The Damascus Declaration (DD) is a secular umbrella opposition coalition named after a statement drafted in 2005 by numerous opposition groups and individuals demanding a multiparty democracy in Syria. It calls for a gradual and peaceful transition to democracy and the equality of all citizens in a secular and sovereign Syria.
The declaration’s membership has changed over time as the coalition has faced leadership contests and crises of unity throughout its existence, particularly in the 2007–2009 period. The coalition, in its current configuration, was a founding member of the Syrian National Council (SNC), although several of the DD’s members are part of the National Coordination Body and others maintain independent positions.
Current Major Figures
Samir Nashar: member of the Executive Committee of the Syrian National Council, president of the Secretariat General of the DD, and president of the National Liberal Alliance, a small and marginal liberal party
Anas al-Abdeh: president of the Secretariat General of the DD outside Syria, member of the General Secretariat of the Syrian National Council, and president of the Movement for Justice and Development, a small, liberal, London-based Sunni Islamist group
Riad al-Turk: former leader of the Syrian Democratic People’s Party — formerly known as the Syrian Communist Party (Political Bureau) — who helped launch the DD in 2005
Giath Uyoun al-Soud: president of the Syrian Democratic People’s Party
Walid al-Bunni: doctor, imprisoned in multiple times since 2001; joined the SNC’s General Secretariat in 2011 but later resigned
Abdul Hamid al-Atassi: Paris-based spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic People’s Party
Abdulrazak Eid: head of the National Council of the DD in exile and active in the establishment of the Antalya and Istanbul meetings prior to the formation of the Syrian National Council
Former Major Figures
Michel Kilo: prominent Marxist dissident from the Damascus Spring era, helped launch the DD in 2005, active in the 2011–2012 uprising including in the formation of the National Coordination Body, however formed the separate Syrian Democratic Platform in February 2012
Hassan Abdul Azim: leader of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change and president of the Democratic Arab Socialist Union
Haytham Manna: founder of the Arab Commission for Human Rights and spokesperson in exile for the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change
Riad Seif: a former parliamentarian who broke with the regime to become a leading figure in the Damascus Spring of 2000 and then a signatory of the DD in 2005, but left during the leadership battles of 2007–2009
Dr. Fida al-Hourani: Arab nationalist intellectual and daughter of Akram al-Hourani, founder of the Arab Socialist Movement; helped launch the DD in 2005, imprisoned in 2008 alongside eleven other DD leaders
Sheikh Jawdat Said: pacifist Sunni theologian who was imprisoned in 2008 and released in early 2011
Nawaf al-Bashir: tribal leader from Deir Ez-Zor, member of the DD until 2009, leader of the former Future Movement but now heads the Liberation and Construction Bloc
The Damascus Declaration was signed on October 16, 2005, as an attempt to unite the fractured Syrian opposition. The initiative was spurred on by popular discontent over Syria’s involvement in Lebanon and its conflict with the United States over Iraq and Palestine. Signatories included historical opposition movements such as the National Democratic Rally and the Muslim Brotherhood, minority groups such as Kurdish and Assyrian parties, and prominent dissidents from the Damascus Spring movement such as Michel Kilo and Riad Seif. However, it proved difficult to reconcile the demands of the leftist and secular parties with those of the Islamists, and divisions continued to plague the coalition despite the “unity statement” of January 2006.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s alienation from the Damascus Declaration began when it joined the National Salvation Front of former vice president, Abdul Halim Khaddam, following his defection in 2006. The DD leadership elections of December 2007 provoked severe conflict between the “traditional opposition” of leftist and nationalist factions under Hassan Abdul Azim and Haytham Manna on one side, and the “new opposition” represented by the Islamist- and Damascus Spring–era factions of Riad al-Turk and Riad Seif. Several weeks later, twelve of the DD’s founding members, including Riad Seif and Michel Kilo, were arrested by the authorities and imprisoned. The leadership battles paralyzed the coalition, with some factions drifting into new alliances and others into exile. In 2009 the DD announced a new leadership in exile, but it retained few members in Syria and underrepresented the historical opposition.
A majority of the DD’s signatories participated in the Antalya and Istanbul conferences that led to the formation of the Syrian National Council in October 2011. By this point the DD appeared to be dominated by Riad al-Turk’s Syrian Democratic People’s Party and Anas al-Abdeh’s Movement for Justice and Development.
The Kurdish and Assyrian parties had been marginalized during the leadership battles of 2007–2009 and have asserted themselves more independently since the beginning of the uprising. The majority of the Kurdish parties have left the DD in order to work with the Kurdish National Council, and the Assyrian Democratic Organization has its own quota of seats in the Syrian National Council. The Arab Socialist Movement and Arab Revolutionary Workers Party remain nominal members of the DD and the National Democratic Assembly, but they have joined neither the Syrian National Council nor the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change.
The Movement for Justice and Development
National Liberal Alliance
The Arab Socialist Movement (also part of the National Democratic Alliance)
The Arab Revolutionary Workers Party (also part of the National Democratic Alliance and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change)
Former Member Parties
Muslim Brotherhood: left the DD coalition in 2006 and joined the Saudi-backed National Salvation Front but later split from this too
Democratic Socialist Arab Baath Party: part of the National Democratic Alliance, left during the leadership battles of 2007–2009
The Assyrian Democratic Organization
Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party in Syria
Kurdish Democratic Unity Party in Syria (Yekiti)
Kurdish Democratic Equality Party in Syria
Policy Toward the Crisis
- Original Damascus Declaration rejected foreign interference, but as part of the Syrian National Council the signatories call for external military intervention
- Original Damascus Declaration prioritized peaceful transition, but as part of the Syrian National Council the signatories call for arming the opposition
- Rejects dialogue with the regime
- Supports the Annan peace plan
- Original Damascus Declaration sought gradual and peaceful transition to democracy, but as part of the Syrian National Council the signatories prioritize the fall of the regime
- Equality of rights and duties of all citizens, including the freedom and equality of minorities, within the framework of a national unity constitution
- A secular state, which recognizes Islam as the “more prominent cultural component in the life of the nation and the people”
Foreign Policy Issues
- Liberation of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights
- “Correction” of the relationship with Lebanon