Burhan Ghalioun: Opposition from Exile or at Home?

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By: Basheer al-Baker

Published Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Several Syrian opposition groups see Paris-based intellectual Burhan Ghalioun as a consensus figure capable of heading a unified opposition coalition or council. But there is little consensus over Ghalioun’s straddling of local and foreign platforms of dissent.

Many Syrians first heard of internationally renowned intellectual Burhan Ghalioun back in the late 1970s when his treatise A Manifesto for Democracy was published as a pamphlet. The Manifesto argued that state power in the Arab world had become the enemy of society. It called for states to implement reforms that restored full democratic political participation to their peoples. Ghalioun, who is director of the Centre d'Etudes sur l'Orient Contemporain (CEOC) in Paris and a professor of political sociology at the Université de Paris III (Sorbonne Nouvelle), made these statements when then President Hafez Assad was consolidating his hold on power and faced formidable opposition at home, and with Syria engaged in a conflict in Lebanon.

The book established Ghalioun’s reputation as a critical and engaged thinker. In his book, he drew on the European Enlightenment as an inspiration for a new Arab renaissance. Although he shunned party politics during the 1980s and concentrated on intellectual pursuits, his political outlook was broadly opposed to the Syrian regime and highly supportive of the Palestinian cause.

With political activity in Syria severely constrained after the 1982 Hama massacre, Ghalioun devoted most of his public time to two organizations. For several years, he headed the Syrian Cultural and Social Forum, effectively an association of anti-regime Syrian expatriates. He was also one of the founders and active members of the Arab Organization for Human Rights established in 1983.

Ghalioun always viewed democracy as a panacea for the Arab world, terming it a “historical necessity.” The Arab regimes emerging from Arab nationalist movements failed to build modern states or successful economies and turned their states into “personalized” power structures. He argued that in Syria and other countries, the opposition could be most effective by uniting around the demand for democracy and rejecting all pretexts cited by regimes to postpone political or economic reform.

Along with other Syrian advocates of change, Ghalioun was an active participant in the Damascus Spring — the brief political opening that followed Bashar Assad’s assumption of power in 2000. He visited Syria frequently during that period. But after the banning of emergent political forums, he returned to his role as writer and commentator and remained a prominent human rights advocate.

In 2005, he became more politically active during the Damascus Declaration and became increasingly associated with the political opposition. But he opposed calls to make common cause with the West in  pressuring the Syrian regime. He continued to travel to Syria despite regular harassment by Syrian security agencies.

In the course of his political activity, Ghalioun avoided association with any particular group – whether communist, Nasserist, or Islamist – despite his close personal friendship with the veteran leftist dissident Riad al-Turk. He has also been able to establish and maintain links with local and exiled opposition alike, and his non-partisan credentials have made him popular among all sections of the opposition.

When the wave of popular protests began in Syria on March 15 of this year, Ghalioun quickly voiced his support. He made a number of media appearances and was heavily engaged, along with other Europe-based dissidents, in efforts to unite exiled Syrian opposition groups.

But he took a dim view of the opposition gathering convened in Antalya in May. Ghalioun described the event as “serving foreign agendas,” prompting one of the organizers, writer Abdul Razzaq Eid, to accuse Ghalioun of attempting to appease the regime.

This did not prevent Ghalioun from attending (as an observer) the subsequent National Salvation Conference held in Istanbul in June, which was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. This conference called for setting up a 25-member transitional national council. Ghalioun expressed opposition to the move, arguing that a national council needed to include all strands of the opposition. He elaborated on this in a paper published on September 2. The paper was a response to his nomination among more than 90 unsolicited nominations by opposition activists in late August as members of such a body.

Ghalioun expressed his views about the tasks facing the Syrian protest movement and the question of dialogue with the regime in June. “The regime is not interested in or willing to meet the requirements of a meaningful dialogue,” Ghalioun wrote. The opposition cannot join dialogue with “officials who contributed to or ordered the killing of defenseless children, women, and young people.” He went on to say that such dialogue would be fruitless unless their clear objective was “to dismantle the regime of repression, oppression, and tyranny and replace it with a democratic order in which the people alone have the final say and the government is fully empowered and answerable to elected representatives of the people.”

