Q. Through what I have seen in Damascus and through the mail we
receive at our newspaper it appears that Syrians are optimistic
about what is happening in Syria. There is talk that Syria is
entering a new phase. What does the president expect for Syria in
all fields? What is the general vision today?
A. The general vision is one question that could be summed up
in a single answer, and any person at the top of the hierarchy
here or in any country has only one and logical answer to this
question: To see Syria more prosperous. Of course any citizen
would like to see his country as such. Prosperity could be divided
into many fields: economic prosperity, political prosperity,
scientific prosperity, and prosperity in different domains but all
these are based on social prosperity because without social
prosperity all other types of prosperity will be false, temporary
and elusive. But I do not mean here that we have to achieve social
prosperity and then move to achieve prosperity in other domains;
rather they should go hand in hand. All these domains affect each
other and every one of them affects the other in a positive or
negative manner. Sometimes the gap between social domain,
particularly in the intellectual sense, and other domains may
cause disorder and deviation in the process of development. This
is the general vision, and, of course, within every field there
Q. What we witness in Syria is relatively new, particularly
concerning political dialogues. Syria is taking steps forward. Can
we know what does the president promise these strata who are
speaking about his progress; are we going to witness a transition
A. It is not possible to start any political development in
Syria except through the historical position of the country. I
said in my inaugural speech that we are not coming to overthrow
the reality but to develop it, and the word Ďdevelopmentí
means that you are basing yourself on something and moving from it
forward and not moving from a vacuum.
Q. Arenít you afraid of this transition?
A. If there were fear of the idea of development it would not
have been suggested in the first place. As Iíve said, every
development depends on a social base. Hence the only danger is not
to have social and intellectual development. Therefore the
timetable for development is not linked to months or years, rather
it is linked to the development of society. Here we may move to
your question what do I promise them. Also in my inaugural speech
I did not promise anything except to work. What I mean here is to
work with my full capacity, but I cannot promise any development
because development does not depend only on the president of the
republic but on all social strata. If development needs every one
in society, the entire society has to promise itself that it is
going to achieve development. The president of the republic may
issue legislations and decrees but this is not enough in order to
say that thereís a certain type of development. This takes us
back to my starting point which is the necessity to conduct in
parallel social development with developments in other fields.
Q. In a purely political matter, the issue of political
parties, you spoke and some official institutions issued things
about political parties. May we soon witness independent political
parties different from the traditional parties or the traditional
parties changing to new types of parties? How could the Syrian
citizen express himself through the old or the new parties?
A. Letís discuss things from a point of principle. The
timetable of any issue will not lead us anywhere because it is
tied to society. Any issue, be it political, economic or cultural
or even scientific is certainly linked to the social timetable.
Developing society is a complicated process and it is very
difficult to put a timetable for it, but you have to put a certain
consequence for it and to move as fast as possible without being
too hasty. From this perspective, and according to our vision as a
party and as a national front, there is no idea that there will
not be development to the work of political party in Syria; quite
the contrary. Therefore, all possibilities are there among which
is the emergence of new political parties without attaching this
to a fixed timetable. Here we are discussing the principle only.
As for the manner according to which we develop the political
situation, that will be done through, first the discussion of the
experience that has started in the past and is continuing until
today. I mean the political experience in general. To discuss the
positive and the negative points and to try and avoid what is
negative. The other point is that one has to develop what one has
today. The political experience in its present form has to be
developed with the aim of moving to a different experience, but
one should not move to a different experience before assessing and
improving the current experience.
Q. But this can be done in ten days or in twenty years.
A. Time is an issue for discussion. The important thing is to
move according to carefully studied steps.
Q. What about the experience of the National Front? Do you
consider this a successful experience?
