Our special correspondent in Damascus interviews Michel Kilo, a giant figure in the struggle for democracy in Syria. A historical opponent of the regime, Kilo has been jailed several times.
How much do you think has been achieved in the last four months since the rebellion started?
KILO: For the people, the losses are enormous. Politically, the state no longer exists as such: it has turned into a party that fights against the people. Economically, Syria stands on the verge of the abyss. Internationally, or even regionally, the country is isolated, having lost even its friends. The fact that security is the regime's top priority makes all political solution impossible even within the framework of the national dialogue the government has initiated. Worse still, the fabric of Syrian society itself is being torn apart, which may lead to the destruction of the Syrian state should the regime win.
How is the protest movement getting organized?
KILO: There are two sorts of opposition. One comes from classical parties and intellectuals that have put forward the idea of a civil movement. The other sort is unprecedented: it is a mounting street protest, which is still in want of symbols and representatives. But it is setting up its own structures. And we, intellectuals, are also part of this new opposition, to which we contribute ideas. Somehow we are those committees' ideologists even though our contacts with them are not on a daily basis.
Would you agree to talk with the regime?
KILO: Before we can agree to talk with the regime the regime must first give up its security-first option and choose a political solution; it must also release prisoners, acknowledge the freedom to demonstrate and put an end to intelligence operatives' interference in people's lives. That's what the government must commit itself to. But the government has not answered our demands. They must declare that the reforms will lead to a democratic, pluralist parliamentary system. Short of this, our participation in a dialogue makes no sense. We call for a new system, but through gradual change. Never mind who takes part in the process. It could be done with Basher Assad even. What matters is to create the conditions that will compel the president to bring in a transitory phase toward real change. It would be extremely difficult to do away with the regime overnight.
Is there not a risk that Islamists, notably the Muslim Brotherhood, might take advantage of this movement to impose their ideas?
KILO: Between 2000 and 2010 the only movement extant was the grassroots social movement. The Muslim Brotherhood took up our slogans in favor of a civilian state, citizenship... The traditional Syrian society is Muslim, but not Islamist. Which it can become if the military option continues to oppress society. Society is going to defend itself by having recourse to force and intrumentalizing fundamentalism. We are working with the Syrian youth in order to win the traditional society over. There are two main currents in Syria, the Islamist current and the democratic current. The one that will get the upper hand is the one that will succeed in winning over the civilian society. It's a struggle.
Is no international interference to be feared given Syria's geopolitical position?
KILO: The security option opens the door to foreign interference. There is an open conflict in Syria today between Iranians and Saudis, Turks and all those regional powers. That's very clear. The Iranian and Turkish leading diplomats have met to discuss the Syrian issue. We have warned against such interference from the very beginning. The Syrians can solve their own problems through dialogue. The U.S. are said to have laid down a calendar for the implementation of reforms. There are rumors afloat about Iran's logistic support of the regime. Which shows that Syria is the nexus of an international conflict. It has also been said that Iran and Syria have accepted that the U.S. armed forces remain in Iraq in exchange for reduced pressure on Damascus. The notion of a buffer zone, as Turkey proposed, is also a back door for major foreign interference. And that door is already open.
This article originally appeared in L'Humanite, the newspaper of the French Communist Party. It was translated into English by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Derek Hanson. Photo: Syrian demonstrators in front of embassy in Cairo. Maggie Osama // CC 2.0