The Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria

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ODFS Director Ribal Al-Assad writes for Conservative Home: 'A free and democratic Syria is the best way to undermine Iran'

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

30 March, 2010

A free and democratic Syria is the best way to undermine Iran

By Ribal Al Assad, Director of the Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria.

Syria qualifies as an afterthought when discussing the threat of Iran. But to dismiss this country as a minor player in the region is dangerously to underestimate the significance of its links with Iran.

At the end of February the leaders of the Syrian and Iranian regimes met in Damascus. This display of unity among the ‘resistance’ of the region came just as international community was beginning to believe that the Syrian government had seen sense and was moving away from Iran. However Syria and Iran reaffirmed their close links and announced a new policy to waive visa requirements between their nations.

Iran is a major influencer in the Middle East. Its tentacles stretch deep into Syria, the West Bank, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Iran’s aim is to manipulate and use proxy groups to exert greater influence and control in the region.

The Iranian regime, which is the leader of the ‘resistance’ has expansionist and destabilizing tendencies. In its southwest, Iran occupies the populous, oil and gas rich, Arab land of Al-Ahwaz. Also of its southern coast, Iran occupies three small islands, the Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa, which are claimed by the United Arab Emirates. The UAE's claim is backed by the Gulf Cooperation Council and other Arab states. Iran plays the sectarian card in creating an impression that it is there to help Shia Arabs in the region yet it oppresses and persecutes Shia Arabs at home in Al-Ahwaz. Furthermore it supports and arms Al-Qaeda groups in Iraq to kill Shia Arabs. The aim of this policy is to make Shia Arabs feel that they need Iran to protect them from Al-Qaeda.

In the last few years when Lebanon, Syria and Gaza were attacked on separate occasions, where was Iran the leader of the ‘resistance.’ Therefore Syria should have no illusions about the intentions of its senior partner in the‘resistance’. It is my belief that Syria will never be in a position to distance itself from Iran unless and until it has national unity, a democratically elected government through free and fair elections where all political parties who believe in democracy participate; where all citizens have full rights under the rule of law; and where the rights of individuals, groups and minorities regardless of religion, ethnic group or sex are protected by a new constitution.

Syria is currently an authoritarian dictatorship. Make no mistake; that is what it is. Opposition is not tolerated, the media are censured and controlled, political prisoners fill the jails and the internet is heavily regulated. The Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria (ODFS) aims to campaign for several fundamental developments; human rights guaranteed by law, a free media, economic liberalisation, and zero tolerance of extremism.

Syria will never be free from the grip of Iran unless it embraces these democratic principles and gives its people a voice and a stake in the future of their country.

The people of Syria want a free economy, not one propped up by corruption and Iranian influence. They want a democratic government, not a dictatorship. They want to be free to express themselves and their opinions, without fear of oppression. They want to be able to forward an email that features a cartoon of a public official, without being thrown into prison for such actions.

Engaging with Syria is a worthwhile ambition, but it will be fruitless for as long as the Syrian regime sees Iran as his benefactor and friend. Having set up the ODFS here in London, my aim is to talk to politicians, policy makers and journalists about the stark state of affairs in my home country, and to promote the basic idea that a free and democratic Syria is not just good for my countrymen, but good for the Middle East and vital for global security.

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