A. We have to ask ourselves, is it true that the idea of the
National Front was not a good idea as some claim? - though I
believe that in the early seventies it was a pioneering experience
- or that the circumstances and the performance led to the
weakness of this party experience in Syria. Did circumstances
since then until today allow a different experience or were there
priorities that influenced the interest of developing the internal
policy in general? There are many other questions. We shouldnít
move ahead towards the future without evaluating the past, and of
course, the evaluation of the past will be through experiences and
reality not through theorizing. We are now passing through a
theorizing stage, and theorizing increases when we talk about
development, and often theorizing comes .from people who donít
have enough experience on the ground.
Q. Will there be new experiences?
A. All possibilities are open. We do not reject any idea. This
issue was the centre-piece of discussion, especially in the
parties of the Front including the Ba'ath party. The Front itself
was the first to activate discussion on the basis of my inaugural
speech in which I cited the issue of development as methodology of
thinking and I did not determine the extent or the manner of
development, because this issue needs lengthy and deep discussion,
and it is currently being discussed within the Frontís parties
and within the relevant State establishments.
Q. The Baíath Party has consolidated itself, but why are
there no other parties ?
A. There are the parties of the Front, and at any rate any
development needs discussion. Nobody said that this is an accepted
or rejected issue. There is no definite answer until now on the
means of further development of the party experience in Syria. We
are currently studying this issue. As for the Ba'ath Party, it is
based on a pan-Arab ideology, the resurrection of the Arab nation.
This ideology will be cancelled when there are no people in the
Arab world who believe in this ideology. I see that the situation
is going towards the pan-Arab awakening, especially after the
Palestinian Intifada. Thereby, the party will not be cancelled
unless the pan-Arab ideology is cancelled. The evidence is that
the Baath party does not exist only in Syria and Iraq, but it
exists in different Arab states. I believe that the Syrian Arab
people are known for their pan-Arab feelings and this enhances the
ideology of the Baath.
Q. Are there steps for developing Syrian Media?
A. The Syrian mass media was restricted to the Baíath party
and the state, but recently the parties of the Front started
contributing to it and the Syrian media is under study and
Q. Can the Syrian citizen issue a newspaper?
A. Licenses have been issued to one or more independent
Q. This means that issuing a paper has become permissible?
A. It is permissible within certain measures. What is the aim
of the paper? This is the basis. Does it serve the national and
pan-Arab line? There is an old printing law that allows the
publication of newspapers, and it is under review, and there will
be principles that aim to make the mass media contribute to the
development process. The paper should not be with no clear
objective, nor should its objective be a hindrance to the
Q. Allow me to comment that we have not felt official and
effective media coverage to the prosperity you are talking about,
and in our opinion, a free press may better cope with the process
in an appropriate way.
A. Free press may help the development process and may also
work in an opposite direction. The development process is a
controlled development and not development without restrictions.
It might be a slow process, but what is more important than speed
is to guarantee the success of these steps, and that is the most
important axis of development, to make accurately studied steps
with almost guaranteed results.
If the measures were hasty and not well-studied, this will be
dangerous, because the stability of development and its
effectiveness is more important than its speediness. The press may
well support development. Its supposed lack of effectiveness does
not mean that the process of development is not moving ahead. The
task of the mass media is to explain the development process and
support it. This support might be weak and this will have an
influence on development but does not prevent it. The axes of
development are multiple but they donít necessarily move at the
same speed. What is important is that it does not stop in the same
place. At any rate, Syrian mass media is developing within the
Q. Sometimes, the issue is beyond authority. There is foreign
information that reaches Syria including newspapers and satellite
Channels. This means that openness to negative press can not be
prevented. Doubtless, local press has to cope with developments,
and as there is openness to the outside world, isnít there a
risk that things may get out of the control of the Ministry of
A. The existence of open information does not mean that issues
would be out of the control of the Ministry of Information, and
this indicates clearly that the state wants people to posses means
of knowledge including information. Otherwise, the State would
have prevented dishes and this is not difficult for the State.
This indicates that the stateís wish is to enable the Syrian
citizen to receive information. There is no closed mind in order
to talk about openness. The one who is not open can not be closed
with local press and open with foreign press. There is a desire by
the state, and there is no closed mind.
Regarding speed, this is a relative word. Does it mean days,
months or years? Every one explains speed in his own way. Letís
move to the risk mentioned in your question. This is also
interpreted differently by different people. For example, if you
take part in an adventure, another man may consider it ordinary
work and not an adventure. But letís assume that it is an
adventure. Man takes risks on one condition, namely when he is
forced to reach a certain aim, and if he does not reach that aim
there will be danger. We are not in such a condition and therefore
the risk is not required.
The second point is that taking risks at the level of the
country is dangerous. When the issue is related to development of
the country, there canít be risks. Therefore, the idea of risk
in all fields does not exist in our country. Until this moment, we
do not feel danger. It is true that we are behind in certain
fields and we develop because we know this. Had we not been
behind, we would not have started a development process so soon.
We are behind but we are developing and this development is being
undertaken within the available capabilities and possible speed
Q. A number of Syrian intellectuals meet with foreign
journalists. Do these voices go in line with your voice or are
A. I was the first one to usher in these ideas in my inaugural
speech, and I proposed them as a methodology and not as slogans
for consumption. As for these statements, the President of the
Republic does not deal with his country through statements
especially when these statements are issued through external
channels and not through domestic channels. He also cannot take
the opinions of those who claim to speak in the name of the people
particularly when the relationship of the president with the
people is a direct relationship and does not go through specific
channels. It is normal that a small group which considers itself
an elite should not represent the broader group of people. The
normal thing is that thoughts should be derived from the broader
group of people and that smaller group should march under the flag
of the broader one. Therefore, the elite is the broad group of the
people and not the small one. At least for the state it is normal
that the elite should be the broadest group of people. It is wrong
that the elite should be the small strata because then it might
express limited vision and interests.
Right from the beginning, I had relations with all social
strata and these relations are broad and varied and it is only
normal that my relations with people do not depend on what is
being said here and there. It is clear that there are differences
about priority between the broad social strata in our society and
between this particular group. For the state it is normal that it
should direct its development process in a way that responds to
the desires of the majority of the people. The country is a family
and when there are problems among members of the same family they
are not supposed to talk about these problems outside their home
because if they do they will not be respected by others. Here we
may ask ourselves the question which home? The home is Syria, or
is it the Arab world? If we assume that Arab states are relatives
within the same big family, nonetheless a member of a small family
does not speak even to his relatives about his private problems.
Thoughts must pass through specific channels, and personally I did
not read such statements. I heard about them. Some one addresses
you from outside your country, it is only natural not to take him
seriously. The second point is that the statements were called
statements of the educated people. I do not know the persons who
have called themselves educated. Are they truly educated or what!
I have no information. But what is meant by the word educated. It
is a general word to an extent. Is the one who reads and knows
different topics educated? Is the one who has degrees educated? Is
the one who reads many books educated? Is the one who writes
poetry or story or novel or works in the press educated? Education
is a vague word, and, at any rate, this classification is not
adopted by me. There are two kinds of persons. One who takes and
receives a lot of information and then he reproduces this
information as it was and hence his mind becomes a storage for
information which is produced by him for display from one time to
another. There is another type of people who receive information,
analyze it in order to reproduce it as a conclusion after it is
being analyzed and treated. Hence it gives results. This man has a
brain and he thinks and his thinking may be in one of two ways. A
person who thinks and comes out with harmful results to his
country and a person who thinks and comes out with useful results
to his country. Therefore, one has to separate people to an
intellectual and non-intellectual, and one has to add to the
possibility of thinking the possibility of implementation. In
conclusion, not every one who reads or writes becomes an
intellectual and not every one who thinks is able to write and
express his thoughts. But the more important thing here is how
many thoughts or conclusions he can apply. There can be no
application of these thoughts unless one is quite removed from
intellectual romanticism. Intellectual realism can be achieved
only through people who have experience. Therefore in the process
of development we depend on our past experiences and rely on
people who went through these experiences regardless of whether
these experiences were successful or not successful in different
processes of development. Hence, we can get away from intellectual
exaggerations and avoid making the process of development a
fertile soil for those looking for fame or searching to manipulate
the current. At the end we reach the kind of development which we
consider appropriate for our country.
Q. How do the voices and suggestions of the broadest group of
people reach you?
A. I am not far removed from all social strata. The relation of
the president with these strata is not a relation of problems,
solutions and proposals. The relation is one of interaction. It is
a result of the way the person had been brought up since early
childhood and his interaction with his society. This kind of
relation carries with it a continuous dialogue with all the
negative and the positive aspects of that. And it is a
relationship in two directions. It passes through the official or
none official channels which are direct channels, and this is done
through the direct interaction the president keeps with people.
Q. But there are people who do not dare speak in front of the
A. If the truth does not reach us how did we know that there is
a kind of disorder and how did we know where the disorder
potentially is, and how do I push the development process. Is it
possible to push for development without knowing that thereís a
certain kind of disorder. How did I know about the disorder? All
this is done through official channels, including the press and my
relations with the citizens as well as through the fact that
throughout all stages of oneís life one is living with disorders
in a direct way.
Q. What is your opinion about what has been said about these
educated people that they are agents to foreign embassies.
A. Letís discuss this point in an objective way regardless of
what has been said about the incident to which you refer in your
question. In all societies thereís black and white; there are
people with good intentions and people with bad intentions and
therefore we cannot say this exists in this society or in that. In
our society, as in others, there are different people who have
relations with foreign channels; as for the extent of these
relations it is subject to different possibilities and therefore
we are not addressing a definite case. Can we say that all people
are agents? It is impossible. Can we say that any one who proposes
an idea that seems to be positive is patriotic? Also this is
impossible. This means that when our judgments are absolute they
are bound to be wrong because all possibilities are open. Hence,
the generalization of any description of people is rejected, but
this does not mean that there are no exceptions. But regardless of
the descriptions you referred to in your question we may look at
the issue in a different way. When there is a case subjected to
court regarding a crime or an offense and it touches a group of
individuals the court may deal with it through intentions such as
to say that the premeditated killer should receive a different
punishment from the killer on diminished responsibility. At the
level of the country the issue is different. When the consequences
of any action affect stability at the level of a country there are
two possibilities: one that the actor is an agent who is working
against the interests of the state and he is either ignorant or
doing it without intending to do so. The result is that in both
cases the person will be serving the enemies of his country. And
here, at the level of a country the results are addressed
immediately. Here the person will be held fully responsible
regardless of his intentions and backgrounds.
Q. How do you see the idiom Ďcivil societyí that is being
talked about in Syria?
A. There is a confusion between civil society and the
institutions of civil society. The civil society is a civilized
society that is the result of accumulation of civilizations during
hundreds and thousands of years. Syria has a history that goes
back to a more than six thousand years of human civilizations. To
say that we want to build a civil society means that we want to
cancel all this history and start with a new history. Of course
this is not realistic, besides the fact that it means a rejection
of this history and an attempt to get out of it. Any one who tries
to get out of this history is one who gets out of his present and
future. As for the institutions of civil society they are a
different matter, and they are in Syria though they might not be
perfect, but this is not the issue. The main issue is that these
institutions are not an alternative to government institutions as
some suggest, and they should not precede them in the process of
construction. On the contrary, civil institutions are based on
government institutions and support them and not a replacement for
them. One cannot talk about healthy institutions for civil society
without talking about completing the building of governmentís
institutions. As we have spoken about the necessity of reforming
institutions and consolidating institutional thinking the
development of civil society institutions should come at a later
stage, and therefore it does not represent one of our priorities.
