As America’s media largely gushed over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-California) visit to Syria last month, it would only be fair of them to gauge reaction of the citizens most-largely impacted – the Syrians themselves.
Many Syrian dissidents and pro-democracy activists have privately expressed dismay at Ms. Pelosi’s message of friendship to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They say that Ms. Pelosi’s visit, no matter how well-intentioned, has effectively pulled the rug out from under them, critically damaging their efforts to create momentum for reform from within.
Think you’ll be hearing Charlie, Katie, or Brian utter such words any time soon? Regardless, that was only the beginning of this marvelous exposé:
“Pelosi’s visit made the regime feel that Americans were divided on how to deal with Syria,” said a Damascus-based women’s-rights activist who, like five other activists interviewed for this article, asked that his name be withheld because he feared punishment. “This sends a message to the regime that the pressure is off, that it can do what it likes.”
And, her visit had immediate negative consequences the media here certainly will not report:
It has certainly seemed that way in the weeks since Ms. Pelosi’s departure, during which time the government has imprisoned Kurdish opposition figures while maintaining travel and work bans on political activists.
In the eastern Syrian town of Raqqa, hundreds of people were arrested for protesting rigged parliamentary elections. And over the last month, the Syrian courts have embarked on a veritable spree of sentencing, handing down harsh prison sentences to some of Syria’s most prominent pro-democracy activists.
Last week, the physician and dissident Kamal Labwani was sentenced to 12 years in prison for having met with American officials during a 2005 trip to Washington. This past weekend, the activists Michel Kilo and Mahmoud Issa were sentenced to three years each for having signed the so-called Damascus Declaration, a document petitioning Syria’s government to normalize relations with neighboring Lebanon.
As a result, reform activity has come to a screeching halt:
The few Syrian activists who are not presently behind bars say they have all but ceased working.
“Most of us are just sitting and waiting,” said the women’s-rights activist. “It’s too dangerous to try any political activities right now. The regime is making a point, and there’s no telling when the current crackdown will end.”
“Pelosi’s visit was well-meant, but it’s been bad for everyone, and especially devastating for some of our closest friends in Syria,” an American researcher on Syria said.
How marvelous. Unfortunately, a media enthralled by the female speaker won’t dare point to her obvious lack of apparel.
Color me unsurprised.