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Syrian activists hope South Africa can pressure Assad

South Africa's history of overturning a cruel government make it an attractive ally for human rights activists in conflict zones like Syria. But will South Africa take the leadership they expect of it?

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As Syrians continue to take to the streets, facing a brutal government crackdown, a delegation of Syrian human rights activists has come to South Africa to build up international support for their pro-democracy cause.

The choice of South Africa is significant. South Africa is currently a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Its history as a nation that overturned decades of racist apartheid rule through persistent pressure gives it credibility on the international stage. And as a new member of the BRICS economic club (so-named for its members Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), South Africa is part of a group of economically vibrant countries intent on balancing the power of US and Europe.

Iyas Maleh, one of the Syrian delegates and the son of a prominent Syrian human rights activist jailed last year for criticizing the Bashar al-Assad regime, says that Syrians look up to South Africa both for its history and for its growing influence.

“We see South Africa as an up-and-coming power that has a future role on the international stage,” says Mr. Maleh. “The Syrian government always uses the excuse that their enemies [the US] are behind all this. At least if they can hear from a friendly country, from a country with a history of human rights, it will let them know the human rights situation is important. We want South Africa to take a leading role in condemning the violence of the crackdown.”

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