At any rate, societies develop at their own natural pace, and not
through idioms which are proposed by some in order to make
ready-made small frameworks in which big societies are stuffed and
their movement obstructed and their identity reduced. Idioms do
not produce societies while societies produce the appropriate
idioms and give them the right shape and content that are
consistent with their different circumstances and are flexible in
order to move in line with the movement of the society.
Q. Statements in the foreign press are focusing on criticizing
the last phase in Syrian history since the Bath party held power
in the country in 1963 and through the period in which the late
president Hafez al Assad ruled, why donít we hear a reply?
A. Of course it is part of life to criticize what is negative,
and as a result people may criticize any phase of the history of
society. But when a person wants to ascribe all negative things to
a certain stage and holds it responsible for all the disorders he
must have drawn a comparison with the stages preceding this stage
and concluded that this is the worst among all historical stages.
If we were to apply this principle on what some claim that the
last four decades in Syrian history were responsible for all the
negative points we witness today and for all the problems from
which we suffer, and compares this stage with the previous stages
which have preceded it we would find that the last four decades
were preceded by two major historical phases: first the phase of
coup díetat and the second is the phase of occupation. It seems
that those prefer for their country the phase of coup díetat and
the phase of occupation to the stable phase which started in 1963
and was consolidated in 1970 and continued until today, but they
were embarrassed to say this frankly and that is why they
expressed it in a different way. As for your question why didnít
the government respond, it is because the government depends on
the awareness of people and their national consciousness who
immediately realized that this group of people is a group who is
looking for a place on the map of fame and prestige, and today we
have nothing in our hands except the map of development and
construction. As for the stage of Hafez al Asad, the achievement
of that phase and the appreciation of the Syrian people both to
the achievements and to the leader are the best answer for them.
Q. Is it possible for you to reconsider what you have started?
A. It is normal to look for different paths in different
domains of development. When we feel, in a certain domain, that we
have reached a point that is harmful to the process of development
it is natural to stop and review our work. At that point we would
have to decide whether we continue on the old path, or whether we
change direction, or whether we go back completely and look for a
different path. But, of course, convictions do not change. There
might be better and less risky routes. If a certain measure is
taken it is a change in the method and not in conviction.
Q. What are the limits of the openness you envisage?
A. There are two levels: the horizontal which is confined to
the borders of the country and the vertical which is decided
through the security and stability of the country. Hence, under
the ceiling of the stability of the country and within the
approach of development every thing is permitted. Apart from that,
the government shall stand firmly against any work that might
cause harm to public interest.
Q. What about economic reform? Doesnít it require speed and
taking risks in order to put Syria on the list of developed
countries? Where is Bashar alAsad in economy and where are the red
and the green lines? Where is the openness in Banking systems and
tariffs for example?.
A. Green lines, if this is the correct expression, come within
economic prosperity and it is a clear concept that has two basic
pillars: to increase jobs and raise the standard of living for
citizens in general, and both of them may be achieved on the
ground through a just distribution of income. Every thing that
achieves these two objectives is an approach that the State
Q. Where is openness for example in banking and tariff?
A. Our approach does not define openness or closeness; rather
it defines development. As for openness or closeness they are
means which may either serve or obstruct development according to
the field and circumstance. Hence, economic development is the
focal point of the discussion today in Syria, and it enjoys a high
priority and through development for this priority there are no
limits for development in any other domain.
Q. After the measures you have taken, did you see any result
for them or is it early to talk about results now?
A. Some legislative or other measures yield fast result after
they are taken, while the results of some other measures may take
longer time. But the aim of most legislations which have so far
been issued is to prepare a solid ground for launching. There are
other important measures and legislations which are still under
cotisideration or under discussion in different institutions
inside the government and outside it. Sometimes discussions take a
long time and delay some of the measures, but we always try to
make the greatest number of people and parties contribute to these
measures in order to achieve the maximum benefit for the country.
