What do Syrians want?

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What do Syrians Want?

Not many people would try to do a public survey in a war zone. But Rafif Jouejati wanted to find out what ordinary people want.

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Children in the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan. © Jeff Mitchell / Getty Images

When the Arab Spring began several years ago, Syrians were envious of the freedom movements in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Change was impossible in Syria. Everybody knew that, if you criticize the president, they could put you in prison. But in March 2011, the impossible happened. Syrians began protesting against more than 40 years of control.

The revolution began peacefully. All different types of Syrians said they wanted freedom, dignity and democracy. Syrians living in other countries organized demonstrations in their capital cities. There were often hundreds of thousands of peaceful Syrian protesters saying they want change. ‘One, one, one, the Syrian people are one’, they shouted, and the Arabic rhyme, ‘We want freedom, Muslims and Christians alike.’

Four and half years later we can see the results of Assad’s attacks on his people. About 11 million people have lost their home. Bombs and shooting have destroyed about 80 per cent of transport, schools and hospitals. There are more than 150,000 prisoners of conscience in prisons with torture. More than 240,000 people have died.

The violence has destroyed the country and the call for democracy has been lost. Assad is ‘fighting the extreme Islamists ISIS’ so there is not much space for the hopes millions of peaceful Syrians. But they must have a voice, to demand freedom and to say and understand what freedom would mean for all Syrians. A new constitution

The Freedom Charter project tried to do this. Their inspiration was The Freedom Charter of South Africa in 1955. This was the central document of the ANC’s long fight against apartheid. They trained more than 100 activists. They then interviewed ordinary Syrians in every area of the country, and Syrians in the refugee camps of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

The results were amazing. In the middle of the terrible civil war, 50,333 people of many different backgrounds said what they want from a future Syria.

This was dangerous for the activists and the interviewees. They were at risk of injury, imprisonment, torture or death. One activist doing surveys in Quneitra was killed. Two others were badly injured in Lattakia. In eastern Ghouta, outside Damascus, they had to stop the surveys after threats by extremist groups.

And what do people want? The right for all Syrians to live in peace and dignity; to have freedom to have different religious and political beliefs; to be legally equal.

The Freedom Charter is the most comprehensive effort of its kind. It is the first step to a national-unity document based on the opinions, hopes and aspirations of our people.

We have sent the Charter to everyone with an interest in Syria – governments, NGOs, armed militias – even the Assad regime, and extremist militants.

More Syrians are now signing the Charter, to add their agreement to the 50,333 men and women who had interviews. We want 1 million people to sign. If we get enough support, the Charter will help the long process of writing a new constitution for all Syrians, based on rights.

One day, Assad will stop attacking Syrians. And his control will end. People will discuss the future of Syria. At every stage, we will present the Freedom Charter to all the people who will build the country again. They must hear us. We Syrians must influence our future. Rafif Jouejati started The Foundation to Restore Equality and Education (FREE-Syria), who run the Freedom Charter project. See free-syria-foundation.org to support the project

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/features/special/2015/09/01/what-do-syrians-want/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).