Obstacles in Writing the Freedom Charter:
Navigating regime- and extremist-controlled territories was an extremely dangerous proposition. In the Damascus Suburbs, pollsters received a number of death threats from Islamic brigades "if they did not stop surveying in that area." Two pollsters in Lattakia were injured, and one of the core activists conducting surveys in Qunaitra was killed by regime forces. Trust was a major obstacle as well: the mere act of polling was an act of civil disobedience. Anyone caught participating in the survey would most likely be arrested. Leveraging LCC connections and community leaders, our activists were able to overcome this obstacle.
Results:Once the surveys were collected, FREE-Syria engaged an independent organization to conduct a thorough analysis of the data. Based on the analysis, and working with the core group of activists, we were able to develop what is now the Syrian Freedom Charter. We know there is much agreement among Syrians. We know what Syrians want. We still want the same future we saw when our people began demonstrating in 2011. According to 50,303 Syrians, we want freedom, equality, and democracy. For all Syrians.
The Freedom Charter
History and Origin:
In 1953 a unique idea was proposed in South Africa: ask citizens across the
country what their hopes and dreams were for the future. The African National
Congress (ANC), in cooperation with the South African Indian Congress, the
South African Coloured People’s Organization, and the South African Congress
of Democrats created the National Action Council (NAC) to do just that. The
NAC recruited South Africans from all walks of life and trained more than 50,000
volunteers. Surveying continued until 1955, when representatives from across
South Africa went to Kliptown to help create the Freedom Charter. The Freedom
Charter was adopted by the ANC and its associating organizations that same year.
In the following decades, the Freedom Charter was distributed to every corner of
South Africa and became a symbol for hope and unity for the people. Due to
apartheid, the Freedom Charter could not be used in an official political capacity
until the end of apartheid in 1994. The Freedom Charter formed the bases for
many articles in South Africa’s Post-Apartheid Constitution.
Conceived and Implemented by Syrians:
FREE-Syria recognized the influential nature that such a document
can have and proposed creating a Syrian Freedom Charter.
Development and Organization:
FREE-Syria met with potential partners in Gaziantep, Turkey in 2013 to explore the possibility of developing a Syrian Freedom Charter. FREE-Syria selected a group of independent activists, as well as activists from the Local Coordination Committees in Syria (LCC), to serve as a steering committee for the project. With the help of our invited South African expert, Dr. Howard Barrel (formerly of the ANC), discussions of the feasibility of implementing a Freedom Charter in Syria began.
The first and most important step was to create an impartial survey. The LCC and FREE-Syria began interviewing and surveying Syrian refugees in Gaziantep as part of a pilot project. Based on the responses from the refugees, a new survey was created and tested the next day. This process was repeated several times until a robust set of questions were created.
The next step was to train activists in methods of conducting unbiased interviews,
and to teach them to train others. Throughout the training period, FREE-Syria
engaged experts from South Africa, Ireland, and the United States to impart
their knowledge and experience. In addition to the trainings, we engaged a
polling technology firm to provide the right tools to help our activists enter
survey results from inside Syria. Wherever Internet was available, activists
were able to immediately upload surveys. Otherwise, the activists were able to
save surveys on their telephones or computers for later upload. These
innovations helped contribute to the large number of responses collected.
Once the core group of activists was sufficiently trained as trainers, FREE-Syria
moved to the next phase: to navigate the intricate relationships in Syria to
conduct the surveys.
Documenting the Hopes of Syrians:
The design of the survey itself was an important part of the collection. The survey consisted of three types of questions: demographic information, agree or disagree, and agreement to multiple answers to a question. Demographic information included optional responses to questions of gender, age, religion, ethnicity, and others. An example of an agree-disagree question is, "Equal pay for equal work for men and women." The third type of question encouraged respondents to provide more detailed answers. For example: "Do you agree that the law should guarantee freedoms for all Syrians in: opinion and expression; assembly and membership; worship." The final question of the survey was unique: it was an open-ended question regarding how the individual would define the map of the Syrian state. The collection of the surveys was challenging and extremely dangerous.
Survey collection started on the third anniversary of the Syrian revolution, March 15th, and continued for more than three months. Each of the core activists who were trained in Turkey was responsible for a different region in Syria. The goal was to survey a representative sample from across the entire country. The activists who collected the surveys (pollsters) encountered some initial difficulties. One of them stated, "I was expecting everything that we've been going through; getting kicked out of places, getting the survey thrown in our face, being made fun of, and being threatened and endangered." However, they also found surprise and excitement from many Syrians. Pollsters reported that on a number of occasions, survey takers wanted to organize follow-up conversations to talk more about their opinions. In the three-and-a-half months of collection, pollsters were able to collect more than 50,000 surveys from Syrian citizens, both inside Syria as well as in the neighboring countries.
FREE-Syria is a U.S. 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Our tax ID # is 45-4984231.
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