Qurabi on Syrian Human Rights Situation, Military Tribunal of Egypt’s MB
Ammar Qurabi, an eminent figure in the file of the seventh Military Court against Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leaders. Qurabi has recently visited Egypt four times to monitor the fifth, sixth, ninth and tenth sessions of the case against the MB leaders topped by the MB second deputy chairman. He is distinguished by his persistence in job as a human rights activist despite difficulties and hurdles facing him.
Qurabi was never concerned about advices to stop coming to Egypt to monitor the Military Tribunal against MB leaders, but he came here several times for the same purpose.
Qurabi is a top Syrian human rights activist, a good observer to the file of Syrian opposition in exile. He is the delegate of the Arab Committee for Human Rights. We met Ammar Qurabi in his room in a Cairo downtown hotel, in an interview about the Military court against the top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. We tackled also the human rights situation in Syria and its complicated political situation.
Ikhwanweb: The military tribunals against Muslim Brotherhood leaders move on an increasing pace, what is your comment?
Ammar Qurabi: We got used to this by totalitarian regimes in the Arab world. It is a method adopted by these regimes to exhaust families, lawyers and human rights activists who come to monitor the case. Add to this that the tribunal is held outside Cairo taking and most detainees aren’t from Cairo. When the court sessions follow each other in a faster pace, this adds to the exhaustion of many detainees, their families and lawyers.
Ikhwanweb: The security inflexibility, and preventing activists from monitoring sessions?
Ammar Qurabi: The military tribunal is originally illegitimate. The Egyptian authorities” insistence on preventing observers from monitoring the sessions fuel fears that these trials are actually politically motivated. If the trials had been carried out according to standards of a fair trial, authorities would have allowed observers to attend them.
Ikhwanweb: Human rights condition in Egypt, assess it?
Ammar Qurabi: Observers of the human rights condition in Egypt in the last years can notice an aggravating deterioration in human rights violations. Egyptian newspapers are full of cases of tortures to death on a daily basis. Add to this harassments on public freedoms, detentions of some activists and critics without any judicial or legal arrest warrant. This actually recalls to mind a bad period that we though Egypt has passed, like the last days of late president Al Sadat. I think the reason for this condition is the political conflict in Egypt and the deadlocked transfer of rule in Egypt, making authorities try to respond with repression against any political activity opposing it.
Ikhwanweb: Assess human rights organizations in Egypt?
Ammar Qurabi: As is the case in any country, there are organizations that exercise their role perfectly, and there are organizations which are established seeking fame or financing so as to be isolated idlands, and there are organizations that seek both aims.
Ikhwanweb: What about the human rights violations in Syria?
Ammar Qurabi: Although its witnessed a little improvement since president Bashar Al-Asad assumed office in 2000, but human rights in Syria still lack so many to become like Egypt for example. There is no law for parties affairs. Consequently, there is no political life. No Human Rights Organizations have a license in Syria. All Syrian civil society organizations exercise their work secretly. This method makes authorities stop such activities whenever they want and when they feel that any organization has crosses a specific red line!!
Ikhwanweb: Does the Syrian opposition have a real presence in Syria?
Ammar Qurabi: The Syrian opposition is deep in history. It faced during the 1980s until 2000, tortures and repression and many opposition members were thrown in prisons. This forced most of them to leave Syria or working secretly in Syria. After Bashar Al-Asad assumed office, most opposition powers in Syria openly declared their political programs and chose a peaceful method of opposition. However, honeymoon lasted only a few months. This period was called Spring of Damascus 2001. Authorities and security services in Syria soon aborted this peaceful Spring and backtracked!!
As for the presence of this opposition in the street, unfortunately the opposition is still the opposition of the elite and it still can”t reach out to the public for several reasons, including not having media outlets or legal methods in addition to harassments against these activists and this activity not to mention lacking any capability required for carrying out the process of reaching out to the public. This made the opposition in the street a sympathetic opposition which is marked by a reaction to actions of the regime. There is a silent opposition among Syrian people waiting for any one to organize them in a society, a civilian work or even a party.
