memri
July 21, 2000 Special Dispatch No. 116

The Acceptance Speech of Dr. Bashar Al-Assad

July 21, 2000
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 116

After being sworn in as the President of Syria on July 17, 2000, Dr. Bashar Al-Assad addressed the Syrian Parliament. Much of Assad's speech focused on the need for and basics of internal economic and administrative reform, but it also discussed Syria's role in the world and Syria's relations with Israel, Lebanon, and the Arab world.

The calls for internal reform focused on improving existing institutions by allowing transparency and constructive criticism, expanding trade links, and exhorting citizens to work more effectively - they did not include calls for privatization or broader economic liberalization. Assad also called for continuing the campaign against corruption, which has targeted several high-level officials, including former Prime Minister Al-Zu'bi, who committed suicide when police came to arrest him.[1] Following are excerpts from Assad's almost 80 minute speech:[2]

Democracy in Syria

"….To what extent are we democratic? And what are the characteristics of democracy? Is it elections or free press and free speech or other freedoms and rights?"

"…We cannot apply the democracy of others on ourselves. Western democracy, for example, is the outcome of a long history that resulted in customs and traditions that distinguish the current culture of Western societies. …To apply what they have we have to live their history… As this is obviously impossible, our democratic experience must be unique to us, stemming from our history, culture, and civilization and as a response to the needs of our society and the requirements of our reality…."

Internal Reforms

"Today, inefficient administration is the greatest impediment to our… development; it negatively affects all sectors without exception…. [Improving efficiency requires that] there is no escape from justice for the careless, the corrupt, and the evildoers. This also requires improving the accountability apparatus…"

"We must fight waste and corruption…"

"The appropriate foundations for women's participation should be well prepared so that they may become… better able to play a role in [society's] development."

Reviving Pan-Arabism

"…Our strenuous efforts to foster our domestic front will be strengthened through our relations with other countries - particularly our Arab brother countries - through… Arab economic conventions and the establishment of a true nucleus for a joint Arab market. The state of the Arab nation and the weak ties among Arab countries prevailing during the last few decades and especially during the 1990s is no secret..."

"The Arab nation accommodated itself to this new abnormal situation, and what should have been [an unfortunate result of] a state of emergency became the normal state of affairs to the extent that any talk of Arab nationalism or Arab solidarity seemed… to some to be romantic or a waste of time. Some have even started doubting Arab common interests…."

"Initiatives [necessary to revive pan-Arab unity] should be based on national dignity and Arab values and ethics. …we look forward to a more effective role played by the Arab League… Syria, will remain as always, supportive of any step towards solidarity serving the interests of the Arab nation…"

"We must do this quickly because the new international situation gives the [advantage] to the stronger party. This prompted many countries to establish regional alliances to be stronger in facing international challenges..."

Relations with Lebanon

"We consider our relationship with Lebanon an example of the relationship that should exist between two brotherly countries."

"But this example is not perfect yet and it still needs great efforts in order to be ideal and to achieve the joint interests of both countries in a way that responds to the aspirations of both countries. Nonetheless, Syrian-Lebanese solidarity during the past few years has achieved a great deal which would have been impossible to achieve had each country worked on its own... Ending the civil war in Lebanon, establishing national reconciliation and defeating the Israelis in the 1980s and 1990s, and recently delivering recently their worst defeat lately in May are all clear evidence of the importance of this solidarity."

"All these achievements were based on the solidarity of the Lebanese people and state with the heroic Lebanese national resistance."

"We, in Syria, will always stand by Lebanon and support it in all its national causes, especially… the return of its full territory, the return of its prisoners in Israeli jails and in its courageous stand in the face of repeated Israeli threats to lead an aggression against it."

Relations with Israel

"…The liberation of our territory [the Golan] is the first of our national priorities… but not at the expense of our territory nor at the expense of our sovereignty. Our territory and our sovereignty are a matter of national pride and no one is allowed to compromise them."

"We were very clear in dealing with peace issues, firm in our stands since the beginning of the peace process in Madrid in 1991, unlike the Israeli policy that fluctuated sometimes and placed obstacles at other times. Until this very moment they did not give us any proof inspiring confidence that they have a true and genuine desire to achieve peace."

"Rather they suggested different formulas to hide what they truly want to do. So they asked us to be flexible and I think that they mean the territory should be flexible… Or they send us emissaries who ask us to agree to a modified June 4, [1967] line and call this modified line the June 4 line, as if it is about naming the line. Or they suggest returning 95% of our land and when we ask about the remaining 5% they say it is only a problem of a few meters and this should not be an obstacle to peace."

"If those few meters are not a problem and not an obstacle in the way of peace, then why don't they return to the June 4 lines and give us 5% of the territory west of the Lake?"

"…We call on the US to play its full role as an honest broker and co-sponsor of the peace process. Pressure must be exerted to implement the resolutions of international legitimacy with all the legitimate rights [that] they grant the Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian people…."

"I will not forget to mention our brave people on the Golan, who cling tenaciously to their country and their Arab nationality, [while] rejecting Zionist existence in all its forms, and we say to them: 'We are with you and our steadfastness together is the guarantee that our land will be liberated.' In Lebanon, the brave national resistance wrote the best anthem of heroism and martyrdom which will always remain [as a model] that will live on with future generations…."


[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 101, "Suicide of a Prime Minister; An Egyptian Intellectual Criticizes Arab Regimes," June 13, 2000.

[2] The Syrian News Agency website, www.basharassad.org/english.htm.

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