share

 Home | Government | WikiLeaks Information

WikiLeaks: 2007-12-06: 07DAMASCUS1156: Damascus Declaration Announces Creation of National Council

by WikiLeaks. 07DAMASCUS1156: December 06, 2007.

Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 08:26 PM UT


Viewing cable 07DAMASCUS1156, DAMASCUS DECLARATION ANNOUNCES CREATION OF

If you are new to these pages, please read an introduction on the structure of a cable as well as how to discuss them with others. See also the FAQs
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07DAMASCUS1156 2007-12-06 16:05 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Damascus
VZCZCXRO8415
PP RUEHAG RUEHROV
DE RUEHDM #1156/01 3401605
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 061605Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4422
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD PRIORITY 0611
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 DAMASCUS 001156 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ELA AND NEA/MEPI 
PARIS FOR JORDAN; LONDON FOR TSOU 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/05/2017 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL SY
SUBJECT: DAMASCUS DECLARATION ANNOUNCES CREATION OF 
NATIONAL COUNCIL 
 
REF: A. DAMASCUS 846 
     B. DAMASCUS 1106 
     C. DAMASCUS 1144 
 
DAMASCUS 00001156  001.2 OF 004 
 
 
Classified By: CDA Michael Corbin, for reasons 1.4 b/d. 
 
1.  (C)  Summary: More than two years after signing the 
original Damascus Declaration in October 2005, 163 civil 
society, human rights, and opposition leaders gathered at the 
Damascus home of leader Riad Seif to vote on the creation of 
a new legislative body (the National Council) and elect its 
Chairman and Secretariat.  A coalition of liberals and 
moderate Islamic leaders ultimately prevailed over opposition 
from a few members of the nationalist Arab Socialist 
Democracy Party to reach agreement on the creation of the 
Council.  The Council's declaration, released December 4 
(translation sent by email separately to NEA/ELA), focuses on 
peaceful democratic reforms to Syria's totalitarian 
government.  The National Council, over seven months in the 
making, represents a major victory for DD leader Riad Seif 
and the liberal wing of the organization. The SARG has not 
yet reacted, but we expect no press coverage by government 
controlled Syrian media and do not rule out government 
arrests of leading activists. End Summary 
 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
Annapolis Distracts SARG from Domestic Developments 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
 
2.  (C)  An upbeat Riad Seif told us December 3 that he and 
other Damascus Declaration leaders had decided to exploit the 
SARG's focus on external events in Lebanon, Annapolis, and in 
the region to proceed with the establishment of the 
long-awaited National Council.  Seif proclaimed that a 
December 1 meeting of the Damascus Declaration (DD) was "an 
achievement that has exceeded my wildest dreams."  Seif 
recounted how he and others orchestrated the travel of 163 to 
his home in the suburbs of Damascus.  Representing the 
250-member National Council as a whole, they were able to 
elude detection by the security services by arriving in 
groups of 10-15 throughout the day.  Around 8 p.m., Seif 
opened a discussion that would continue well into the next 
morning.  Delegates debated whether now was the appropriate 
time to launch the Council, whether the group's declaration 
should criticize U.S. policy in the region, and over who 
should become its first leader. 
 
3.  (C)  As Seif had told us previously (reftels), the major 
obstacle to agreement on the National Council came from the 
Arab Socialist Democratic Party and the Communist Action 
Party, both of which had endorsed the original Damascus 
Declaration in October 2005.  Leaders of these parties had 
insisted on denouncing U.S. policies in the region and on 
stipulating support for Arab nationalism, a position that had 
alienated Kurds and some pro-reform moderate Islamist 
activists.  Seif explained that Hasan Abdul Azim (Arab 
Socialist Democratic Union Party leader) and Safwan Akkash 
(Communist Action Party leader) had both agreed to postpone 
debate on the Council's platform and declaration until after 
the election of its five-member Presidency and the 14-member 
Secretariat.  Akkash and Abdul Azim both campaigned for the 
 
SIPDIS 
position of Council Chairman, while Seif agreed to drop his 
name from the ballot.  The result, Seif continued, was that 
the two radicals canceled each other out, and a moderate 
woman (Fida Hourani) was elected.  Seif then ran for head of 
the Secretariat and was elected with overwhelming support. 
 