Ikhwanweb: Why has the political movement which was active at the beginnings of Bashar”s rule stopped after a brief period?
Ammar Qurabi: The Syrian regime isn’t seemingly possessing a clear decision to be open to the other or to have a serious reform. Also, there is no clear agenda for the concept of reform called for by the Syrian leadership which sometimes calls it an administrative reform and some others an economic reform. It sometimes tries to benefit from experiences of other countries like the Chinese experience and the Malaysian experience after it and there is a trend calling for following the Egyptian experience. Lacking a vision made the authorities be divided among themselves towards the civil rights concept making some intellectuals call them the old guard and new guard while Syrian president called them guards of interests. They have no relation to the new or the old. These atmospheres backed the idea that Syria should adopt the method of late president Hafez, a totalitarian regime. So far, supporters of this method still have the upper hand in dealing with Syrian civil society activists.
Ikhwanweb: What has the Syrian opposition in exile given to the Syrian opposition at homeland?
Ammar Qurabi: Opposition in exile is present all the time but without any impact. It only got rid of detentions and manhunts in Syria. However, it has recently started to organize itself and make contacts with opposition at home to make the Syrian incidents at issue to move. Nevertheless, it has unfortunately failed to close ranks and unify under one umbrella. It is still divided. The split into opposition in exile and opposition at home, domestic intervention or foreign intervention, approving or disapproving financing and tyranny and occupation all these led to the spread of accusations of betrayal towards each other. Consequently, effectiveness of this opposition in exile for the Syrian opposition at home.
Ikhwanweb: What”s your assessment to the Muslim Brotherhood”s alliance with Khaddam while the Salvation Front is about to hold a conference in Berlin?
Ammar Qurabi: I thing that the Muslim Brotherhood rushed too hastily to such an alliance, given the MB”s great history and its support in Syria especially after it started to reconsider its political history in Syria and after it made public its cultural project which is nearly similar to those of democratic liberal parties. However, the MB-Khaddam alliance hindered its movement inside Syria due to the fact that Khaddam is a corrupt man according to Syrians in general. He is also directly blamed for aborting the period of the Spring of Damascus and the detention of many activists. People were calling him a leader of the old guard. His sudden moving to the other extreme, the democratic party, was actually due to his political bankruptcy, and after he left his 40 years rule arena. I think MB members started to demand their leaders to reconsider this alliance. Add to this the fact that this experience” The Salvation Front” hasn”t attracted Other Syrian opposition powers inside or outside the country.
Ikhwanweb: But Why has Khaddam left authority although he was an effective leader?
Ammar Qurabi: No one is effective in Syria except for the security services and president. As for other positions including the vice-president, they are executive positions that enable people in such jobs to exercise corruption. Khaddam, in Hafez Al-Assad”s era, held the Lebanese file without having any authority in imposing any other agenda. During era of the current president Bashar Al-Asad, the situation differed as he restored his power and wanted to show himself as a wide expert and an honest adviser to the president”s son. His role was restricted to advice only and giving justifications. As for implementation, the security services were shouldered with it. Unfortunately, Khaddam”s advice was to harm opposition and harm reforms. He has never criticized or demanded reconsideration. He has never disapproved anything throughout 40 years. As for that radical change, I inquire about the reason for this change when he left authority. Why hasn”t he opposed or traveled before leaving authority. It is an issue of power and settling political scores regardless of such resonant slogans.
Ikhwanweb: How is the future of the Syrian opposition? Does it have a space to move under Bashar Al-Asad”s rule?
Ammar Qurabi: There is a political activity in Syria. This activity has ebbs and tides under effects of the regional and international conditions and pressures and interventions in the Syrian regime. I think that the opposition adopted its peaceful means that may enable it to reach its targets.
