Syria’s first lady calls for civil activism

Asma Al-Assad has urged citizens to be more active in civil society organizations.

January 26, 2010 17:25
2 minute read.
Asma Assad

Asma Assad . (photo credit: AP)


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’s first lady has called for the country’s citizens to play a more active role in the country’s social and economic life.

Syrian First Lady Asma Al-Assad encouraged her fellow Syrians to become more involved in non governmental organizations (NGOs) during a recent conference in the Syrian capital , according to local media outlets.

Civil society organizations are relatively rare in due to the lengthy and difficult process involved in securing permission from the government to establish an NGO.

“There is a maturation of the whole trend in Syria towards the empowering of what we call civil society,” Dr Samir Al-Taqi, Director of the Orient Center for International Studies in Damascus, told The Media Line.

“Previously the use of civil society in Syria has been used not as a link to empower [social or environmental] aims but rather used on a political basis,” he said. “Syrian society is now elaborating on a new trend towards the formation and multiplication of civil society bodies.”

“It would help to bring about new tools for social and economic development at the grassroots level,” Al-Taqi said. “This has really been lacking in our political and social life, and it would become a very important channel in the communications between those who are ruling and those who are ruled.”

“[Al-Assad’s comments] will definitely encourage those NGOs targeting empowering rural women in our society or abused children,” he said. “This will bring about very important social dynamics.”

Nadim Houry, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, disagreed with Al-Taqi.

“It’s part of a public relations campaign,” she told The Media Line, arguing that the government has talked about the importance of civil society before but have been unwilling to relinquish control.  

“There are zero human rights NGOs in Syria,” Houry continued. “What happens is that especially for human rights activists, they ask to form an NGO and they are then either denied or never given an answer.”

“If they start meeting and for some reason upset the authorities, then they are charged with membership of an illegal organization,” she said. “It would be an encouraging step if her comments were followed by concrete action, specifically the introduction of a new associations law and the permission for independent organizations to actually exist.”     

During the latest report by Freedom House, an American NGO which monitors the state of freedom worldwide, was rated as Not Free, due principally to an absence of basic political rights and the systematic denial of many civil liberties.

The parameters Freedom House looks at to determine the status of any given country include the electoral process, the functioning of government and political pluralism and participation.

“Leaders of unlicensed human rights groups have frequently been jailed for publicizing [Syrian] state abuses,” a report by Freedom House read.

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