Ghalioun believes that “dialogue should not mean a deal with the regime. It must not be about broadening the circle of participation” to members of the regime; rather “it must be about a timetable for a transition to democracy by peaceful means, in the hope of avoiding more human casualties and material losses, and creating the necessary conditions for new institutions to be built and function properly.” To Ghalioun, the regime’s current leaders “lost their legitimacy” when they unleashed bloody violence against peaceful protesters.

Ghalioun believes that given the regime’s persistent repressive policies and its “refusal to reach an understanding with its people,” Syrians have only two alternatives. They can either unite and cooperate to bring about “a pluralist, civil, democratic order in which all Syrian citizens are equal,” or else there will be “a certain slide into violence, anarchy, and destruction.”

There is no consensus among groups inside and outside the country on Ghalioun himself as prospective head of a transitional national council. Some of the local opposition think that he should fill a role as coordinator between opposition groups in exile. But others believe that as a leading figure, he would inspire confidence in the opposition at this juncture. Many view him as a sincere patriot, man of integrity. They contrast him with some emerging exiled opposition figures who surfaced after the regime came under pressure. These new figures, mostly businessmen and former loyalists abandoned by the regime in the past, have ridden the current wave of change hoping to land themselves roles in the new Syria. These opportunists are less interested in effecting real change in Syria and more in the possible personal gains to be made from joining the opposition.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


السيد برهان غليون المحترم
الرجاء توحيد الجهود في اطارين فقط لاثالث لهما الاول وهو الاهم اسقاط النظام والعمل على كل الاصعدة وفي كل الميادين من اجل اضعاف هدا النظام المجرم واسقاطه وعدم قبول اية افكار او مقترحات لاتصب في هدا الاطار لانها مضيعة للوقت وتآمر على الشعب المسكين الدي يقتل كل يوم ومن المقترحات التي تصب في امر اضعاف النظام واسقاطه
تامين ممرات آمن
وحظر جوي مع ضربات جوية مركزة على مجمع القصر الجمهوري والقواعد الامنية
العمل على اغلاق السفارات السورية في الخارج وعزل النظام لانها اوكار للمخابرات السورية
والامر الثاني والاخير ايصال البلاد الى انتخابات ديموقراطية

