A Syrian Bill of Rights? Be careful...

A number of Syrian bloggers, particularly at the site of "secular heckler" Ammar Abdulhamid, have suggested that Syrian opposition groups should create and circulate a Syrian "Bill of Rights". Such a document, these individuals propose, would codify the terms upon which minority religious and ethnic groups would be protected under the law. A Bill of Rights would be a big step, and a positive step, but frankly I am not sure it is one that opposition leaders are ready to take.

As a general rule of politics, opposition candidates and parties can say whatever they wish, however outrageous, as long as they are not serious contenders. I can tell you that from personal experience. Because frankly, nobody cares about you (i.e. you will not get meaningful media coverage) if you're not perceived to be able to win, except your die-hard supporters who will cheerlead no matter what. Maybe you'll get 15 minutes of fame, but that's about it.

Once you do become a serious contender though, and have to reach out to the masses, everything you say will be under a microscope. Well, on the Syrian scene, the only "serious contenders", if we can even use such a term at this point, are the leaders of the recently-inaugurated National Salvation Front (NSF): former Syrian VP Abdel Halim Khaddam and the exiled leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni. (For American readers unfamiliar with the Muslim Brotherhood, it is the parent organization of Hamas.)

Before anyone proposes that these 2 leaders even mention a Bill of Rights, which would address some incredibly thorny and difficult issues, I submit that they both need to demonstrate sufficient media prowess and the ability to deliver a consistent message. At the NSF's kick-off conference from last weekend, both Khaddam and Bayanouni had to correct reporters with respect to questions like "are Alawis really Muslims?" and "will Khaddam be tried for his role in the regime?", because their statements seemed to conflict with their previous words, if not with each other.

With all due respect, they are not ready to go under the microscope.

On an additional note, the blogosphere is both a blessing and a curse for opposition leaders. While it helps them to disseminate their message and recruit followers, it also subjects them to a perhaps uncomfortable onslaught of well-meaning opinions and critiques (like this post), as well as outright attack.

If any political entity cannot emerge from the blogs with a consistent, solid, credible message intact, they haven't a prayer when they get to prime-time.

That's something for all opposition groups to seriously consider.


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