News / Middle East

Exiled Syrian: 'We Don't Want a Violent Revolution'

Ribal Al-Assad
Ribal Al-Assad

Multimedia

Audio
Cecily Hilleary

Ribal al-Assad is the son of Rifaat, Hafez al-Assad's brother; and a first cousin to the current Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has lived in exile since 1984. Two years before that, Hafez al-Assad instigated what has been called the single deadliest act of an Arab regime against its own people.

In February 1982, determined to crush a six-year armed insurgency by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunni groups, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad directed a full assault on the city of Hama, a stronghold of Sunni opposition. Tens of thousands of people died, most of them civilians.

Ribal al-Assad says that level of violence is a painful memory that Syrians would never want to see repeated. He now lives in London, where he is the Director of the Organization for Democracy and Freedom in Syria. He explained to VOA's Cecily Hilleary the memory of February 1982 is why opposition groups have been slow to mobilize Egypt-style demonstrations.

Ribal al-Assad: I don’t know if you’ve seen the logo that they [opposition groups] have used or the images that they were distributing on Facebook. The image they chose had a red, bloodish color; and they called it a day of rage. And they chose a day [February 5, 2011] that reminds people of the Muslim extremist armed uprising against the government in the late 70s, and the beginning of the 80s. People don’t want that memory.

They want change, but they don’t want a change that comes through fights and through violence and through blood. They should have been calling for peaceful demonstrations against the government.

Hilleary: Clearly by calling for a Day of Rage, there are those who are angry. What is it they are looking for?

Ribal al-Assad: There are a lot of people in Syria who are angry today. There’s no freedom of expression, no freedom of association, no freedom to complain about anything that goes on.  People are hungry. So, that’s a very disastrous situation. Everybody is angry. Everybody wants change. But as I said, people don’t want to see the situation in Syria like it is in neighboring Iraq. Nobody wants to see that.

Hilleary: What is your group calling for?

Ribal al-Assad: We want a change in Syria and we want it to happen right now, but we don’t want a violent revolution, which would be very chaotic for Syria, because, as you know, a violent revolution in Syria would lead to chaos and public unrest, and we don’t want that. Syria has a lot of religions - like we have Christians in Syria, we have Muslims, we have Jews, we have among the Muslims themselves, we have Shi’a Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Alawites, Druze, Ismailis and many others. And we also have the Kurds in Syria, we have the Turkmen, we have the Cherkes - we have many different people in Syria and that would be very chaotic to try call for a violent revolution there.

Hilleary: Your cousin, President Al-Assad, recently announced a few reforms—he’s lessened restrictions on the internet. He’s calling for new media laws. Is this a sign that he’s nervous in the wake of Tunisia and Egypt?

Ribal al-Assad: Of course. If you’ve seen, the next day following what happened in Tunisia, the government started distributing help - money and food for 450,000 families. They lowered the price of mazut for heating, for example. On the 4th or on the 3rd, just before this Day of Rage, they have brought up the salaries by 17 or 19 percent. They were supposed to also lower the prices of medicines, so you see, of course they are nervous.

Exiled Syrian: 'We Don't Want a Violent Revolution'
Exiled Syrian: 'We Don't Want a Violent Revolution'

They have allowed Facebook and YouTube. You can access them easily in Syria. But this is not enough to say things, sell slogans - “Yeah, we have no problems in Syria. People have no dissent. People love them.”

If they love them, why don’t they make free elections? And they also say the country is not “fit” for democracy.  Well, I have to tell them that it should not have to be deemed fit for democracy. A country becomes fit through democracy.

Hilleary: What is your prediction for the next few weeks and months as we see other governments in the area begin to tumble?

Ribal al-Assad: We’ll see. The government in Syria is very scared, as I told you before. Yesterday they lowered the taxes on some food products, and so that means that the government has done in the past week what they have failed to do in the past ten years. So we want them to move even faster and not just take some small steps.

We want them to take bigger steps and to call for a government of national unity, national reconciliation where all parties who believe in democracy - genuine democracy, not just some people who live abroad and who always think that democracy is just a vote, and the majority come, while the rest will have to pay the price.

Hilleary: What role, if any, could the U.S. play in helping to effect change?

Ribal al-Assad: The U.S. should support democracy and freedom everywhere.  If you are for democracy, you have to support it everywhere.  If you are for freedom and human rights, you have to support it everywhere.   You cannot be [a] hypocrite about it.

Hilleary: And if you had any message to deliver to your cousin [President Bashar al-Assad], would you? And what would it be?

Ribal al-Assad: It would be, “Change or you will be changed.” I’ve been saying this for awhile now.

NEW: Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.


Initially, VOA misspelled the names of President Bashar al-Assad and Rifaat al-Assad.  We regret the error.

You May Like

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Russia’s Prosecutor General to Review Legality of Baltics Independence

Move, announced Tuesday, has alarmed Baltic States and strained even further their increasingly tense ties with Moscow More

US Urged to Keep Up Pressure on Cuba Rights

Communist government continues to hold dozens of political prisoners, tightly restricts freedom of expression, uses threats, intimidation to discourage critics, according to activist groups More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs