Abdul-Aziz al-Khayir: Decades of Confronting the Baath
By: Thaer Deeb
Published Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Longtime Syrian opposition figure Abdul-Aziz al-Khayir was kidnapped in Damascus last month. This is not the first time Khayir has been detained in his home country for his political stance.
Abdul-Aziz al-Khayir is a prominent leader in the Communist Labor Party (CLP) and the National Coordination Body for the Forces of Democratic Change in Syria (NCB). He was kidnapped last month after leaving the Damascus Airport.
Khayir’s story with the Syrian authorities goes back a long way. He disappeared and lived in hiding for a long time, spending 12 years of underground activism as a wanted man, 13 years of imprisonment and now he has been kidnapped.
In November 2011, Syrian protesters who rejected the NCB as legitimate opposition figures pelted Khayir and other members of the NCB with eggs and tomatoes in what came to be known as the “Egg Attack” in front of the Arab League building in Cairo.
When Khayir took part in establishing the NCB and announcing its inception on 30 June 2011, the Syrian revolution was still healthy, guided by non violence, civil (non-military and non-religious) principles and calls for freedom and dignity. It had not yet turned – under the regime’s blows and brutal suppression – to foreign assistance, weapons and perhaps sectarianism.
The NCB included within its ranks all the nationalist, democratic and leftist forces in Syria – from [former president of the Syrian National Council]
Burhan Ghalioun, who was for a while its representative abroad, to the CLP which Khayir heads.
The CLP is a small party that gained notoriety in the era between the late 1970s to the early 1990s. Today, you still see some students of this political experiment emerging in various Syrian cities.
From the beginning of the 1980s until his arrest in 1992 and then from the time of his release from prison uptill now, Khayir has been the party’s number one man. That is discernible despite the secrecy that shrouded the work of the CLP and despite the presence of a collective leadership and the absence of a general-secretary.
Khayir was at least a prominent leader in the party and a member in the editorial bodies of its newspapers and magazines such as the al-Raya al-Hamraa (The Red Banner), al-Nidaa al-Shaabi (The Populist Call) and al-Shuyui (The Communist).
Its publications reached a high level of sophistication in terms of theory and praxis especially when viewed in their historical context and in relation to what was being published by various Bakdash-style communist groups (in reference to the General-Secretary of the Syrian Communist Party Khalid Bakdash), including groups that split from him.
As a result of regime repression, many of the small party’s cadres and activists had to go into hiding. Khayir’s experience however remains the most infamous as he was pursued by the regime for 12 years. His family and relatives were also beaten, arrested and detained as hostages.
Just like his hiding and his pursuit by the regime, his arrest on 1 February 1992 was special. Upon his arrest in Bab al-Jabiya in old Damascus, shots were fired in the air in celebration at the square of the Damascus citadel.
Khayir was brutally tortured and imprisoned without a trial until 1995 when the state security court sentenced him to 22 years for "membership in a banned political organization and the dissemination of false news designed to shake the public's confidence in the goals of the revolution and the socialist system." Khayir spent 13 years in Saidnaya Military Prison before he was released as part of a presidential amnesty in 2005 after international campaigns were organized calling for his release.
In prison, al-hakim (the doctor) - as his fellow prisoners called him - went about “protecting life without borders, traveling in his medical practice from the era of the Babylonian doctor... all the way to the right of insects to life,” as a prisoner who spent over a year by his side recounts.
The doctor, who was unable to practice medicine for a long time before going underground, examined thousands of patients in prison even before he convinced the prison administration to turn one of the cells to a clinic for seeing patients. The most famous and lasting picture of Khayir remains the one drawn by a fellow prisoner as he exhaled into the mouth of a dead prisoner trying to resuscitate him. He exhaled into his mouth until his eyes turned red and bulged, almost popping out of his temples before he burst out in bitter weeping.
His medical services did not lessen his immersion in his other prison duties from cooking and cleaning to political education – which took conspicuous directions for a partisan communist who remained steadfast in his position. Compared to his comrades who became liberal after having been staunch Marxists, perhaps he is the most versed in liberal thought and its evolving propositions that most of them had not heard of.
After he came out of prison, he resumed his political activism in the party with the rest of his comrades. He participated in the Damascus Declaration and was elected vice president. After his party withdrew from the Damascus Declaration, he took part in establishing the The Marxist Left Assembly in 2007 in his quiet, hard-working style, which reached the stage of exhaustion with the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in March 2011.
As his media appearances on behalf of the NCB indicate, Khayir was the best representative of the nationalist, democratic and civil path of the revolution. A path that rejected what the regime worked for – and some forces in the revolution fell for – namely militarization, sectarianism and calls for foreign intervention.
He was one of the first to draw attention to the fact that there are forces within the revolution who just want to change Syria’s regional and international alliances. Forces that accept the revolution’s sectarianism because the regime is sectarian or justify the crimes of the revolution and call them mistakes because the regime is criminal or want to align themselves with the US and Turkey because the regime aligns itself with Russia, China and Iran.
Khayir, and the nationalist democratic leftist movement in general, were at the heart of this revolution from the beginning and they still are.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.