Ribal Al-Assad: 'Bringing Democracy and Freedom to Syria and Building Peace in the Middle East', the London Rotary Club, Dartmouth House, LondonMonday, 17 May 2010
I am delighted and honoured to be speaking here today. I would like to thank the Rotary Club for inviting me.
Today I want to say a few words about my project to bring democracy and Freedom to my country Syria, and talk about the Middle East Peace process and the dangers posed by Iran to the region.
As many of you are aware the Obama administration are pursuing a policy of engagement with Syria. I welcomed the engagement when it first started earlier this year. I also warned that it was a test for the Syrian regime to change and move towards democracy and freedom and disengage from Iran. However the regime seemed to think that it was a green light to oppress people even more and to strengthen its relationship with Iran. The regime did not act in the best interests of the Syrian people. This has led to renewed sanctions by the US a couple of weeks ago.
Earlier in the year when the International community were looking for signs of Syria moving away from Iran the two leaders of these regimes met in Damascus in a display of unity of the so called ‘resistance’ in the region. They reaffirmed their close ties and announced that visa requirements would be waived between their countries. The Iranian regime, which is the leader of the so called ‘resistance’, uses proxy groups to have greater influence and control in the Middle East and to ferment trouble in the region, when it believes that it may face sanctions from the international community. It gives false hopes to Arabs in the region that it will help them to liberate their occupied lands. However Iran itself occupies Arab lands. For example in its southwest it occupies the oil and gas rich land of Al-Ahwaz and of its southern coast it occupies three islands which are claimed by the UAE.
Iran’s aim is also to create instability in the region by fueling conflict in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, Egypt and Afghanistan.
Over the last few years when there were separate attacks on Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, where was the leader of the ‘resistance’. They were nowhere to be seen. So the Syrian regime should wake up and see the true intentions of Iran. For too long it has given Iran a free hand in Syria and allowed it to exert excessive influence in exchange for economic assistance. As a result Syrian sovereignty has been eroded. It’s time for Syria to re-assert its identity and sovereignty by creating national unity where all Syrians are given an opportunity to take part in forming a new democratically elected government, which would only then enable it to disengage from Iran. It is only under democracy with a new constitution will the rights of individuals, groups and minorities regardless of religion, ethnic group or sex be protected.
The aim of my organisation, ODFS, is to help empower ordinary Syrians decide their destiny by bringing Democracy and Freedom to Syria in a peaceful and transitional way through engagement and dialogue with all parties who believe in democracy as opposed to those who say they believe in democracy but will not tolerate anyone who does not subscribe to their ideology.
On the issue of extremism. Firstly I would like to say we need to tackle extremism wherever it is. The Syrian regime tells the world it is either us in power or the Islamists. Yet paradoxically Iran is the biggest supporter of Islamists. The truth of the matter is that wherever you have dictatorship, poverty and ignorance, it will breed extremism, militancy and violence. This is what has been happening in Syria.
People everywhere want peace, security and prosperity. That there is no doubt about. Peace in the Middle East must be built on solid foundations for it to be a real and lasting peace. There must be a land for peace deal where all of the Golan Heights are returned to Syria. The Syrian regime should accept the fact that unless it has national unity, disengages from Iran and returns to its Arab home, peace is not likely to be achieved. There must be a two state solution with a viable, independent and democratic state of Palestine.
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