In an effort to learn more about the role of Syrian-Americans in Syria’s revolution and political restructuring, we reached out to Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, senior political adviser and government relations director of the Washington-based Syrian American Council (SAC).
Syria Deeply: What is the mission of your organization, specifically as related to the conflict in Syria, and how does the SAC go about achieving that mission?
Mohammed Alaa Ghanem: Our mission in general is to organize and mobilize the Syrian-American community so that its voice is heard on issues of critical importance to Syrian-Americans. We devote ourselves to community organizing, awareness-raising, youth empowerment, media outreach, advocacy and support for Syrians seeking to build a free, democratic and pluralistic Syria. And since the first and foremost concern on the minds of Syrian-Americans right now is what’s going on in their country of origin and the safety and well-being of their kith and kin there, we have over the last two years dedicated ourselves entirely to helping bring about a swift end to the conflict and support the establishment of peace, freedom and democracy in Syria.
What is your role in the SAC?
Currently I serve as senior political adviser and director of government relations for the Syrian American Council in Washington, D.C., where I strive to inform the decision-making process of the U.S. government and connect the Syrian-American community and U.S. policymakers with the revolution inside Syria. Besides the domestic trips I take regularly to meet with members from our 22 chapters and the wider U.S. public, I take frequent trips to the Middle East and the liberated areas in Syria for my job, and I routinely participate in international conferences and opposition meetings on Syria. I’m also involved in planning for the day after Assad.
In your work, do you find that Syrian-Americans are very active in the revolutionary movement? Are there similar U.S. organizations or individuals that the SAC works with on a regular basis?
I would argue that the Syrian-American community is one of the most active Syrian diaspora communities in the world. According to data compiled by the American Relief Coalition for Syria, the Syrian-American community is leading in support for humanitarian relief programs. The community is also making progress with grassroots and political advocacy.
And yes, we have partners. SAC is a co-founder of the Coalition for a Democratic Syria, which is a group of Syrian-American nonprofit organizations working together to bring about a swift end to the conflict and support the establishment of peace, freedom and democracy in Syria. CDS is a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional, nonpartisan organization. It includes: Syrian American Council, Syrian Emergency Task Force, United for Free Syria, Syrian Expatriates Organization, Syrian American Alliance, Syrian Christians for Democracy and Association of Free Syrians. So as you can see there is quite a few and we coordinate our work.
What are the key roles Syrian-Americans play in the revolution? How do you think Syrian-Americans have affected the revolutionary movement on the ground?
Syrian-Americans have played various roles in the revolution, whether it be through direct support to efforts on the ground or advocating for the cause here in the U.S. Throughout the early days of the revolution, the community worked to provide communications assistance, media equipment and other resources to support the pro-democracy movement as much as possible. And like I said, the Syrian-American community has also taken the lead within the Syrian diaspora in providing humanitarian assistance to those in need on the ground, connecting directly with activists who have set up networks throughout the country. In the U.S., despite the limited resources available, the community works very hard in grassroots advocacy campaigns in order to give the Syrian people a voice here, as media coverage is limited and often paints the revolution in a negative light. The community has also been able to provide support in different areas of expertise. For example, several Syrian-American doctors have conducted trainings for young medical students.
Overall, the role of the Syrian-American community has been one of a supportive base to those on the ground. They have used their resources, expertise and whatever connections they have to empower, strengthen and help sustain the movement on the ground.
What else do you think like-minded Syrian-Americans can or should do to have an impact in Syria?
At this particular moment in time, the Syrian cause is fighting battles on various fronts, one of them being in the media. The narrative on Syria is oversimplified, thereby presenting an incomplete story to the American public, and for that reason, public opinion on stronger support for the Syrian people is less than ideal. In order to combat this negative media perception, it is important for the Syrian-American community to continue efforts in grassroots advocacy and become more engaged in responses to such coverage. Things such as writing letters to the editors or calling into radio stations are concrete steps that can be taken that ensure that the right people are discussing the conflict in Syria. Stronger participation in political advocacy is of great value as well, as the Obama administration has been facing more questions on their Syria policy as of late; reaching out to senators and representatives to place more pressure on the administration is key, as decisions are being made at this juncture in time.