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As the Syrian uprising enters its second year, uncertainty about the challenges confronting women and minorities looms especially large.  Women have played a critical role throughout the uprising, with activists like Suhair al-Attasi, Razan Zaitouneh, and others emerging as leaders of protest and resistance to the Assad regime.  Yet their contributions have often been overshadowed. Questions persist about whether women’s concerns and perspectives will be fully addressed, either in the current uprising or in a potential post-Assad Syria. How can Syrian women ensure that their voices are heard as the revolution unfolds and a new Syria takes shape? 

Read the event analysis, Syrian Expatriates Examine the Roles of Women and Minorities in Uprising

As the Syrian uprising enters its second year, uncertainty about the challenges confronting women and minorities looms especially large. Women have played a critical role throughout the uprising, with activists like Suhair al-Attasi, Razan Zaitouneh, and others emerging as leaders of protest and resistance to the Assad regime. Yet their contributions have often been overshadowed. Questions persist about whether women’s concerns and perspectives will be fully addressed, either in the current uprising or in a potential post-Assad Syria. How can Syrian women ensure that their voices are heard as the revolution unfolds and a new Syria takes shape?

Tensions around the future of minorities in Syria are also escalating. While the opposition includes Christians, Alawites, Kurds, Druze, and other minorities, the Syrian National Council (SNC), the most widely-recognized coalition of anti-regime forces, has struggled with the perception that it is not truly inclusive. It is often seen as heavily influenced by Islamists whose outlook toward minorities is viewed as uncertain, despite the SNC’s commitment to pluralism and tolerance. The Syrian regime, meanwhile, has characterized the opposition as a terrorist movement led by Sunni extremists. It has played, with some effect, on the fears of Syrian minorities about what their future might hold should the Asad regime be overthrown. As violence in Syria has escalated, moreover, sectarian tensions have become apparent. Can the uprising succeed without full support from Syria’s minorities? Will it be possible to prevent Syria from falling into sectarian conflict, and potentially a sectarian civil war?

To address these and other issues concerning the roles and challenges of women and minorities in Syria’s revolution, the U.S. Institute of Peace held two moderated discussion panels, co-sponsored with United for Free Syria and the Syrian Emergency Task Force.

9:30 am – 11:00am | Panel 1: Women and the Future of the Syrian Revolution

Speakers

  • Ms. Rajaa Altalli
    Ms. Altalli is a Syrian political activist who serves as Director of International Relations for the organization Syrian Christians for Democracy." She is a also co-founder of the Support Center for Syrian Minorities based in Washington, D.C. Ms. Altalli is a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics and geometric analysis at Northeastern University in Boston, and has taught mathematics at several universities in Syria.
  • Ms. Farah Al Attasi
    Ms. Al Attasi is a prominent author and commentator who appears frequently on Arab and American media to discuss Syrian affairs, as well as Middle Eastern issues and U.S. relations with Arab and Muslim worlds. She is currently Executive Director of the American Arab Communication & Translation Center (ACT), the founder and president of the Arab Information and Resource Center in Washington D.C., and owner of Zenobia Lounge, the first multicultural café and bookshop about the Arab and Muslim worlds. In addition, Ms. Al Atassi is the author of many publications in Arabic and English, including a collection of short stories titled “The Mask.”
  • Marah Bukai
    Ms. Bukai is a Syrian American author, academic researcher, and journalist who has dedicated her professional life to building bridges between the United States and the Arab and Muslim worlds through cultural dialogue. She has worked as senior media adviser at Vital Voices, a lecturer at the University of Maryland and Georgetown University, and is currently Public Diplomacy Program Specialist at FSI. Ms. Bukai is also the founder and chair of the Alwatref Institute for Humanitarian Studies, which aims to bridge the gap between East and West and increase the knowledge of the Middle East among American people. Bukai has five publications of poetry, including, most recently, a volume of poems titled “O,” that was published by Waref Publishing House in Washington, D.C.
  • Rasha Alahdab, Esq.
    Ms. Alahdab is a founding partner of Syrian Women for Syria, and a founding board member of Syrian Expatriates for Democracy. She is also a member of the Secretariat in the Syrian National Assembly and a member of the law office of the Syrian National Council, as well as a member of the law office of the National Change Current, a Syrian opposition organization.
  • Ms. Rafif Jouejati
    Ms. Jouejati is the CEO of a Virginia-based management consulting firm, and has been supporting the Syrian Revolution since March 2011. She currently serves as the English-language spokesperson for the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, the National Consensus Movement, and Activists for a Free Syria. She also supports the SNC's Media Office by writing, translating, and editing press releases, statements, and other communiqués. Ms. Jouejati is also the Program Manager for the SNC-sponsored "A Thousand Years for Syria" initiative.

11:00 am- 12:45 pm | Panel 2: The Roles and Challenges of Minorities in Syria’s Revolution

Speakers:

  • Abed Alo, M.D.
    Born in a Kurdish village north of Aleppo, Syria, Dr. Alo is a Surgeon and Fellow of The American College of Surgery. Dr. Alo has been active in the Syrian Kurdish Diaspora in the United States, and an active participant in and supporter of the Syrian pro-democracy movement since it’s inception. Dr. Alo will be speaking on behalf of the Syrian Kurdish community. Dr. Alo is also a member of United for Free Syria.
  • Mr. Oudei Abouassaf
    Born in Damascus, Syria, Mr. Abousassaf's family is originally from the Druze-majority city of Sweida, in the south of the country. He is a member of the board of Syrian Expatriates in Support of the Syrian Revolution, Sweida. From 2009 – 2011 he held a position in the Department of Defense. Mr. Abouassaf was last in Syria in January 2011 and saw first-hand the situation on the ground in Syria. Mr. Abouassaf will speak on behalf of the Syrian Druze community.
  • Mr. Oubab Khalil
    Mr. Khalil, an Alawite, grew up in Lattakia province, Syria. He received a B.A. in law from Beirut Arab University in 2001, and he joined the Syrian Law Society Damascus Bar in 2003. Mr. Khalil immigrated to the United States in 2006, where he has been an outspoken critic of the Syrian government, and involved in promoting freedom and democracy in Syria; efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Syria; and raising awareness about the importance of establishing a secular and pluralistic state in Syria. Mr. Khalil is a member of the board of Syrian Expatriates Organization.
  • Najib Ghadbian, Ph.D.
    A Syrian academic and member of the Syrian National Council (SNC), Professor Ghadbian is associate professor of political science and middle east studies at the University of Arkansas. He is the author of several books and articles in English and Arabic. His Arabic book, “The Second Assad Regime: Bashar of Lost Opportunities,” was published in 2006. Dr. Ghadbian was a signatory to the Damascus Declaration and is currently active within the Syrian opposition abroad.
  • Ms. Dima Moussa, Esq.
    A Syrian-born attorney and member of the Syrian National Council (SNC), Ms. Mousa has been affiliated with the Human Rights Law Institute of DePaul University, focusing on Arab women's rights. She has also volunteered with an organization that assisted Iraqi refugees in adjusting to life in the United States. In recent months, Ms. Moussa has been active in the Syrian-American community, serving as a media spokesperson for a key grassroots movements in Syria, in addition to independently working with activists inside and outside Syria. Ms. Moussa is fluent in Arabic and English, in addition to speaking Assyrian.

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