Omar S. Dahi is an associate professor of economics. He received his B.A. in economics from California State University at Long Beach, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. His research and teaching interests are in the areas of economic development and international trade, with a special focus on South-South economic cooperation, and on the political economy of the Middle East and North Africa.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. A recently released report commissioned by the Qatari government claims that more than 11,000 people have been tortured and executed by the Syrian government. Please be warned that there are some graphic images here. Now joining us to discuss the timing of the report and its significance is Omar Dahi. Omar is an associate professor of economics at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. Thanks for joining us again, Omar.DAHI, ASSOC. PROF. ECONOMICS, HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE: Great to be here.DESVARIEUX: So, Omar, let's pick up where we left off and discuss a little bit more about this report. What do you make of the timing of the report? And can you just give a bit more background about how this came to be released?DAHI: Sure. Well, basically, in terms of the timing of the report, there has been a pattern that many critics of the opposition have been pointing out, which is that on the eve of crucial talks or on the eve of votes in the Security Council back one year or two years ago, when there was discussion in the Security Council on resolutions which would have increased the sanctions against Syria, there's a been a lot of discussion that on the eve of such reports there was a release of new findings of human rights violations by the regime or a massacre by the regime and have basically been arguing that since a lot of the Syrian opposition has been framing its goals as inviting foreign intervention, that the timing of these reports are basically coincided to have the maximum impact in order to facilitate foreign intervention, and therefore that the timing's suspicious. And in this case there is evidence that the report was funded by the Qatari government, and therefore it basically points to the same pattern of behavior by some of the Syrian opposition. Now, what we do know, however--and we should not be surprised--is that the human rights violations by the Syrian government have been severe. And, in fact, they may have amounted to crimes against humanity, war crimes, and that this has been documented not just by this report but by the United Nations human rights fact-finding mission, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, in other words, other human rights organizations and local activist groups. And so it's certainly true that there has been a timing aspect of this in the last several weeks to basically turn the narrative upside down against the regime when the regime's narrative seemed to be prevailing in terms of it was fighting terrorism and so forth, but I think we should not be surprised about the violations of the regime, and these allegations should be investigated. And, in fact, we know that there are tens of thousands of prisoners, political prisoners that are still held by the regime under horrific circumstances.But what's--has been missing from a lot of these discussions is critical thought and critical reporting about the human rights violations being committed from different sides. And there has been increasingly a number that has been discussed by many people both inside and outside Syria that the regime itself has lost up to 40,000 or 50,000 soldiers or fighters or, basically, people from the regime side in total, totaling up to the tens of thousands. In other words, it's basically the case where each side is--they're focusing on the human rights violation done by the other without critical thought of the violations, the deaths, and the destruction that's being made by, basically, people on their side. In many cases, many groups fighting against the regime have been documented to have been committing mass human rights violations.So what we can tell about the report itself is that it's not--it would not be shocking to find out that this report is true, but that the critical reporting about the massive human rights violations and the other types of killings that have been taking place is not always there. And it needs to be more surfaced, to show that there is a civil war dynamic and that both sides have reason to believe that the other side wants to achieve total victory. Both sides have reasons to believe that if they lay down their weapons, they might face annihilation. And I'm talking about the social bases of both sides, not just the fighting forces, but the people who support it, the ordinary Syrians who support each of these sides.DESVARIEUX: Let's talk more about the ordinary Syrians and get a sense of what a resolution would look like if it was in the interests of ordinary Syrians.DAHI: Well, I would say more Syrians are desperate, although I would start that with the caveat that I've been very wary over the last two or three years of people speaking on behalf of or claiming to know what most Syrians want. So I'll just speak about what I have seen in terms of the research among the refugees and in terms of talking to many Syrians outside of Syria in the neighboring countries who have been displaced by the conflict, which is that they want an end to the violence. And they are increasingly critical of the vanguards or the maximalist position of each of those sides. But I would say there has to be four elements for a meaningful transition. One of them is a ceasefire, which is not going to happen overnight but is going to be gradual because there are many groups, including many groups that are fighting against the government, that may not stick immediately to any political deal--and, in fact, many have already rejected it. But a ceasefire and an improvement in the security situation is an essential for basically Syrian society to be able to breathe once again, to not be on the constant--the edge of war. Second is a legitimate government that has to be inclusive and that has to be legitimate, not in the sense that it represents only one side, but that different social bases, different social forces within Syria view their own future or can see that they have representation in this government, and a democratic transition, eventually, where not only in this transitional government they see some legitimacy, but they see some hope that their voices will be eventually represented. And finally, I return to economic life, I return to basically the reconstruction, economic recovery, aid, ability for people who are displaced to return to their homes, ability to increase and get access, basic needs and basic food and other requirements.Without those four elements, I find it very hard for a political deal to stick. And even if one was in force today, a year from now it might basically collapse. And these are very complicated. As you know, there are very different actors involved in the issue. But so long as, I would say, four of these four elements are not there, it's going to be very hard to move forward.DESVARIEUX: Alright. Omar, we greatly appreciate your analysis. Thank you so much for joining us.DAHI: Thank you.DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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