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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
05DAMASCUS6445 2005-12-12 16:04:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Damascus
Cable title:  

DENEHY TALKS TO BA'ATHIST REFORMER AND MODERATE

Tags:   PGOV PREL SY 
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OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHDM #6445/01 3461604
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 121604Z DEC 05
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6084
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0542
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L DAMASCUS 006445 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

PARIS FOR ZEYA; LONDON FOR TSOU

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/12/2015
TAGS: PGOV PREL SY
SUBJECT: DENEHY TALKS TO BA'ATHIST REFORMER AND MODERATE
ISLAMIC LEADERS ON CIVIL SOCIETY

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Stephen A. Seche, per 1.4 b,d.



1. (C) Summary: As part of his December 2-10 round of
discussions, NEA senior advisor David Denehy, accompanied by
PolChief, spoke with Ba'athist reform figure Ayman Abdul Noor
and with two moderate Islamic leaders, Abu Noor Institute
Director Salah Kuftaro, and MP Mohammed Habash (other
conversations reported septel). Abdul Noor provided some
basic data on the number and size of licensed NGO's and noted
the problems involved in funneling USG support to licensed
and unlicensed NGO's in Syria. He noted that he would
provide Denehy with a written plan of action for boosting USG
support for civil society in Syria and noted that he would be
in Washington in mid-January. Two moderate Islamic leaders
separately told Denehy that USG efforts to dramatically
increase support for Syrian civil society would not succeed
unless the U.S. first adopted a more even-handed approach on
-- and helped resolve -- the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Denehy did not have the opportunity to clear this message
before departing post. End Summary.



2. (C) BASIC DATA ON NGO'S IN SYRIA: Ayman Abdul Noor,
Ba'athist reformer and SARG critic, told NEA senior advisor
Denehy December 2 that there are some 600 licensed NGO's in
Syria. A substantial number of them are what Abdul Noor
referred to as GNGO's, or government-sponsored NGO's. They
could be recognized as such because of the prominent SARG or
Ba'ath Party names usually associated with them. Of the
remainder, approximately 280 are charitable organizations,
20-25 of them Christian, and the rest Islamic. Other NGO's
focused on cultural activities, health, the environment, and
youth and student activities. The vast majority of the NGO's
function in only four (out of 14) governorates in Syria:
Damascus, rural Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs. Some 150 NGO's
have licenses from the SARG, often dating back for years, but
have become inactive.



3. (C) According to Abdul Noor, the Ministry of Social
Affairs and Labor licenses NGO's and provides USD 500-1000
each year in assistance to many of them. Except for a
handful of heavily endowed Muslim NGO's, most of the groups
have small budgets of less than USD 20,000. A few with
official SARG support, like the Syrian Young Entrepreneurs
Association (SYEA), operate with "off-budget" funding and are
able to tap into the "unofficial" fundraising capabilities of
people like First Lady Asma al-Asad, who obtained, for
example a USD 500,000 gift for SYEA from a prominent
Gulf-based donor, reported Abdul Noor.



4. (C) HOW THE U.S. CAN INCREASE ITS SUPPORT: If the U.S.
is interested in supporting "the real civil society" in
Syria, then it must find ways to support unlicensed NGO's,
said Abdul Noor. Such groups exist but their capacity to
absorb funding is limited, depending on their size and
maturity. The USG needs to design a two-track approach. The
first track would be transparent and involve
non-controversial support for Syrian civil society, in
cooperation with the SARG, the universities, and other such
entities. The second, quieter track should be organized out
of a regional office in Dubai that would design projects, and
handle logistics and correspondence. The SARG will only see
the final results in country but would not be able to follow
the process or funding. Abdul Noor acknowledged that the
SARG had laws and regulations that it used to prevent
external funding for such groups, but insisted that he knew
how to get around these prohibitions.



5. (C) WHERE TO START: Abdul Noor suggested that initially
the USG should quietly do a survey of NGO's to gather more
precise data (and hinted strongly that he was the person
capable of performing this task), and then develop an action
plan to identify where money is needed and what projects are
necessary. Denehy welcomed Abdul Noor's proposal to put his
ideas in writing and discuss them in more detail during his
projected mid-January visit to Washington.



6. (C) MODERATE ISLAMISTS WEIGH IN: Moderate Islamic
leaders Salah Kuftaro, the head of Abu Noor Institute, and
Mohammed Habash, moderate Islamist MP and the head of the
Islamic Studies Center in Damascus, told Denehy in separate
meetings December 5 that USG efforts to dramatically step up
funding and support for civil society in Syria would fail
unless the U.S. adopted a more even-handed approach on the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and took steps to help resolve
it. According to Kuftaro, the U.S. at present does not have
the credibility to sustain such a project. "Nobody in the
region believes the U.S. wants to increase democracy in this
part of the world. If we don't handle the problem of the
occupied territories and the Golan, everything will be a
waste of time," said Kuftaro. Nonetheless, Kuftaro welcomed
U.S. NGO's visiting Syria to work with his Abu Noor Institute
on projects of common interest. Habash made similar points
but emphasized repeatedly that if the U.S. wanted to
strengthen civil society in Syria, it would have to engage
with the SARG. Otherwise the effort would put civil society
activists at risk and would not suceed.


SECHE