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4/17/04 - SYRIANS WANT POLITICAL FREEDOM - 2004-04-19


People across the Middle East want political freedom. This is clear in Iraq, where people have turned out in great numbers at town meetings to begin to make some decisions of their own about civic affairs. And further moves toward democracy are coming soon, as the U.S.-led coalition prepares to restore Iraqi sovereignty on June 30th.

The recent “Arab Reform Issues” conference in Alexandria, Egypt, is another sign of growing democratic awareness. In the “Alexandria Declaration,” civic group leaders from several Arab countries said that, “Reform is necessary and urgently needed.” Every Arab country, says the declaration, should establish an “elected legislative body, an independent judiciary, and constitutional oversight, in addition to political parties with their different ideologies.”

Even in Syria, long ruled by a Baathist-style socialist dictatorship, people are pushing for reform. Thousands of Syrians have signed a petition demanding the repeal of Syria’s emergency law. Since 1963, this law has been used as an excuse to deny fundamental rights to Syrians. On March 8th, the forty-first anniversary of the state of emergency, a group of Syrians held a rare public demonstration in Damascus, the capital. Police broke up the rally and briefly detained several demonstrators. But reform-minded Syrians say that being able to demonstrate at all was a victory of sorts.

Aktham Naisse, a former political prisoner, heads the Committees for the Defense of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights in Syria. As he told the Associated Press news service, “As activists, we were able to send a clear message to the Syrian street and to international public opinion that we are serious about our demands. Sooner or later, our hopes and aspirations will be fulfilled.”

Only days after making these comments, Syrian democracy activist Aktham Naisse was reportedly jailed again.

President George W. Bush says the people of the greater Middle East “have a right to be safe, secure, prosperous, and free”:

“This objective serves the interests of that region, of the United States, and of all freedom-loving countries.”

As the Middle East becomes “a place where freedom flourishes,” says President Bush, “the lives of millions in that region will be bettered. . .and the entire world will be more secure.”

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