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WikiLeaks: 2005-11-07: 05DAMASCUS5833: Small Band of Secular and Minority Groups Developing Alternative to Damascus Declaration

Posted: Friday, October 28, 2011 at 07:33 PM CT


Viewing cable 05DAMASCUS5833, SMALL BAND OF SECULAR AND MINORITY GROUPS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05DAMASCUS5833 2005-11-07 15:19 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Damascus
This record is a partial extract of the original cable.
The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 005833 
 
SIPDIS 
 
PARIS FOR ZEYA, LONDON FOR TSOU 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/06/2015 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SY
SUBJECT: SMALL BAND OF SECULAR AND MINORITY GROUPS 
DEVELOPING ALTERNATIVE TO DAMASCUS DECLARATION 
 
 
Classified By: CDA Stephen Seche for reasons 1.4(b)/(d) 
 
1.  (C) SUMMARY: The impact of the Damascus Declaration 
continues to reverberate through civil society and opposition 
circles in Syria.  A small group of secular and minority 
elements (with a heavy Kurdish presence) has formed the 
"Dialogue Group" to develop a more secular, pro-minorities 
alternative to what it characterizes as the overly Islamic 
and Arab emphasis of the Damascus Declaration. While the 
group has yet to agree on a counter-declaration, it has 
already come under increasing criticism by mainstream civil 
society activists for potentially splitting the opposition at 
a critical moment.  Activists also quietly insist that many 
in the "Dialogue Group" are collaborating with SARG security 
forces intent on delegitimizing the Damascus Declaration. 
END SUMMARY. 
 
2.  (C) During the last three weeks, multiple sources have 
reported the formation of a rump &Dialogue Group8 of 
opposition and civil-society figures.  The Group's diverse-- 
if limited-- membership is voicing its criticism of what they 
perceive as the Damascus Declaration's overtly pro-Islamic 
tone and its lack of a clear commitment to ethnic and 
religious minority rights. 
 
3.  (C) Eleven groups are reported to have joined in the 
discussions: the Kurdish Yekiti, Azadi, and al-Mustaqbal 
parties (three out of a total of 13 Kurdish political parties 
in Syria; the others supported the Damascus Declaration); one 
Assyrian group; seven Arab-led organizations (many of them 
not well-known even in opposition circles); and activists 
Nabil Fayyad and Aktham Naissa.  Members have met a number of 
times in Damascus and Aleppo over the last two weeks to 
discuss at least two draft statements, one created by the 
al-Nahda Party and another by the Kurdish Azadi Party. A 
finalized statement has yet to be published. 
 
 
 
GOAL: GUARANTEEING MINORITY RIGHTS IN A SECULAR LIBERAL 
DEMOCRACY 
 
 
 
4.  (C) The group's members share a profound disagreement 
with what they insist is the prominence given to Islam in the 
Damascus Declaration, particularly the designation of Islam 
as the religion of the majority.  Furthermore, the group's 
members feel that the Damascus Declaration does not properly 
emphasize Syria's multi-ethnic, multi-religious composition. 
Abdulaziz Meslat, leader of the tiny al-Nahda Party, told 
Poloff that any new constitution should be of a "secular and 
Syrian national" nature, not religious and Arab-centric in 
tone.  He believes that the Dialogue Group better reflects 
Syria's history of multiculturalism.  Two other participants, 
activists Nabil Fayyad and Aktham Naissa, referred in 
separate discussions with Poloff to the Damascus Declaration 
as the "Kandahar Declaration", a derisive reference to the 
Taliban in Afghanistan. 
 
5.  (C) This dissident group insists that the Damascus 
Declaration is weak on rights for religious and ethnic 
minorities.  Nabil Fayyad fears the potential for "tyranny of 
the Arab/Islamic majority."   Among Kurdish activists, 
Damascus-based Yekiti Party board member Faisal Badr and 
Azadi Party SYG Kheyreddin Murad noted with frustration that 
the Damascus Declaration addressed Kurdish rights in a 
general statement about minority cultural and linguistic 
rights rather than presenting a clear commitment to 
institutionalizing political and national rights for Kurds 
(and other minorities) in a future democratic constitution. 
Both Badr and Murad noted that they have successfully 
negotiated the inclusion of Kurdish national and political 
rights in the Dialogue Group's draft documents. 
 
 
MAJOR ROADBLOCKS: CREDIBILITY PROBLEMS AND BAD TIMING 
 
 
6.  (C) The Dialogue Group has faced criticism from a variety 
of sources within civil society as news of their activity 
spread within Damascus' small opposition community.  For 
some, the Dialogue Group lacks credibility, as a cloud of 
suspicion about collaboration with SARG security elements 
hangs over a number of members.  Nabil Fayyad, Abdulaziz 
Meslat, and Aktham Naissa have been accused publicly and 
privately of having been co-opted by various state security 
services.  According to human rights activist Rezan Zeituni, 
other opposition elements do not trust various members of the 
Group, and in fact, the members themselves do not really 
trust each other.  This distrust was apparent as Badr and 
fellow Yekiti Party board member Ismail Hame expressed to 
Poloff their resentment of fellow Dialogue Group member 
Naissa, calling him an opportunist. 
 
7.  (C) Others feel that the "Dialogue Group's" campaign is 
ill-timed, as the SARG faces enormous external pressure and 
the opposition is starting to push the government harder for 
reform.  Prominent human-rights activist Anwar al-Bunni 
admitted that he disagrees with aspects of the Damascus 
Declaration, but emphasized the need for opposition unity at 
this point in time. Zeituni noted that the release of a 
competing statement by the Dialogue Group would be a bad 
step, showing divisions within the opposition. 
 
8. COMMENT: (C) The Dialogue Group's activities highlight a 
genuine unease in opposition and civil society circles about 
how to address the powerful issues of Islam and Arab identity 
-- and the need to increase grassroots support -- while 
continuing to champion secularism and minority rights. 
However, like others with whom we have spoken, the real 
problem with the Dialogue Group is that their motivations are 
not completely transparent and in fact seem to coincide-- 
willfully so, in some circumstances-- with SARG efforts to 
undermine the legitimacy of the Damascus Declaration and to 
split the opposition.  A concurring view argues that the 
personalities behind the Dialogue Group (particularly Fayyad, 
Meslat, and Naissa) are positioning themselves for future 
political careers and have found in some of the Kurdish 
parties willing partners able to mobilize their portion of 
the Kurdish street. Because of the prominent civil society 
and human rights personalities who endorsed the Damascus 
Declaration, its critical timing, and the artful way it 
raised critical issues that confront Syrian society, we 
expect this document to continue to provoke debate and 
reactions like those of the Dialogue Group.  Fears about 
splitting the opposition and worries about bad timing are 
likely to mute more widespread public voicing of reservations 
to the Damascus Declaration in the current tense political 
environment. END COMMENT. 
 
SECHE


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