreover, will they have real impact on its adoption or rejection? 

The status of Egypt’s constitution and how Congress can act to preserve equal citizenship rights will addressed at a briefing sponsored by the International Religious Freedom Caucus. 

Speakers will include Dr. Sandra Bunn-Livingstone, who advised and promoted the Egyptian Bill of Rights and Freedoms, a “normative, guiding legal and policy structure for Egypt.”  The Bill of Rights, the first of its kind in the Arab world, provides eleven principles including rule of law, gender equality, and prohibition of discrimination based on religion, gender, ethnicity, or belief.   

The meeting will also hear from Dr. Kurt Werthmuller, author of Coptic Identity and Ayyubid Politics in Egypt, 1218-1250 who serves as an Adjunct Fellow at Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.  In his work for the Hudson Institute, Dr. Werthmuller has researched political, social, and religious trends in the status of religious minorities in the Arab world.   

The third speaker is Mark Salah Morgan who is a board member of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association.  Mr. Morgan is the co-author of “To Stop Corruption, Egypt Needs a Freedom of Information Law.” 

International Religious Freedom Caucus Briefing 

The Preservation of Equal Citizenship Rights in Egypt:

The Constitutional Assembly and the Egyptian Bill of Rights and Freedoms 

November 8, 2012, 3:30-4:30pm

2212 Rayburn Building

Capitol Hill

Washington, DC

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In Mistrust We Trust: Can Transparency Revive Democracy?

Despite the hope and excitement that has accompanied the recent transitions in places such as the Middle East and Burma, there is a growing sense of crisis in Western democracies. Although our societies are freer and more democratic than ever, trust in democratic institutions is in decline. While the rights of citizens in the West are better protected than ever, there is a growing feeling, particularly in Europe, that voters are losing their power. The movement for greater transparency has been one response aimed at addressing this crisis of confidence. 

In his presentation, Ivan Krastev will examine whether the movement for more transparency can succeed in empowering voters and restoring the public’s trust in democratic institutions. He will argue that while transparency has an important role to play in reforming democracies, the current hope that transparency can cure all democratic ills is misplaced. 

The International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy 

cordially invites you to a presentation entitled 

In Mistrust We Trust: Can Transparency Revive Democracy? 


Ivan Krastev

Chairman, Center for Liberal Democratic Studies (Bulgaria)

Bosch Public Policy Fellow, Transatlantic Academy 

moderated by

Marc F. Plattner

International Forum for Democratic Studies 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 2:00–4:00 p.m. 1025 F. Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004 Telephone: 202-378-9675 RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Monday, November 16


Ivan Krastev is the chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria, a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, and a founding board member of the European Council on Foreign Relations. He is currently a Bosch Public Policy Fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington, D.C. He has been executive director of the International Commission on the Balkans and editor-in-chief of the Bulgarian edition of Foreign Policy. He is a member of the editorial board and frequent contributor to the Journal of Democracy and also serves on the International Forum for Democratic Studies’ Research Council. In 2010, he delivered the seventh annual Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on Democracy in the World in Washington, D.C., and Toronto, Canada. His books include: Shifting Obsessions: Three Essays on Politics of Anti-Corruption (2004) and The Anti-American Century (2006).


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Malala – my battle for civilization

Peace is not the absence of war, but the absence of fear, says Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was recently shot in the head by the Taliban. In a recent speech, Malala (profiled in the video above) described the threat of Islamist fundamentalists in the Swat Valley in which she agitates for change, and insists that “people win their rights only when they struggle to achieve them.”  

I shall begin by describing the situation in Swat. We have seen the worst over there. Schools were destroyed, the girls were barred from education and even flogged. People were slaughtered at Green Chowk.

The circumstances made people shiver. Amid bomb blasts we lost our peace. The girl students were scared of going to schools. We had to flee our homes to save our lives. We could only return after the [military] operation that normalized the situation. The girls are now back in school. The shops have resumed business including the CD shops. Everything thing is fine now. Was that easy to leave homes when things turned violent and returned after they cooled down?

The only factor that brought normalcy (in Swat) was the struggle of the people. Had people failed to raise their voice, Swat would have been another Waziristan. Girls and senior citizens of Swat joined hands with others and fought for their rights. People rendered sacrifices to restore peace in Swat. People win their rights only when they struggle to achieve them. And, in Swat, our rights were usurped. The right of education. The right of freedom. We were not free to express ourselves. We lost our freedom and they imposed their will on us. It was our effort and endeavor that extricated us from the crisis. 

Fellows, great nations learn from the history. The dilemma of Swat is now part of history and we pledge to learn from it, because if we don’t, we would never accomplish our goal. What have I learnt from the circumstances is that just one voice and one movement is strong enough against the groups which usurp the rights of the people. If they are armed with guns, you have the weapon of pen and power of words to defeat them. Secondly, we complain too much. We believe the system (of governance) in Pakistan is flawed altogether. Nothing is normal. We need to revamp the system instead of complaining too much. We need to correct ourselves to improve the circumstances. We know what we can do to turn things around by exercising our rights. But most of the time we remain silent.

Don’t you realize how bad it is to destroy schools? Don’t you agree confining women to home is so wrong? Everyone knows, but seldom stands up. We know what our rights are. We can differentiate between good and evil. Still we don’t speak out. We don’t tolerate each other.

If we want to nurture a generation that is tolerant enough to coexist with the people of opposite ideas, we must revamp our curriculum to fulfill this need. Only by doing this they would be able to tolerate, for example, a fellow from other faith or have love for other countries. While we start understanding the importance of peace we would let them know that strongest weapon in the world is a Pen – not a gun, tank or a helicopter.

There was a recent incident in Swat wherein a 12-year old girl was exchanged to compensate for crime committed by her brother. Backed by her father, the girl stood against that decision. She went to the court and saved herself from the darkness of injustices. We must have more youngsters like her. We must inform them about their fundamental rights, failing to which the new generation would give-in to the existing cultural taboos and obsolete social norms.

We create culture and formulate laws. It was not a God’s decree to exchange girls in compensate. Why can’t we change which is neither a holy decree nor written in any holy scripture? We are entitled to make laws and empowered to change them. The most important thing to do is to cleanse our culture and traditions from all the negativities which exist even today. We are the architect of our culture so we shall be entitled to change it.

We need an education system that could make people successful because we have seen in the past the Ph.D. or Master Degree holders were clueless about the purpose of their life. They only think of themselves. They only think of earning money, amassing wealth for their children, having luxurious cars and sprawling bungalows. They are not worried about the future of the son of their servant. Instead of being self-centered, we should follow our religion which says: “The better are those who help their fellow-beings.” 

Until we let others live in peace and comfort, we would never be able to live like that. The reason why we are far away from peace and living in peril is that we are not letting others live in peace. Peace is not the absence of war, but the absence of fear. And the peace cannot prevail until we get rid of fear. In order to reach this destination we must choose the path of Asma Jehangir, Tahira Abdullah, Samar Minallah and Malala Yosafzai. No one can do it single-handedly. To get the country out of crisis, we must act together.

In the end I would like to recognize that my father supported me wholeheartedly when I was raising my voice and fighting for my rights. Hundreds of talented and passionate girls from Swat failed to succeed because they were restricted by their parents and brothers. And this is still happening. The way my father supported me I can’t express my gratitude. I wish every girl has a father like mine. 

God willing, we would change things around once we start thinking positively and passionately. God willing, we would succeed.  

This is an extract from Malala Yousafzai’s speech conference organized by Pakistan’s Center for Civic Education in Islamabad on September 15, 2012.  

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