- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

A network of seven Syrian opposition groups calling itself the Democratic Coalition to Free Syria came to Washington this week to publicize efforts to transform Syria into a democracy.

Foremost on the members’ minds was the uncertain fate of neighboring Iraq that they hope to avoid for Syria.

“We are here to say that there are democratic people in Syria that believe it is time to bring democracy to Syria,” Farid Guadry, president of the Reform Party of Syria, told reporters at the National Press Club on Monday.

Calling for support of the United States, the coalition nevertheless said it rejected U.S. military intervention.

Instead, it is seeking support for grass-roots movements within Middle Eastern countries, Mr. Guadry said.

“For the first time in the history of Syria, a coalition made of Arab parties, Kurdish parties, Christian parties and other minorities come together for one very simple goal — democracy for Syria,” he said.

“We are going to become the new force of Syria,” he said.

Middle East analysts said the group faces a tough sell.

“The whole affair is not credible,” said Nurhaf Jouejati, a Syrian-born specialist on Middle East affairs who advised the Syrian delegation to the Middle East peace talks between 1991 and 1994.

They have no mass support, neither in Syria itself nor among the Syrian diaspora, Mr. Jouejati said. He also questioned the group’s democratic credentials.

Arguing that Syria’s Ba’athist regime represents fewer than 10 percent of the population, Mr. Guadry said it is time to establish a secular and multiparty regime for Syria.

The seven groups signed a document calling for a free and democratic Syria, with free elections, respect for human rights and political participation for all Syrians.

They also expressed their will to combat terrorism. Syria faces U.S. sanctions over accusations that it backs terrorists.

“We condemn any violence against any innocent people,” Mr. Guadry said. He said Islamic extremism is a consequence of the lack of democracy in Syria.

Taufiq Hamdosch, president of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan-Syria, which joined the coalition, urged democratic countries to “stop supporting the Stalinist regime of fear and intimidation of [Syrian President] Bashar al Assad.”

“It is important for the U.S. administration to understand that we are peaceful,” he said.

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