All these laws will leave an impact on the society in general, and
therefore if they were issued without very careful and deep study
they might leave a negative impact on a broad scale, and this is
what we always try to avoid.
Q. Are you very cautious or optimistic?
A. We are very realistic and we are cautious about what is
beyond our reality, I mean the future. The future has not become a
reality. The reality is the present. And it is normal to be
cautious about the future until it becomes reality and at that
point one deals with it confidently.
Q. The image of Dr. Bashar before assuming office was linked to
fighting corruption, but then we felt that this endeavor has
receded, that is not to say that it has stopped.
A. On what basis do we say that fighting corruption has stopped
or is continuing?
Q. Titles and names.
A. As if I understand from what you are saying that combating
corruption is there only if there are well-known names put to
trial, but if there were guilty people who are not known and who
are put to trial this means that combating corruption has stopped!
Of course, this is illogical. Combating corruption is a continuous
work through institutions whose task is to follow on the disorders
in different state institutions. These institutions whose task is
to combat corruptions are like any other institution; they have
their employees and their laws. Some times there is an activation
to the work of these institutions and other times there is a
weakness in their performance. Therefore like any other
institution it needs continuous activation and development in
order to continue its task which is to fight the disorder in the
The other point is that combating corruption cannot be achieved
through chasing some persons; rather it should be done through
following up on issues. Among these issues there might be people
who have committed mistakes in various degrees, and they are tried
through one specific issue. What I mean is that the principle is
to reach persons through issues rather than to arrive at issues
through persons, as some like to believe. Combating corruption
also is not only a matter of trying people. Any one who only finds
in combating corruption bringing people to trial is like some one
who does not see anything in politics except war. Trying people is
the last resort in combating corruption and it might be an
emergency measure at exceptional circumstances, but the real work
for combating corruption is a carefully planned approach that has
different areas among which, for example, is the improvement of
administrative performance which does not allow people to commit
mistake in their work, or at least which reduces the mistakes that
might be committed to a minimal level and allow people to improve
their performance without allowing them to sink to low practices.
As a result this would protect the institution from sinking down.
Also the improvement of the economic level of government employees
is a very important factor. There are other factors, as well, the
most important of which is the way people are brought up at home.
Otherwise how could we explain that if two persons are put in
similar circumstances which help them to be corrupt one of them
gets cormpted and the other does not. When the correct
circumstances are not provided there will be a need to check on
people, and bringing them to trial is, in this case, a temporary
element and not a permanent element in fighting corruption. In
order to reach far-reaching and effective measures to combat
corruption all other factors have to be provided for. But I
emphasize that fighting corruption is continuing and will not
stop, and cannot stop, because as I always say corruption is there
due to the existence of societies and interests.
Q. It is circulated that there is a lack of harmony among
decision makers in their methodology and their response to current
A. The lack of harmony in the approach of some decision makers
may create a problem if there is no one to link their different or
contradictory thoughts, and this linkage is done by the directly
higher level whose task is to collect all these ideas in an
attempt to reach a common denominator and make the appropriate
decisions. Thus the disharmony in the presence of an enabled
higher level is a variance of ideas which might be considered an
incentive to derive new ideas, and this is the basis for
development. Hence, the focal point is not the presence or absence
of harmony but the focal point is the presence of some one who is
able to manage a group of people whether they were harmonious or
not. This idea is true at all levels.
Q. When you became president there was a talk about a change of
cabinet, where is that change?
A. Every change must have a purpose and predictable results to
serve this purpose, and every change in government will be done
when there is a necessity for that and at the appropriate time.
Q. It seems that you prefer to take your decisions as a
surprise, especially important decisions. Is the element of
surprise the one that prevents the revelation of a future
A. We in Syria believe that actions speak louder than words. In
the media we may discuss the approach, the principles and the
directions but we do not discuss decisions till they are taken and
they become a reality.