Syria: memories of a trampled democracy in Udine

University conference dedicated to country's future

07 May, 13:57

(ANSAmed) - UDINE, MAY 7 - ''I haven't learned anything about the history of democracy in Syria at school, because all the school talked about was President Hafez al Assad.'' This remark was made by Eva Ziedan, a Syrian archaeologist at the University of Udine, during the conference ''Syria, what future?''. But little has changed since Ziedan went to school, and Syria is still ruled by a dictator of the Assad family, only now the son of Hafez has taken over. The regime is responsible for the ongoing violent repression of the anti-government protest that started early in 2011, on the wave of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Eva Zeidan was born in 1984, when Hafez al Assad had been president for 14 years. Her uncle, Faek al Hawje, a communist dissident, has spent many years in prison, since Eva was a little girl. She was even told that her uncle was ''abroad''. ''At school we had to salute the flag every morning and sing the praises of President Assad and the Baath power (ruling for half a century). Assad was a legend for me and I wrote poetry about him,'' the archaeologist continued. ''Then one day they told me that my uncle was not abroad but in prison. That he had been arrested for spreading manifestos of the communist party, which is illegal like all other parties. My infancy took a different turn that moment.'' The young Ziedan stopped writing poetry about President Assad and started reading the documents written by Faek al Hawje and other uncles when they were young.

The speech of Ziedan coincided with the Syrian general elections, which many have called a ''farce''. It was one of five speeches during the conference organised by professor Daniele Morandi Bonacossi, who was also one of the speakers and who teaches archaeology and Near East ancient art history at the University of Udine. ''Story of a trampled democracy'' is the title of Ziedan's story. She told the audience about the period of democracy in independent Syria: from 1946, the year the French mandate ended, to 1958, when Egyptian president Gamal Abdel basically annexed the Syrian territories, formally making them part of the United Arab Republic. That spirit of democracy, the archaeologist continued, already surfaced during the years of the mandate, when Syrian partisans from all regions, confessions and ethnic groups, started their battle against the French. After years of mainly political struggle they succeeded in making the country independent. ''The Syrian Republic has had a parliament for years, with many different political parties.

It was a real Republic,'' said Ziedan, referring to the absence of individual and political freedom in Syria under the Baath party and the al Assad family. ''At that time, the national assembly was a real parliament and women were giving voting right in 1949 (three years after Italy),'' the archaeologist pointed out, showing a rare photograph taken in 1930 at the university of Damascus during a conference of Arab women. The picture shows dozens of women posing with the flag of their country of origin. ''Like today Syria was a country with a Muslim majority. But in those years a Christian, Fares al Khuri, had been elected as head of state.'' But the constitution that was 'reformed' in the past months, an initiative of the 'secular' president Bashar al Assad, still states that the head of state must be a Muslim.



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