This (report from Reuters here and below) is not an insignificant call from the traditionally vociferous leadership of the opposition, including those who were imprisoned for years after the botched "Damascus Spring" after 2001. The likes of Michel Kilo and `Arif Dalila were among the most outspoken critics for years. I watched Dalila make public condemnations of the regime`s corruption in public panels on Syria`s political economy in 1998, 1999, and 2000, when Hafiz al-Asad was president. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison after 2001, but release recently because of his poor health. Kilo received a shorter sentence later and was released for similar reasons.
Dalila continued to speak out since he was released. For them to affirm such a declaration calling for "non-violent democratic change" is surely not an affirmation of the regime`s legitimacy. Rather, it addresses the complex Syrian situation, locally and regionally, and mainly intended to avoid potential sectarian strife from which a post-Asad Syria might not be saved.
The extent to which this call will be consequential on its own remains to be seen. Unless coupled with deeper connections with some of the emerging protest leaders and with quick and concrete moves on part of the top regime leadership in the next 48 hours, all such calls will fall on deaf ears. If the regime is falsely emboldened into inaction by the relative calm that Monday (today) witnessed, we will see a quick and remarkable return of protests. Even if the regime follows through, a momentum for protest has been set in motion and can easily spin into a spontaneous wide-scale movement if protesters continue to be shot at indiscriminately.
Bashar, and the Syrian regime, have an opportunity to roll back the instability, but only if the regime is willing finally to make fundamental and concrete changes that involve some risk. The days of getting away with risk-averse reforms in the long run are gone forever in Syria after 41 years of success.
Syrian opposition figures urge peaceful change
AMMAN (Reuters) - Leading Syrian opposition figures issued a declaration on Monday denouncing sectarianism and committing to non-violent democratic change in the wake of disturbances in the port city of Latakia.
President Bashar al-Assad dispatched troops to Latakia late on Saturday in a sign of doubt about the ability of security police to maintain order there. Latakia`s population is a potentially explosive cocktail of Sunni Muslims, Christian and Alawites, who constitute Assad`s core support.
The Latakia violence, coinciding with a spread of unprecedented pro-democracy unrest in Syria, killed at least four people, according to opposition activists. Syrian authorities said attacks by "armed elements on the families and districts of Latakia" resulted in 10 deaths.
Latakia has calmed but the bloodshed has raised the spectre that the unrest that originated in the mostly Sunni south of Syria, could take on sectarian overtones. Syrian officials have described the protests against 48 years of Baath party rule as a "conspiracy" and a "project to sow sectarian strife."
"The diversity of Syria must be respected. The Syrian people, as a whole, are under repression," said the declaration signed by Sunnis, minority Alawites and Christians with a history of struggle against the Baath monopoly on power.
"The signatories pledge to work toward building a national democratic state where everyone is treated equally regardless of their allegiances, without discrimination against any sect."
The statement was issued in Damascus and emailed to Reuters abroad.
Signatories included Syrian writer Michel Kilo; Ahmad Tumeh, a notable from the agricultural region of Raqqa; leading economist Aref Dalila; prominent journalist Fayez Sara; and Fawaz Tello, who was jailed from 2001 to 2006 for his role in what became known as the Damascus Spring.
That earlier movement for political freedoms was put down by Assad a year after he succeeded his father, the late Hafez al-Assad, who died in 2000.