Ikhwanweb: How far a future change may occur in the Syrian political landscape. Do you expect this change to take place peacefully? or it is still blurred?
Ammar Qurabi: I can not expect any thing. What takes place in Syria or the region isn”t blamed on peoples who take no decision. The decisions that take effect are taken outside. Add to this the fact that Arab governments never think of implementing what peoples want. Therefore, change in Syria is mainly depending on regional and international situations and deals.
Ikhwanweb: Some say that if the Syrian regime yielded to external pressures and held a political deal with the United States and staged a peace process with Israel, the first victims will be the International Court and Hezbollah. Dut to the fact that the Salvation Front depends on the results from the International Court, what will be the future of this front if this alleged deal with America and Israel takes place?
Ammar Qurabi: I think that we give the salvation front so much more than its actual size. It even can”t establish a branch inside Syria or that any of its members appear in public inside Syria. Therefore, linking these big international paths with the salvation is unjust for the front in the first place. As for such changes, peace with Israel and following the United States will not be only for the International Court or Hezbollah but I think, it takes place, it will be a part of a complete settlement for regional issues, including the situation in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon.
Ikhwanweb: There are reportedly more schism of officials in the Syrian regime after Abdel Halim Khaddam. How do you expect the internal structure of the Syrian regime nowadays in light of external pressures?
Ammar Qurabi: These have emerged but without any indications of such schism surface. Talking about such reported schisms stopped after the suicide of Ghazi Kanaan, the former Interior Minister. I repeat that the Syrian structure isn”t based on a party political structure. It is mainly based on security services. In the security services in particular, there is no sign of schism until now.
Ikhwanweb: The Syrian opposition in exile hasn”t made the required effect in countries hosting them. They haven”t drawn the international attention for spreading democracy in Syria and that these counties exercise pressures to change the Syrian condition?, what is your opinion?.
Ammar Qurabi: These opposition powers are banned from contacting powers inside the country. Such contacts triggered arrests. There many examples of Syrian citizens or activists who were arrested after sending e mails or their meetings with Syrian opposition powers. This is the biggest obstacle to reviving opposition inside Syria.
Ikhwanweb: Has Syrian Muslim Brotherhood worked, after leaving Syria and living is exile, for developing their thought and policies?
Ammar Qurabi: On the intellectual level, they have undoubtedly developed so much. They have carried out intellectual reviews and sent several initiative to other Syrian opposition powers. Being the most effective in Syrian opposition, it offered several projects starting from the charter of honour that included Islamists, nationalists, leftists and other religious minorities, ending with publishing the civilizational project, that includes all intellectual and critical reviews carried out by Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and is considered also its political program. There is another problem, the MB”s uprising in 1980, 27 years of absence from Syria, and law 49 of the year 1980 that stipulates a death sentence for any one belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, all this separated between the MB and the Syrian society, given that Supreme State Security Courts in Damascus have continuously issued sentences throughout the last three decades against citizens on charge of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. This sentence has been reduced to 12 in prison. The Muslim Brotherhood is a word that stirs fear in Syria because it leads to prison. This accordingly affected the MB popularity and spread inside Syrian society.
Ikhwanweb: What is the best method, according to you, to solve the political crisis in Syria?
Ammar Qurabi: The best method to solve the Syrian problem is that the Syrian regime becomes more open and immediately carries out constitutional reforms and lift the state of emergency which is in effect since 1963 until now, immediately after the socialist Baath Party assumed power. The Syrian regime should also draft a modern parties law that allows, as prescribed in Syrian constitution, political groups to belong to any party they want, give licenses to Human Rights Organizations, release political detainees, empty prisons and open the file of Syrians who went missing and went to exile, up to 13 thousand persons, during acts of violence that hit Syria in the 1980s. There is also a bad need for reforming the judiciary and separating between the legislative, executive and judicial powers because the executive authority in Syria has infringed on both other authorities, in addition to violating the right to reform the society!!.