----------------- 
Council Structure 
----------------- 
 
4.  (C)  The 250-member Council will serve as a legislative 
body of the Damascus Declaration and as many of its members 
that can will meet every three months.  The Presidency 
consists of a Chairman, two Vice Chairmen, and two 
Secretaries, whose mandate is to chair the plenary sessions, 
 
SIPDIS 
recognize speakers, and ensure decisions are taken according 
to the Council's bylaws.  The 14-member Secretariat (which 
will become a 17-member body after three more seats are 
filled by Kurdish party and Assyrian organization 
representatives) is responsible for ensuring continuity of 
the Council's operations between plenary sessions, drafting 
plenary agendas, overseeing implementation of plenary 
 
DAMASCUS 00001156  002.2 OF 004 
 
 
decisions, recommending new members, and supervising the 
Council's five working committees:  (1) a legal committee to 
examine constitutional reforms and human rights legislation; 
(2) a public affairs committee; (3) an economic issues 
committee; (4) a youth committee; and (5) a committee for 
outreach to Syrian intellectuals. 
 
----------- 
Key Leaders 
----------- 
 
5.  (C) Seif said there had been a focused effort to ensure 
diversity among the Council's leadership.  (Note: In addition 
to the 14-member Secretariat listed below, Seif said three 
additional seats would be assigned to representatives of the 
Kurdish Democratic Front, the Kurdish Democratic Alliance, 
and the Democratic Assyrian Organization.)  A list of key 
leaders that Seif handed to us follows: 
 
 
Presidency: 
 
-- Fida Horani, Chairwoman of the Presidency, political 
moderate from Aleppo, daughter of former Syrian populist 
Akram al Horani, founder of the Arab Socialist Movement. 
 
-- Abdul Hamid Darwish, First Vice-Chairman, Leader of the 
Progressive Kurdish Party, the oldest member of the NC, and 
elected to oversee the National Council Leadership Office; 
 
-- Abdul Aziz al Khayer, Second Vice-Chairman, a former 
Communist Action Party leader who spent 20 years in jail for 
his political activities.  Described by contacts as an 
"unknown quantity." 
 
-- Akram al Bunni, First Secretary, a former Communist Action 
Party leader, now a writer and a journalist.  Since his 
release from prison several years ago, he has associated with 
the liberal camp. 
 
--  Ahmad Tahmeh, Second Secretary, moderate Islamist, 
connected to the London-based Justice and Reconstruction 
Movement. 
 
Secretariat: 
 
SIPDIS 
 
-- Riad Seif, Secretariat Chairman, former MP jailed for his 
efforts to expose regime corruption, co-founder of the 
Damascus Declaration, driving force behind the National 
Council. 
 
-- Ali al Abdullah:  member of the Committees to revive the 
civil society, member of the reformer Jamal Atassi Forum, was 
arrested for reading the Damascus Declaration to the Atassi 
Forum.  His son Omar is one of the seven Syrian students 
charged developing an on-line youth discussion forum and 
posting articles critical of the government. 
 
-- Nawaf al Bashir, tribal leader from Deir Azzor. 
 
-- Riad Turk, from Homs, 77 year-old leader of the Youth 
Democrat Party, former Secretary General of the Syrian 
Communist Party Political Office, spent more than 20 years in 
prison since 1960, key ally of Riad Seif. 
 
-- Ghassan Najar, moderate Islamist, connected to 
London-based Justice and Reconstruction Movement. 
 
-- Yasser al Eiti, moderate Islamist, connected to 
London-based Justice and Reconstruction Movement. 
 
-- Mowafak Neirabiyeh, from Homs, ally of Riad Turk, member 
of the Youth Democrat Party. 
 
-- Suleiman Shummar, from Hama, Damascus Spring leader, 
signed Damascus Declaration in 2005, sentenced in absentia to 
five years in prison. 
 
-- Samir Nasher, businessman from Aleppo, leader of a small 
liberal group "Free Syrian Patriotic," Sunni advocate of 
democratic reforms at the municipal level. 
 
-- Jabr al Shoufi, Druze from Suweida. 
 
DAMASCUS 00001156  003.2 OF 004 
 
 
 
-- Abdul Ghani Ayash, from Hama, leader of the Arab Socialist 
Movement, claims to be heir of Akram al Hourani. 
 
-- Walid al Bunni, from al-Tal Damascus, medical doctor, 
Damascus Spring leader arrested for three years. 
 
