Maria Saadeh, Syrian Member of Parliament, welcomes Russia's aid in fighting ISIS
An architect by profession, Maria Saadeh is Member of Parliament for the electoral district of Damascus and Sednaya. She was elected after the first year of the war. She is more determined than ever to educate the public about the suffering endured by her people.
Aleteia: Why have you suddenly decided to become a member of the Syrian parliament when your career path seemed directed in other ways?
Maria Saadeh: As a Syrian citizen and a woman, I believe that your governments do not have the right to choose who can represent Syria and who cannot. For this reason, I felt that I had to get into parliament so as to have a legal forum from which to speak out for the Syrian people and to better reflect the reality here and to convey a message to the West: “You have made a big mistake, destroying our state, our history and our heritage.”
What do you say to those who accuse you of being elected to serve a dictatorship?
Westerners sit in judgement as to whether or not our society is under a dictatorship. The Syrians on the other hand, the first to be affected by it, are far from thinking that. The West has no right to proclaim that ours is a dictatorial regime. Only we, the Syrians, who are living every day in Syrian society, are able to judge the Syrian government. Only we who have known the situation both before the war and now can give our opinion on the country’s political situation. Syria is the cradle of civilizations, history and religions, it is a land that belongs to all of humanity and today we are faced with monstrosity. On the grounds of tackling the regime, your governments are destroying the heritage of humanity.
Were you politically active before the crisis that Syria is going through today?
Not at all, I had absolutely no political responsibility before the war. I am an architect, I have worked in France and throughout Europe. It was a big surprise for me to see that the West, who respects civilization and heritage on its own territory, was attacking our integrity. So I was elected four years ago in the last parliamentary elections which took place, a year after the start of the war. The next elections will be organized in the next few months.
When you were part of civil society, did you reproach the Syrian government for anything?
Of course, I had many points of disagreement with the government. But that is no longer the point; the question today is not to agree or disagree with the government. The problem now is that we face an international war against the Syrian State. We want to protect our integrity, our homes, our sovereignty and we will make every effort to serve this purpose. The government has committed many mistakes in the past and when I speak in Parliament during debates, I speak out frankly. I also criticized the Syrian media for not giving a loud enough voice to civil society, especially those who oppose the government. We are at war now, it is true, but it is an opportunity to create a new Syria, a Syria where all Syrian voices that can really rebuild a more stable and egalitarian society are represented.
At the beginning of the Syrian crisis, who demonstrated to demand a more “democratic” society?
Let me give you an example, and you can judge for yourself. As an architect I had a construction site and workers under my responsibility. At the beginning of the crisis and the protests, my workers abandoned their posts. I finally understood that Islamists already present on the scene paid them to demonstrate: they received 500 Syrian pounds for an hour while the organizers themselves received 1,000 or 2,000 Syrian pounds. That is more money than for a day’s work! So you can imagine that it met with success.
Some of them however were sincere in demonstrating…
Yes, of course, many of the young people especially were demanding a different future. They believed they were part of a popular revolution, but they soon realized that they were being manipulated.
What has resulted from your meeting with the Pope in 2013?
The Pope is the person who represents peace in the world best, we know very well that any action on his part can have a huge impact on what is happening in Syria. Did he not refuse categorically that NATO bomb Syria two years ago? He knows that the issue concerns not only the Syrians but all humanity. Shortly after having met with him, the Vatican organized a vigil for the Syrian people: I imagine that this is a consequence of my interview with him.
You are a Christian, what is the position of Syrian Christians in respect to the government and, more broadly, towards the war?
First of all, I do not represent the Christians in Syria. We are a secular state, I represent all Syrians, far beyond their religious beliefs. All the Syrian people are facing the same war.
What is your position with regard to Russia’s commitment in your country?
We have a great historical relationship with the West, but today the Syrian people no longer have any illusions about the extremely aggressive attitude of the West. At the same time, Syria cannot confront such a formidable enemy as the Islamic State alone, it must find new partners, and Russia is one of them. All countries who are willing to participate in the war effort are welcome.
Could a transitional government help reconciliation or does Bashar Assad have to remain head of the Syrian state no matter what?
Bashar Al-Assad should only leave office after a popular decision made by the Syrian people and only by them. His departure, if there is a departure, should under no circumstances be the result of pressure from outside of Syria.
Do Syrians really have the institutional levers to change leaders if they choose to do so?
During the presidential elections, the Syrian people made their choice. Bashar Assad had competition from well-known opponents. If new opponents want to challenge him, then they should do so! We are living today an opportunity for change, we must seize it. Everyone can participate in the reconstruction of Syria, of its houses and of the State.