Syrian writer Louay Hussein spoke at LSE on February 22 about the uprisings in his country. Hussein is one of Syria’s leading intellectuals who has spent his life writing on political and social debates concerning Syria and the Arab world. He spent seven years in prison because of his views. After his release in 1991, he wrote a book on his experience in prison and the extreme torture to which he was subjected. Hussein was the first political opposition figure to be arrested after the onset of the uprising in Syria last March and was released a few days later, after being tortured. He, together with colleagues, set up and ran the first public opposition conference within Syria, the Samiramis Conference, last June. Since then, he and others have established the Building the Syria State current. The following is a short portion from his lecture which is available as a full transcript and should also be available as a podcast in the next couple of days on the Middle East Centre website.
Good evening everybody and thanks to the LSE for giving me the opportunity to talk to you, and thank you Chris for this introduction. He must know my by heart now because he has introduced me so many times during the last few days. If we had such an event in Syria right now, within the current circumstances, it would have been an international event that the whole world would be talking about it. It would have been a really rare event. If we were in Syria and we all left this room and went down to the streets, we would have probably been faced with fire as we are a big demonstration.
So you have to excuse me, we are not used to this. We are not used to speaking about the future of Syria to such a large audience without feeling the fear inside the country. Within the limited time we have here this evening I am going to try and answer this particular question which is ‘Is overthrowing the regime enough to achieve a democratic prosperous Syria that we want’? I am saying this in the context of overwhelming language on the media and on the political platform that only talks about overthrowing the regime and forgets the other aims as if overthrowing the regime is a target in its own right.
So lately, in the language of the media, we don’t hear anymore terms like democracy, freedom, dignity, reconciliation, national unity. These are things for which push people to go down to the streets. Some seem to have forgotten for a moment that the only reason we want to overthrow the regime is that we do want to build a free, democratic, prosperous Syria for all people on the Syrian land. The language is dominated by terms like violence, arming, counter-violence, who is going to win in this armed conflict, and other very destructive language and terms.
Indeed, to achieve such a free, democratic Syria, we need to overthrow the regime, to achieve a state where the will of all the free Syrian people, a state that is built by the will and the free will of all its citizens. But unfortunately, the way this regime faced our will, the will of all the protestors who went down to the streets calling for freedom and democracy and dignity, the way the regime handled these protests diverted it more into an existential conflict.
We always emphasis in our Building the Syrian State current, that for us, overthrowing the regime is not an aim in its own right: we want to overthrow the regime because it’s an obstacle in our way to reach a future, beautiful, free, democratic, prosperous state. This is why we stood up to the cause of arming the opposition, because we think of the 21st century. The road to democracy doesn’t go through violence. It goes through a non-violent struggle.
So instead of having a struggle between the rights, fighting for our rights, with an oppressing force, we may actually end up in a struggle when we have a force fighting with another force, and whoever wins will have the rule, but not necessarily democracy. And this is another reason why we also stood up against the cause, or the media cause, for military intervention in Syria to overthrow the regime. And this is again why today we stood up to all the cause of arming the opposition to stand up to the Syrian regime. Because arming the opposition means the victory is going to be to those parties who are better-armed, better-financed, and not necessarily to those who are more democratic, or the holders of the values of modernity and democracy.
Unfortunately, lately, the word ‘non-violence’ within the Syrian crisis context is being dealt with as if it is a dirty word. That was due to the language of media, media of certain states that are not particularly known to be democratic states themselves. Any call for violence and further violence is going to lead to further divisions within the Syrian society that are going to lead to multi-level civil fight. We think that the biggest threat on the Syrian future is these social divisions that is leading to civil fight and civil war. If we enter the cycle of violence, certainly we will not be looking at democratic solutions. We will actually be trying to find some kind of solution that will divide the country into safe and safer zones.
I think the way by which we overthrow the regime is going to determine the alternative regime. So if we, for example, enter civil war, part of this war is going to be actually a sectarian war. In such a scenario, at best, the best solution is actually to build a sectarian state, not a democratic state, like probably what they achieved in Lebanon after the civil war. We believe that a democratic Syria that we want to achieve has to be built on a new social contract, and all the different ethnic and sectarian and religious components of Syrian society, regardless of how large or small these components, these groups, of how powerful or how weak, or how long they have been in the country, how new. The Syria that we want is we want it to be a moderate state, as you know here in Europe, a citizenship state.
We are not going to achieve such a state if we don’t define it right now. It is our ultimate goal and defined right now how we are going to achieve this goal. This desired state, we want it to be a state for all its people, regardless of their political position, regardless of their backgrounds. We don’t want it to be for the losers or the winners. So all the Syrian people, even if they are not part of the revolution, even if they didn’t support the revolution, they should have full citizenship rights in this future state that we want to achieve, regardless of their sectarian background or their current political position.