-- Abdul Karim Dahak, from Salamiyah. 
 
---------- 
Next Steps 
---------- 
 
6.  (C)  Seif said he planned to travel to Aleppo, Homs, Hama 
and to al Hasakah region in the coming days to promote the 
National Council and to recruit prominent local leaders to 
join the National Council's ranks.  After that, he hoped 
German and French pressure on the SARG would result in 
permission for him to seek medical treatment in Europe.  He 
also said he was working with members of the London-based 
Justice and Reconstruction Movement and others outside Syria 
to establish an office in Paris.  The Paris office would 
coordinate travel, training, and public affairs. 
 
7.  (C) Seif said his highest priority would be to get out 
word of the NC's creation, something he hoped the U.S. and 
other countries could promote through positive statements of 
support.  He said the NC planned to release its declaration 
on a few websites that would hopefully create a ripple effect 
in the region.  (Note:  The NC's declaration appeared on two 
websites on December 4 -- the Levant Institute's 
www.thisissyria.com, and www.ahrarsyria.com, a pro-democracy 
website (in Arabic.))  Thus far, there has been very little 
Syrian or international press. 
 
8.  (C)  Funding remains a challenge, Seif conveyed.  Seif 
personally was providing around 3,000 USD to the families of 
prisoners of conscience for shelter, food, and education. 
Trusted members of the Damascus Declaration had secretly 
created an account to support its members and families, as 
well.  Seif explained more money was needed, but he remained 
opposed to accepting USG contributions directly.  "It will 
kill our credibility," not if, but when the Syrian regime 
discovered the source.  Seif said the establishment of a 
Paris office might offer a way to collect funds from 
international donors and relay them to bank accounts in 
Lebanon for use by Syrian experts.  In the meantime, Seif 
advised the U.S. to be very careful about direct financing of 
groups in Syria, because it exposed them to risk and it was 
impossible to tell whether the recipients were government 
agents. 
 
----------------------------- 
Possible Government Reactions 
----------------------------- 
 
9.  (C)  Seif did not rule out the possibility of a 
government crackdown against some NC members, but doing so 
would come at the expense of publicizing the NC's formation. 
Seif discounted the chance that he might be detained, 
speculating that government action against him would result 
in pressure against the SARG by foreign governments who were 
lobbying for SARG permission for him to seek medical 
treatment abroad.  As of December 5, the Embassy has received 
no reports of arrests related to the NC. 
 
10.  (C)  Comment:  Long in the making, the establishment of 
the National Council represents a major step forward for an 
opposition movement stymied by internal debate in an 
organization that barely functioned on the basis of 
consensus.  Seif and his liberal allies achieved a major coup 
in overcoming nationalist objections to the Council's 
establishment and diverse membership.  In particular, Seif 
was able to attract a number of Kurds to his cause, eroding 
some resistance by Kurdish groups to supporting the Damascus 
Declaration because it supports an "Arab" State.  Seif also 
succeeded in minimizing the desire by some to make criticism 
of the U.S. a centerpiece of the NC's platform. 
 
11.  (C)  For the most part, however, ordinary Syrians 
continue to live their lives without knowledge of the 
struggle of political reformers.  While members of the 
250-member National Council claim to represent thousands 
 
DAMASCUS 00001156  004.2 OF 004 
 
 
more, very few Syrians are willing to associate openly with 
anything that calls itself a political opposition.  Reaching 
the public therefore remains an immediate challenge in a 
country with government-controlled media.  Even the Western 
press, now flocking to Syria in the wake of Annapolis to 
cover Iraqi refugees and other issues, appears reluctant to 
report on the NC.  A U.S. reporter who has extensive 
experience in Syria explained that "there's just no point" to 
doing in depth reporting on this subject because Syria's 
opposition movement could never succeed in the current 
repressive environment.  Another Beirut-based reporter for a 
major U.S. daily has held a story on Riad Seif because he 
wants to return and cover other stories in Syria.  He remains 
concerned the security services would blacklist him.  Given 
this self-censorship among Western reporters, Washington's 
support for this achievement by Syria's struggling, but still 
here, democratic movement is all the more important. 
CORBIN

 



Government ForumGovernment Forum

WikiLeaks InformationWikiLeaks Information


Do you have any related information or suggestions? Please email them.

AIM | Atour: The State of Assyria | Terms of Service