The Doha Debates saw one of its most one-sided debates take place last night, as 91% of the audience voted in favour of the motion ‘This house believes that President Bashar al-Assad must resign.’
First to speak for the proposition was Syrian politician and journalist, Obeida Nahas, who said that the Syrian people are demanding a change - something which the President is fully aware.
“If he is so confident then why not open up and have elections?” he asked.
Noting that Syria has historically espoused values of tolerance and openness, he said that the time has come to put an end to leaders being held up as super heroes, he said that any alternative would be preferable to the current situation in the country.
First opposition speaker was member of the British Syrian Society, Ammar Waqqaf, who said that the Syrian people are still behind their President, stating that their support has been proven by the fact that he remains in power.
He said that the tacit majority of Syrians support Assad for three reasons, the fact that they feel unsure about the security of the country without him, the fact that they are unsure about the agenda and international interests which are being put “on the table,” and the fact that they need a strong independent government to ensure sustainable political reform.
Conversely, Emile Hokayem, senior fellow for regional security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Bahrain, said the Syrian people are finally holding their president to account.
“He has delivered nothing for 11 years, so why should he be given the benefit of the doubt?” he argued. While Assad has consistently referred to the importance of Syria to ‘Arabism,’ Hokayem said that this very notion has been totally transformed by the millions of people who have taken to the streets throughout the Arab Spring.
The final speaker against the motion was political analyst, Kamel Wazne, who warned that the situation in Syria could quickly become “another Iraq.”
He said that US and other outside interests are fuelling the violence in Syria, which could potentially spill over into surrounding countries.
Wazne expressed his disappointment at the introduction of sanctions against Syria and wanted the country to be given more time by the international community.
“Let’s stop the killing and start the healing,” he urged, arguing that forcing Assad to resign would not lead to the establishment of peace.
Although the opposition panelists were given an incredibly difficult task in defending the right of an apparently violent dictator to remain in power, they failed to put forward any convincing arguments for their side of the debate.
And it seemed that audience members were feeling frustrated at their attempts to divert responsibility, both for the protests taking place throughout the country, but more contentiously, for the killing taking place in Syria.
Wazne fell into the Doha Debates trap of blaming everything on a Western conspiracy without providing any proof, and his comparison between the Arab world’s treatment of Israel in the past, and Syria now, failed to convince audience members.
And after repeatedly arguing that Syria needs more time to resolve its problems and to introduce political reform, he had no answer as to how much time Assad should be given to do so.
Waqqaf’s arguments proved equally ineffective as he continued to insist that the Syrian people remain supportive of their president, and that the protests taking place there have been entirely instigated by foreign powers because of their interests.
However, this was an unpopular line of reasoning as one female audience member said: “This is a Syrian revolution and it’s insulting to keep insisting that it’s coming from outside.”
In the end, it seems that the overwhelming majority of her fellow audience members sympathised with her frustrations and they resoundingly passed the motion, expressing their firm belief that Bashar al-Assad should leave his post for the good of the Syrian people.
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