الأخ الكريم الدكتور برهان غليون
تشكر على جهودك النضاليه لخدمة سوريا العزيزه في هذه الأوقات المصيرية.
ان ما يؤخذ على الساده المعارضين في مجموعهم عدم العناية في تحديد المطاليب وترك الأمور عامة الى حد كبير. فليس من المقبول ان يظل الطلب الذي يردده المتظاهرن اسقاط النظام. فهذا المطلب عام وتردداه لا يفيد. فاذا ظل هذا الطلب يطلق من قبل المتظاهرين فانه من غير المقبول ان يظل يردد من قبل الهيآت التي تتزعم الحركه الثورية. فالاقتصار على هذا المطلب يعطي للحكومة مجالا كبيرا للمناورة. وهذا مافعله بشار.الذي ألف لجنة لوضع الدستور وطرحه للستفتاء والأن يدعو الى انتخابات.
كان من اللأفضل كثيرا ان تحدد منذ البداية مطالب المعارضة في نقاط معينة حتى تضيق المعارضة المجال على بشار في المناورة. والآن هو يضرب شعبه بقنابل انشطارية محرمة دوليا ويدعو الى انتخابات.
حبذا لو اعتمدت المطالب التالية من قبل المعارضة عوضا عن الاستمرار في ترداد شعار اسقاط النظام الذي هو عام في فحواه ولا يفيد من الناحية العملية:
وفي هذا السياق اقترح ما يلي:
1- اعتماد دستور 1950
2- دمج أجهزة المخابرات بجهاز واحد فقط وجعل صلاحياتها تنحصر في نطاق عمليات التجسس وعدم السماح لها بالتدخل في شئون المواطنين بتاتا. فهي سقطت بشكل خطير ومزري في وظيفتها الأساسيه في التصدي للمساد الاسرائيلي حين سمحت لعملائه بدخول دمشق عن طريق المطار وقتل الشهيد عماد مغنية والخروج بسهولة غير معقوله الا اذا افترض التآمر في هذا الخصوص.
3- اطلاق سراح جميع المعتقلين السياسيين و السماح لجميع السوريين المقيمين بالخارج المجىء الي بلدهم سوريا.
4- اصدار بيان يبين ماجرى لمآت الأْلوف من المفقودين في سوريا منذ الثمانينيات من القرن الماضي.
5- اقتصارعمليات الاستملاك التي تقوم بها الحكومة فقط لبناء الطرق والمدارس والمستشفات و المصحات و عدم اعتماد عمليات الاستملاك من أجل تحويلها لمتنفذين في الدولة لزيادة غناهم على حساب طبقات معدمة كما هو حاصل حاليا.
ان التقدم بطلبات من هذا القبيل سوف يجعل المعارضة تبدو معقولة ومتفهمة للأوضاع وليست سلبية بل تعرف ما تريد بصورة محددة وتبدو مستعدة للتفاوض مع الطرف الحكومي وتطالب بحقوق الشعب. واذا رفض الطرف الآخر هذه المطالب فسوف يكون هو الملام. ولن تظهر المعارضة هي الرافضة للحل السياسي.
أن اعتماد دستور 1950 سوف يهيء السبيل الي رجوع سوريا الى النظام البرلماني في الحكم حيث يكون رئيس الوزراء مسؤلا عن كل شاردة وواردة وهو النظام الذي كان معمولا به حتى عام 1971 عندما اصدر حافظ الأسد دستوره المفصل عليه. فالتخلي عن النظام الرآسي افضل لسوريا.
ان الدستور الذي جرى الاستفتاء عليه مصيبة كبيرة فهو يعطي الحق للرئيس بان يتصرف كما يريد كدكتاتور ليس لأحد عليه أي مأخذ في كل تصرفاته. و المادة ستون منه تنص على ان نصف أعضاء المجلس يجب ان يكونوا من العمال والفلاحين. و السوآل هنا كيف نعرف العمال وكيف نعرف الفلاحين. بالنسبة للمخابرات العملية هينه وسهلة فهي سوف تأتي بأعضاء النقابات التي ترتبها واعضاء اتحاد الفلاحين ليكونوا أعضاء في هذا المجلس المسخ.
هل بامكان المجلس الوطني وضع السيد حسن نصرالله عند بيانه الذي دعى فيه الى وقف القتال من قبل جميع الأطراف واعلامه باستعداد الجيش الحر لوقف عملياته تلبية لهذا النداء. لنرى كيف يتصرف النظام الأسدي الذي هو حليف قوي لحزب الله. لماذا لايؤخذ سماحته عند طلبه؟ ان ما يحصل من مجازر في الوقت الحالي يحتم على الأشخاص الظاهرين على الساحة
أن يستفيدو من كل فرصة لوقف حمام الدم الذي يرتكبه النظام.

Burhan Ghalious has never been an opponent! and he started talking against the regime one month after the beginning of the revolution! you can go and check his researches about the Hafez Assad or what he call "Assadism" where he describes Hafez Assad as a genius leader who gave Syria a special mysterious charm!! WHAT CHARM IN KILLING THE SYRIAN people I don't know indeed!
This guys lies a lot and looks only for his personal benefit. I don't trust him at all.

This should be the man they need to unify and lead the opposition, I never met him but with what he does he seems top notch intellectual, inspiring a lot of confidence and capable of leading the fight.

Burhan Ghalioun was noticed almost immediately after the first day of the Syrian revolution..he came across as honest, smart and well educated political figure with clean history and not associated with any particular fraction or organized opposition.
I knew from the first time I sow him on TV that he will be one if not the one who would eventually leads the transition in Syria after Assad.
I sent him tons of Emails and tried to shed light of issues that might have been ignored by him and the rest of the opposition in the heat of events..I am not sure if he actually read all what I sent..but he sure acted on many of my points..some times to the letter which was gratifying to me ....
Finally Burhan did what I have been trying to push for lately..He is heading the transitional council..he has the support of almost all the Internal resistance in Syria..the rest will come around..I wish him the best of luck and I will continue to bombard him with my Emails until the revolution is won.

What's his position regarding Israel?

All what's written is describing his position against the regime which is clear enough but no one word about his view of the conflict with Israel. Knowing the great support he has from France and especially from the very known Zionist Bernard-Henry Levy, there is a huge doubt that Ghalioun is able to support a position against Israel and supporting the Resistance.

Please let us know...

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