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Freedom Collection

Interviews with Radwan Ziadeh

Interviewed December 10, 2023

Syria has a very rich democratic history in the ’40s and in the ’50s. Syria gets independent from the French mandate in 1946. After that Syria has very democratic institutions. You have free and fair elections. We have at that time more than 274 newspapers and magazines, very pluralistic society and political life, many political parties, from the left to the right to the center, liberals, Islamists, leftists, nationalists and all of that.

They exist, and they have seats in the parliament. More than that, Syria in 1951 – they adopt the first constitution in the whole region, which was very progressive constitution, which gave the right to the women to vote and participate, before many Europeans thought to do that [Switzerland (1971) and Liechtenstein (1984) did not allow women the right to vote until after 1970]. And that gives you a sense of how the progress and how the Syrian people – very civilized, open-minded and liberal. What happened all of this rich history swept away when the Assad dynasty captured the power in 1970.

Of course, before that the Ba’ath party, who’s now the ruling party, took the power in 1963. But from 1963 until 1970, still we have some little room for freedom, basic rights and all of that. When [former President] Hafez Assad came into power in 1970, he tried to build the whole state according to his personality. This is why it’s – he was able, after 30 years, from ruling – governing Syria to inherit the whole state to his son [current Syrian President Bashar Assad], even as we are a republic, the first republic in the Middle East region. We don’t have tradition, actually, for the father to deliver the power to his son.

That’s happened in North Korea. But then after that, to happen in Syria, it was a shock for the Syrians in 2000. But he succeeded because he built in all the state institutions, relying heavily on the security forces. If you need to get registered in the university, you have to get permission from the security forces. If you need to travel, you have to get the permission from the security forces. In 1998 I started to write to a leading Arabic newspaper called Al Hayat. This established in London and can distribute to the whole Arabic countries.

I wrote an article about the Arabic human rights organizations [the Arab Organization for Human Rights]. This organization was established in 1983, where the first conference was in Limassol, in Cyprus. I wrote the article, and I sent it by mail. At that time Syria has no Internet, has no fax. And the security opened the letter because they control the mail, and if they have any suspicious address, they say to me in the interrogation at the security, they have the right to open the letter. And they start questioning me about what I wrote in the article. This is a way that – how the Assad security forces control the country, censored not only the – at that time I wasn’t dissident. I wasn’t any human rights activist.

I was just a student at the university, the third year in my university. And even that, they interrogated me, they took me to the security. And this is the real life for all the Syrians. It became like the novel of George Orwell, “1984,” about the Big Brother. Exactly, we are living in Orwellian state under Hafez Assad and his son Bashar Assad. This is why when the revolution started everyone was hoping that this revolution would put an end to the Assad dynasty, the Assad family, after 40 years of living in fear and silence.

When the son started [current Syrian President Bashar Assad], the Syrians hoped that he would be different. He is not from his father’s age. He doesn’t belong to the military. He’s a physician, an eye doctor. And we hoped that he will make a change. But in less than a year, actually, they discovered that all of this was lies, even that he spent years in London studying there but then it was actually the genes of the family, of the Assad dynasty, are much more stronger than we thought. These genes, which we call it actually the killing genes.

His father killed more than 25,000 in the rebellion in Hama [a 1982 uprising organized by the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama against former President Hafez Assad] the strike there, and now his son, he is killing more and more during the Syrian uprising. Until now more than 35,000 have been killed, and maybe the number is increasing day by day. And he makes the destruction, bombarding the city of Homs, the city of Aleppo, Damascus and all of that. We don’t see any differences between the father and the son.