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Syrians have been let down by their ladies



More than being ladies in waiting to become the president in post-Assad Syria or the first ever woman leader of a predominantly masculinised Arab politics Atassi and Zaitouneh are pulling the nation and its fight for liberation in diametrically opposite direction

In an AFP/Getty image a gun-wielding woman could be seen along with a few equally armed men guarding a parade of Kurdish anti-Syrian government activists celebrating liberation of the city of Derik. A large number of dailies and periodicals in the United States, Europe and elsewhere the picture was prominently published in an effort to showcase women's role in Syria's fight against for liberty from an autocratic and heartless regime. We have seen several more pictures of heavily armed Syrian women fighting the war alongside men.

Yet, Syrians are deeply disappointed; their hopes rudely dashed. Two women, Suhair Atassi and Razan Zaitouneh, have only offered them a microcosm of how deeply fragmented Syria's fight for liberation is.

Syrians were wrong in depending on them for their redemption from the darkness into which they are at present. Both Atassi and Zaitouneh have failed them; their flares have been short-lived like fireworks on a dark night sky. More wrong have been the Western media in their attempts to project the two women as future Syrian redeemers, both having "what it takes to become Syria's chief executive — that is, if they live long enough to see the current regime fall."

The heads the Programme on Arab Reform and Democracy at Stanford University's Centre on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law Lina Khatib's projection of Atassi and Zaitouneh as Syria's ladies in waiting smacks of West's partisan perception. True, these women have been leaders in the uprising from the beginning but they have also been agents in polarising Syria's society and its fight for liberation.

Atassi, a prominent opposition leader living abroad and Zaitouneh, an influential human rights lawyer in hiding at home, have been poles apart in their perceptions, modus operandi and leadership. Khatib herself admits that Atassi engages in high-profile international lobbying on behalf of the Syrian National Coalition, an umbrella group that includes, among others, members of armed rebel groups and radicals. Zaitouneh, on the other hand, remains vehemently opposed to cooperating with radicals who too are equally keen to avoid working with her.

More than being ladies in waiting to become the president in post-Assad Syria or the first ever woman leader of a predominantly masculinised Arab politics Atassi and Zaitouneh are pulling the nation and its fight for liberation in diametrically opposite direction. To a large extent Atassi remains culpable for paving the path of entry of the bigots and extremist elements like Al Qaeda franchise Al Nusra into the Syrians' war against totalitarianism.

Their divergent political strategies and their unwillingness to negotiate with the regime for a lasting settlement have added fuel to the fire. Though Zaitouneh has remained steadfast in her opposition of the escalating violence and intensifying civil war Atassi has failed to offer any kind of leadership to fill in the vacuum which has been spawning violence and sectarianism. The focus of her activity in exile has been to garner funding and political recognition from the international community. She has failed to understand that neither funding nor international recognition would stop the bloodbath.

Atassi and Zaitouneh, unfortunately, remained being representative rather than leaders. They have failed to articulate "the political ethos and goals of the uprising authentically, neither has effectively set the uprising's agenda, determine strategy on the ground, or taken decisions on critically important issues of war and peace."

In their own and inimitable ways both Atassi and Zaitouneh, however, have been examples of bravery and indomitable spirit. Therefore, when Zaitouneh was conferred the International Women of Courage Award we had little to contest, especially in view of what she withstood at a young age of thirty five. She was accused of being a foreign agent, her office was ransacked and her husband was arrested and tortured and all for Zaitouneh exposing the regime's human right violations.

She had been, against heavy odds, zealously upholding human rights of people in Syria where affronts against human rights are one of the highest in the world; where the world has never, at least in the last forty years and more, heard of civil liberties, political rights and freedom of expression.  

Forty two-year-old and a social media maven Suhair Atassi, on the other hand, faced little of what Zaitouneh underwent. She had always been in exile and yet been into the opposition leadership simply because of the family she was born into.

"A French literature major from Homs, she is no stranger to political turmoil, having been born into her country's version of the Kennedy dynasty. The al-Atassi clan includes judges, members of parliment, ministers, poets and even two ex-presidents, including Nureddin al-Atassi, who was Syria's president when Hafez Assad seized control of the country 40 years ago.

It has been her family background which gave her the ladder to walk up straight and unhindered into the leadership and is the co-vice-president of the opposition government.

Irrespective of their qualifications and abilities to lead an uprising failures of the two women are palpable. Both Suhair Atassi and Razan Zaitouneh have failed to salvage the uprising from getting robbed or hijacked by Al Qaeda; they have failed to rescue the movement from turning violent and sectarian. Atassi, in particular, represent alienated opposition leaders with no street experience who from exile have been foisting themselves on the Syrians dying in dozens inside the country.

Both Suhair Atassi and Razan Zaitouneh are leaders made by Western media and manufactured in the West.

The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman


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