For months, the world has watched as the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad has cracked down on protesters, with a death toll of more than 3,000, according to the United Nations. The Arab League has suspended Syria. Rebels attacked a military base Wednesday. Canada has called for Mr. al-Assad to resign, and a Syrian-Canadian group wants the country’s acting ambassador, Bashar Akbik, to be expelled. But Mr. Akbik argues the world is hearing a false version of events, which have been exploited and fomented by foreign powers. He spoke to The Globe and Mail this week. The following is a somewhat abridged version of that conversation.
There’s a report that Syrian defectors from the army have attacked a military base. Is this becoming a civil war?
“No. God forbid civil war. Because if civil war happens, really, it will not be only in Syria. It might start in Syria, but it will engulf the whole area. It will be a disaster in the Middle East. What’s happening in Syria now is that we have a kind of armed insurrection taking place in the country.
“To give you a good view of the situation, we have to go back to the beginning. After what happened in what we now call the Arab Spring … the repercussions arrived in Syria. And people were encouraged to go in peaceful demonstrations, asking for more liberties, against corruption, asking for real democracy in the country, and participating in political life. These were legitimate requests. Unfortunately, we in Syria are not really used to demonstrations, so security forces went to handle these demonstrations, and they handled it very badly. We acknowledged this. President al-Assad acknowledged this. He ordered the arrest of many important figures in Syrian security because they mishandled the demonstrations and that led to many casualties inflicted on the demonstrators, many killed. It was really very unfortunate. President al-Assad went on TV and he said he was sorry for what happened, and that the Syrian government is responsible about the delays in reforms in Syria. The Syrian government was working on the reforms in Syria, and they were going in that direction.”
So how then did this go from that to the state it’s at now?
“I’m starting from the beginning. It’s much different now. There was some delay in the reforms. President al-Assad instantly said that we will start to make rapid reforms and we will issue the decrees that will pave the way for taking Syria into real democracy, liberty, and all of what the people were demonstrating for. He assigned committees to start preparing decrees on elections, about the formation of parties in Syria, for the freedom of the press. He three times issued decrees to let out detainees who were arrested during the demonstrations. General amnesty. Armed people started to infiltrate the demonstrations, and they started to shoot at the police – who at that time had very stringent orders not to shoot at any demonstrators – and to shoot at the demonstrators, so that police would think the demonstrators are shooting at them, and the demonstrators would think that the police were shooting at them. Those gunmen – most of them are criminals – we knew afterward they were offered money and arms from the Islamic Brotherhood movement stationed in Saudi Arabia, some Gulf countries, Lebanon, Iraq, and even Turkey and Jordan.”
So these are not protests by ordinary people now?
“It is protests. I’m telling you how it started from peaceful demonstrations and turned into something else. There are peaceful protests, and when it’s peaceful protests, the police, like anywhere else in the world, the police just stand and watch because they don’t want any riots to happen. When there are no riots, why should they shoot at them, logically?
“Then the demonstrators, who were asking only for reforms … started to say that they wanted to get rid of the regime, and they rejected the reform package. And every time the government did a very good reform decree, they said, ‘It’s too late, this has no meaning under the pressure of security operations.’ And then they started to say, we want to foil the regime. This became the main request. Those armed people started to make more effective operations against the army and security, using, sometimes, medium to heavy weapons. Where are these weapons coming from?”
So is the government going to go ahead with reforms?
“It already did. The government made 14 decrees which we never, in Syria, even dreamed about. … And then [President al-Assad]formed a committee to study amending the constitution. One of the things they said is a must is to cancel item No. 8 from the constitution, which says that the Baath Socialist Party is the leader of the society and the state. Imagine! The Baath party has been leading the country for 50 years now. The government is working in the right direction.”