The reputation of Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad came under sustained attack at the latest Doha Debate, where more than 90 percent of the audience called on him to resign.
The session provoked tense and often bitter exchanges between panelists, who argued that Assad should stay and reform, and young, predominantly Arab debaters who repeatedly condemned the killing of more than 3,500 people at demonstrations in Syria and the wide-ranging abuse of human rights.
In response to suggestions that the uprising was initiated by foreign powers – a version of events, touted widely by the regime – one female audience member declared: “This is a Syrian revolution and it’s insulting to keep insisting that it was inspired outside.”
At the end of the session 91 percent voted for the motion: “This House believes that President Assad must resign” – the single, highest margin of victory in the seven-year history of the debates.
But it was apparent soon after the outset that Arabs had lost patience with the Syrian leader and that the long-term friendship between Doha and Damascus was over.
Speaking against the motion, Ammar Waqqaf, member of the British Syrian Society, a social club promoting peaceful reform, and Kamel Wazne, a political analyst, claimed that the majority of Syrians still supported the president.
But a Syrian woman interjected, asking…”Why then does Assad need to take drastic measures against his population?”
Both speakers said arms were being smuggled across the Jordanian and Turkish borders and used by the Syrian-opposition against the army.
Wazne said Washington and its regional allies were behind the unrest in Syria and warned that the demise of the Assad regime would spark sectarian wars in Lebanon and beyond.
“A new map is being drawn in the Middle East,” Wazne claimed. “The U.S., Turkey and several Gulf Arab States want Syria to become a new proxy in their effort against Iran,” he said. “They want to keep Iran trapped.”
Wazne condemned Sunday’s decision by the Arab League to impose sanctions against Syria and said Damascus needed “time and patience” to achieve democratic reforms. “The sanctions will not solve the issue… they will bring more pain and chaos.”
Speaking for the motion were Obeida Nahas, a Syrian politician and journalist who was recently appointed spokesman for the Coalition of Free Syria Revolution Youth, and Emile Hokayem, Senior Fellow for Regional Security at the Bahrain-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“The Syrian people deserve better than Bashar Assad,” said Nahas. “It is high-time for Assad to resign and to be held accountable. Without Assad and his system, Syria can become a beacon for prosperity and democracy.”
Hokayem added: “After 11 years of Bashar in power, we see no hope for change. Bashar Assad, his brother Maher, his brother-in-law Asef and their clique must go.”
Looking at Wazne, he added: “I do not see how Bashar and his clique can get to be part of any reconciliation?”