Syrian Representative Discusses Assad's Speech
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Bouthaina Shaaban is a political and media advisor to Syria's embattled president, and she joins us now from Damascus. Welcome to the program, Ms. Shaaban.
Ms. BOUTHAINA SHAABAN (Political and Media Advisor to President Bashar al-Assad): Thank you.
SIEGEL: First, reaction to President Assad's speech today from the State Department said - the U.S. said that President Bashar al-Assad has been making promises to his people for years. What's important now is action not words. Why, at this late date, are there not actions toward political reform?
Ms. SHAABAN: I think there were many actions taken since the president started. But I think today was a big day for Syria because the vision that was laid out today is a new vision, and it is coming out of the experience with the crisis.
So for the first time, the president called for a national dialogue to discuss political party law, to discuss electoral law, media law, to review and, if needed, rewrite the constitution. These are major decisions and major steps.
SIEGEL: Well, let me ask you about two facts of political life in Syria today and whether they're going to be part of the dialogue or whether they're off the table. Baathist Party rule and President Assad's rule, do you assume that those are not up for discussion or is that part of the dialogue?
Ms. SHAABAN: No, no. That is - when you say the constitution is at the table to be reviewed or to be rewritten, it means you are calling for political participation and for democracy. It means we are changing the political system in Syria. And the president gave a timeframe for all these to be achieved by the end of the year as maximum deadline.
SIEGEL: Are you saying that President Bashar al-Assad is prepared to move to a system in which the Baathist Party is guaranteed no particular number of seats in parliament and anybody, regardless of what the security services thinks of them, can run a slate of candidates and anybody could be elected president of Syria and that system could be in place by the end of this year?
Ms. SHAABAN: Well, this is exactly what the multi-party system means and this is exactly what the electoral laws mean. And this is exactly why President Assad is calling for a national dialogue both with the opposition and with all the social strata in Syria. This will be the product of the dialogue.
SIEGEL: Who will get to take part in the national dialogue? Will you admit the leaders of the protests out in the streets to sit down and take part in the national dialogue?
Ms. SHAABAN: We are inviting all leaders of the opposition, all leaders of social groups to come and participate in the national dialogue.
SIEGEL: Would the Muslim Brotherhood be welcome to sit at that - in those talks, in that dialogue or not?
Ms. SHAABAN: Well, we don't have religious parties in Syria because Syria is a mosaic and is a secular society. We are talking about a political system. We are not talking about a religious dynasty.
SIEGEL: And once again, broader political participation you say means at least putting on the table the Baathist Party's guaranteed majority. Is President Assad's leadership necessary for Syria or is that something for the Syrian people to settle by democratic means?
Ms. SHAABAN: One, it is for the Syrian people. I believe that President Assad's leadership is very important at this stage, because he is leading Syria to a more - a multiple political system, to a more democratic system. And I believe the laws that will be issued from now until we finish all the laws advocating, will leave it up to the Syrian people to decide their future also.
SIEGEL: That the Syrian people, you're saying, should and will be able to decide by their vote whether Bashar al-Assad remains in power as president of Syria?
Ms. SHAABAN: Absolutely.
SIEGEL: Bouthaina Shaaban, thank you very much for talking with us today.
Ms. SHAABAN: Thank you very much.
SIEGEL: Bouthaina Shaaban spoke to us from Damascus, where she is a spokesperson and political and media advisor to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
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