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Opposition leader tells Syrians: 'Days of tyranny are numbered'

November 6, 2011 |  9:02 am

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REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- The Syrian exile community is abuzz about a videotaped speech addressed to the "Syrian people” on the eve of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that began Sunday. It is a kind of revolutionary manifesto.

The speaker is Burhan Ghalioun, a longtime Syrian exile, pro-democracy advocate and political scientist in Paris who heads the Syrian National Council, the best known opposition coalition. The group says the only dialogue it is willing to have with the government of President Bashar Assad is one that is predicated on his departure from power.

Ghalioun's address is among the most coherent declarations to date from the Syrian opposition.

“The National Council will not allow the regime to bide for time,” declared Ghalioun, who has developed a following in Syria through satellite television during the almost eight-month uprising. “The regime is still intent on drawing the country into chaos and civil war, but we will resist by uniting until we are victorious."

Some have speculated that Ghalioun could be a transitional leader or future president should Assad be toppled. He is a secular activist in his mid-60s who has in the past criticized what he considers the excessive influence of clerics in Arab life.

“With each passing day, and with every drop of blood shed, we are one step closer to freedom,” Ghalioun said in the message directed to those inside Syria, words that resonated for many used to less direct declarations from Assad. “The days of tyranny are numbered and the demise of the current regime is inevitable.”

The speech was received warmly online.

In the address, Ghalioun talked about the opposition’s desire for a democracy guaranteeing the rights of all Syrians, “with no reference to majorities or minorities, religion, sect or regional affiliation.”  The new government, Ghalioun vowed, will have a new judicial, legislative and executive system “which will be held accountable by the people.”

Syria’s new constitution, he said, “will protect minorities and their rights, including the Kurds, who have suffered discrimination.” Some ethnics Kurds have voiced concerns that the Arab-dominated opposition was not sufficiently attuned to their struggle for equal rights. Ghalioun's comment, in addition to addressing that issue, was also meant to reassure other minorities, including Christians and Alawites, worried about the prospect of an intolerant Muslim fundamentalist regime replacing Assad’s secular rule.

Ghalioun added: “The power of government will be limited and the people will choose who governs them through the ballot box.”

The opposition council, he said, has submitted a formal request to both the Arab League and United Nations to send international observers to Syria to help protect civilians.

Pointedly, Ghalioun saluted those Syrian soldiers who are refusing to carry out their orders and are instead supporting the protests. His words appeared to be meant as encouragement to military deserters, who have become the armed component of the rebellion.

The Syrian government blames the violence on “armed groups.” Many opposition leaders say the revolution must remain nonviolent to maintain the moral high ground. But others favor a more robust  response, and insist that peaceful protesters must be defended.

Ghalioun called on the army to follow the example of those who refuse to obey orders.

Meanwhile, in its latest report on Syria, the International Crisis Group warned that the revolt “is fast approaching a dangerous tipping point.” It labeled the Arab League peace plan hammered out in Cario last week an “eleventh-hour opportunity to seek a negotiated transition before the conflict takes an even uglier turn,” though the report noted that the pact has flaws, including a lack of an apparent monitoring or enforcement mechanism.   

Many in the opposition have accused the Assad regime of having no intention of implementing the peace plan, which, among other things, calls for a withdrawal of security forces from populated areas.

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-- Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo: Burhan Ghalioun, a leader of the opposition to Syria's President Bashar Assad, speaks to journalists during an interview in Paris on Oct. 5. Credit: Miguel Medina / Agence France-Presse

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