Syrian Government Showing Leniency towards Intellectuals
Two months after the Syrian government clamped down on political forums and democratic campaigns, authorities in Damascus are seemingly regretting their actions and giving intellectuals carte blanche to resume political activity, reported the Daily Star newspaper.
On Sunday evening, a new declaration of principles was issued by the Committee for the Restoration of Civic Society of intellectuals, re-affirming their determination to promote democracy and defending themselves against Baath Party accusations of treachery and treason, said the paper.
"We are optimistic," Aref Dalilah, one of the declaration's leading authors, told the daily.
He said that the state was willing to authorize their new manifesto just as it had approved circulation of the Document of 99 Intellectuals in September 2000, and the Manifesto of the 1,000 in January 2001.
The new document, titled "The Second Declaration of Intellectuals," had been expected for release in early May, but made a surprise appearance on April 15.
Among its authors are economist Dalilah, philosophers Michel Kilo and Sadeq Jallal al-Azm, and professor Youseff Salameh.
It upholds the democratic demands and calls for sub-committees to investigate the methods needed for re-activating civic society in all aspects of Syrian public life, the paper said. The document also asks for end of one-party rule, a general amnesty, freedom of the press, a revised judicial system, and pan-Syrian support for the Palestinian Intifada.
These sub-committees will be put in charge of local neighborhoods in every Syrian city for a preliminary period, before dissolving themselves to allow for general elections into the ranks of the civil society movement.
At the moment, the Syrian state is sharply divided on how to deal with the intellectuals, with one group asking for dialogue and willing to change, and the other wanting to strike back with force at any demands threatening the existing order.
Vice-President Abdul Halim Khaddam, who took charge of the Baath Party counter-campaign against the intellectuals in February, is emerging as someone willing to conduct constructive dialogue with all "rational" anti-Baath elements within the state, the paper said, citing officials.
Over the weekend, he met with Hasan Abdul Azeem, secretary-general of the Union Socialist Democratic Party, and heard his concerns of Baath Party monopoly on power.
Khaddam's new policy is also clear from his Friday meeting with Mohammad Fayeq, Head of the Arab Organization of Human Rights who has long been a sharp critic of Damascus for its record on human rights, the paper added.
Another visible change in government policy is an approval given to lawyer Khalil Maatouq to attend a human-rights conference hosted by Amnesty International, where Syria's record was a main topic of debate.
Only two weeks earlier, Maatouk's application for license to hold political forums at his residence was strictly turned down, and his activities kept under surveillance.
Another shift in action comes after the government allowed the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Syria to issue its annual report and have it circulate on a national level.
The report said that Syria still holds 800 political prisoners – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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