The report by United Nations investigator Detlev Mehlis on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri brought shivers down the spine of Bashar Assad, who for the first time in his young regime is facing justice in a land that has never known it. Never in our Syrian history have standing officials been held internationally accountable for crimes against another peaceful nation. The shock is immeasurable and stands to open the eyes and embolden the will of oppressed Arabs everywhere in the Middle East.
What comes after Mehlis is the focus of attention today. On one side of the U.S political community, you have the apologists with their now-tired mantra, “Bashar is the only alternative”; on the other, the “regime change now” proponents calling for immediate options to further weaken the regime. In the middle, the United States and European officials are evaluating the options.
Syria has gone through multiple transformations in the past, but the Mehlis transformation is one of the most important of our modern history. In the past four decades, Syria has embraced — and to a certain extent still does — elements of Communism, socialism, nationalism, Nasserism, and Ba’athism. All have miserably and utterly failed the Syrian people for one reason or another. The Islamist alternative that the Muslim Brotherhood seeks would just as well fall in line with that sad litany of failed experiments.ATaliban Afghanistan, Syria culturally and historically is not and never will be.
The most popular opposition politician inside Syria is Riad al-Turk, a 76-year-old Stalinist who is playing a role behind the scenes in charting Syria’s future. Other septuagenarians embrace defunct ideologies in one form or another. Why? Because we have been a closed society for over 42 years and our politicians have not changed since. We are the North Korea of the Middle East; the sunlight of renaissance and national transformation has never been allowed to penetrate the lead walls of ignorance erected by the Ba’ath.
The transformation that the Mehlis report will engender, we believe, goes beyond the sturdy application of the rule of law; it shall usher in from the outside a new dawn of progressive liberal, market-economy ideals that the dissident establishment inside the country cannot bring about. And with 60 percent of Syria’s population under the age of 25, it is simply a question of time.
One of the reasons that U.S-supported Radio Sawa is so popular in Syria is because it is able to attract the young and disfranchised. The current Ba’athist government has had nothing new to offer to this new young generation of Syrians, and unlike their parents, they will not stand idly by and watch their future be cynically sold out by a regime so lacking in national care yet so apparently expert in advancing the criminal enterprises of the Dictator King’s family members.
Not one political organization inside Syria has a program to help build a market economy based on time-tested values well established in the modern societies — values just as applicable in modern Syria as they are in Taiwan, Singapore, and yes, the United States. In fact, the majority of dissidents inside Syria loathe the West and its value system. To a certain extent, many find it difficult to fully comprehend such values, but that is no valid excuse for people who claim Syrian “street” representation.
The free-market-liberal ideology is rapidly taking hold — as evinced by the multi-ethnic liberal movements that are participating in increasing numbers in the Syrian Democratic Coalition meetings in Europe. For only the bold, armed with a substantive vision for national renewal, can ever hope to succeed where tired retreads’ ideologies have failed.
The Mehlis report provides a unique opportunity for the West to stand by and lend a hand in good faith to those Syrians that desire not only justice in the narrow sense, but a lasting, just society founded upon a laissez-faire market economy. Syria can be changed forever; it is now a matter of U.S. will to make it happen.
The dissident landscape inside Syria is not totally representative of the aspirations of Syrians. In a tyrannical society, people are not able to express themselves freely and openly. How does one know how popular the socialists, Islamists, Nasserites or Communists inside Syria are? How does anyone know how popular the Reform Party of Syria with its market-economy ideology is inside Syria?
In a sense, such questions are superfluous, for nothing builds national consensus like success. It is time that a successful ideology is supported internationally as it tries to build a following inside the country.
Farid N. Ghadry is president of the Reform Party of Syria.