‘US sanctions on Syria are a cruel joke’

Head of Washington-based Reform Party of Syria says as crackdown continues, Israel shouldn’t sit idly by.

By OREN KESSLER
May 2, 2011 02:20
4 minute read.
‘US sanctions on Syria are a cruel joke’

Farid Ghadry AJ 298.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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The sanctions the White House levied Friday against Syrian President Bashar Assad regime are a “cruel joke,” according to the US-based leader of a Syrian opposition party.

Farid Ghadry, leader of the largely expatriate Reform Party of Syria, says both Washington and Jerusalem must take bolder stances against the Assad regime’s bloody sevenweek crackdown.

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“Ever since [US President Barack] Obama slapped on these weak sanctions, the regime has become more ferocious,” Ghadry said by phone from the US capital.

The Obama administration’s sanctions target three members of Assad’s inner circle but not the Syrian president himself.

“In the last two days it has caused more damage to Syrians and Syria than it has on any other two days combined in the last seven weeks. A weak response always invites more terror,” he said.

Ghadry says tougher talk needs to be complemented by tougher sanctions and possibly a rendition to the International Court of Justice.

Ghadry, 56, was born to a Sunni family in Syria’s second city, Aleppo, and at age 11 moved with his family to Lebanon. At 21, he moved to the US, where he earned a finance degree from American University and became a successful businessman. He lives in the Washington area with his wife, a Druse originally from Lebanon, and their four children.

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With Assad’s domestic credibility exhausted, Ghadry says it’s only a matter of time before his overthrow takes place.

“Syrians thought Assad stood for ‘resistance’ against the ‘enemy,’ but now they’ve discovered his arms are against them. When Israel attacks Syria’s nuclear plant, there’s no response. But when we stand up on the street and ask for freedom, he kills us,” he said.

Ghadry has visited Israel twice – first in 1996 on what he described as a business trip, and then in 2007, to testify before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The appearance before the Knesset panel led the Assad government to revoke Ghadry’s citizenship.

“I heard from people who supported Assad to death, but I also heard from people who were very welcoming and very warm,” Ghadry said of his Israel visits. “But there’s one commonality about Israelis that I didn’t realize, and that’s how much they want peace.

We, the Arabs and the Muslims always think you are the aggressors, but they don’t realize our peaceful you are, how badly you want peace.”

“This is a revolution about freedom, about young people wanting to have a better future. Don’t listen to all these guys on the periphery in the US, or on the Left in Israel saying ‘We should support the devil we know,’ or ‘What’s the alternative?’ Enough of that,” he said.

“Israel should do something. You shouldn’t just sit on the sideline and accept the fact that the US isn’t doing enough. I guarantee you if Bibi comes out today or tomorrow and says, ‘We are for the Syrian revolution and we need to protect these people who are being butchered like animals in Syria,’ I guarantee he’ll be the most popular leader in Syria today. Why? Because there’s a huge vacuum in Syria,” he said.

“Two days ago the Muslim Brotherhood came out with a big statement saying ‘We support the revolution.’ Well hello, good morning! Seven weeks, and you support the revolution now?” Ghadry’s Reform Party is arguably the most reformminded element of the scant and disparate Syrian opposition in exile. Larger opposition factions are headed by Abdul Halim Khaddam – a former Syrian vice president who six years ago defected to Paris – and Ribal Assad, the president’s cousin, based in London.

The Movement for Justice and Development, an Islamist group, is also based in the UK.

“Our objectives – since we were founded in 2001, right after 9/11 – have been to bring regime change to Syria,” Ghadry said. “Young people today are more amenable to Western culture than at any time in our history, and the reason is the Internet and what’s going on in the world.

They see singers sing, they see actors act, they students study, they see people excel, and they want the same. They just don’t want to live under the prospect of having no freedom and not being able to pursue their aspirations.”

Ghadry says Western nations have a moral duty to put an end to the bloodshed in Syria. Until the US administration takes more decisive action, “we’ll hold banners at the White House saying ‘Mr.

Obama, how many must be killed before you pay attention?’” he said. “The moment Obama stands on the podium and says, ‘Assad must go,’ Syrians will take care of themselves.

People in Syria are realizing the ship is sinking, and they’re going to jump ship.”

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