Fellow Party members, I welcome you to the opening of the proceedings of the Tenth Regional Congress of the Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party. The Congress comes at the end of a busy period for the party, full of activity, lessons learned, challenges and hopes, and in a period occupied with events and developments. The turbulent nature of these events and developments has made its mark on the political sphere and cast a heavy shadow on social and cultural life in our country and our region. This has placed heavy responsibilities on our political forces and popular organizations -- with our party and people at the forefront ; to face these events and challenges with awareness and courage, and to learn lessons from them and draw conclusions. 

Our holding today of our party Congress represents an important stage in the evolution of our politics, especially because the Ba'ath Party is a political and social force which has a historic place and role in our nation's life. We will undertake an objective and realistic evaluation of the way events have developed, the way they are headed, and the way to deal with them. We will also evaluate our achievements in the last few years, as well what we could not achieve; the difficulties we faced, and the steps we took. All of this is a preliminary to defining our vision and our future direction.

 I have followed the preparations for this Congress and the wide-ranging conversations which preceded it. I have also followed the rich discussions during the past period, which members of our party throughout the country took part in, and which tackled all our intellectual, organizational and political issues. The driving force behind these discussions was for all the ranks in the party to arrive at a common understanding of its present role and duties, the means of fulfilling this role, the position of the party within our state and society, and the trends of current political development, as well as the place of our principles, ideas and methodologies in facing up to them.

 I also followed the elections at different levels of party institutions, in which you were elected as representatives of hundreds of thousands of members of our party throughout every corner of our nation, in every city and village, and in every neighbourhood and workplace. I was greatly reassured by the responsible party spirit which was foremost in these elections, the vigour and enthusiasm for competing in them, the deep-rooted organizational traditions, and the spirit of discipline and commitment shown by party members. All this shows once again that the Ba'ath party remains a vanguard force in the life of our people and our country, and that its survival is at the mercy of its commitment to the values of our great people, and its ability to represent these values in its performance, the behaviour of its members, and its ability to adapt creatively to the pace of change which today's world sees in every field.

 Some of the writings and proposals which preceded the congress caught my attention. They varied in their reading of the Congress's agenda and decisions, and in their evaluation of its recommendations and the hopes pinned on this Congress. They even went beyond that to examine the role, principles and objectives of the party and its present and future position in society. 

Whether or not we agree with some of these propositions, and whether they take an upbeat approach to the party or not, and whether they are appreciative or critical of the party, they all go to show that the Ba'ath Party is a popular force, central to Syrian life, and that its development is not just necessary for the party, but is also a paramount national necessity upon which depends the development of all aspects of politics. In order for this to bear fruit, every individual and institution needs to make a concerted effort, and everyone should take up their position and role in the process of development based on national unity and the principle that every citizen bears the right, the duty and responsibility of developing and reforming society. 

The period between the Ninth Congress in 2000 and this Tenth Congress has witnessed important political events which have created a political atmosphere that has put tremendous pressure on Arab citizens and forced them to an unprecedented re-examination of their convictions and ideas, but also to revisit their basic beliefs which have been shaken by the storm of dramatic developments that struck our world and our region. This has led to uncertainty of vision, conceptual confusion, to the blurring of the meaning of terminology, and a conflict in values and frames of reference. This comes amidst a huge influx of information and ideas made possible by the communications and IT revolution which has made room for theories and projects, as well as lifestyles which have overwhelmed Arabs and threatened their existence and cultural identity, and has increased the doubts and skepticism in the mind of young Arabs. The forces behind these events have created an illusory virtual reality that inspires our feelings in a way which drives us in a direction identified by others, without us being aware of the reality of what is actually happening, and through our gradual detachment from the reality in which we live, and because of our inability to discern the implications correctly. This leads in the end to the cultural, political and moral collapse of the Arab individual and his ultimate defeat even without a fight. The ultimate objective of all this is the destruction of Arab identity; for the enemies of the Arab nation are opposed to our possessing any identity or upholding any creed that could protect our existence and cohesion, guide our vision and direction, or on which we can rely in our steadfastness. They simply aim at transforming us into a negative reactive mass which absorbs everything that is thrown at it without the will or even the possibility of thinking of rejecting or accepting it. 

We must face this situation with greater awareness, responsibility and defiance. All the vital forces in the Arab world: every party, organization, and association, intellectual and politician, should take the initiative to analyze the situation and to come up with appropriate means to face this reality, and try to increase our sense of belonging to the Arab nation, its past and present, by supporting the values of openness, tolerance and liberty in Arab society. As members of the Ba'ath Party, we should first of all redouble our intellectual efforts and political and cultural effectiveness in order to strengthen our national existence, and protect our cultural identity, and secondly respond to the fast moving logic of development. There is actually no contradiction between the two, in contrast to those who believe that divorce from the past is the way to the future, or that living in the past is the way to salvation. 

The Ba'ath Party, as should be clear to every one of us, is a cause before it is a political organization, and a civilizing mission before it is a party in power. For it to defend its cause and carry out its mission, it should develop its teachings and methods, overcome shortcomings in its performance, open itself to the patriotic forces in its society and restore respect to its role as a pioneer amongst the masses. 

We believe that the ideas and teachings of the party are still relevant and current and respond to the interests of the people and the nation. They express the nation's yearning for unity, liberty, justice and development. 

Where their implementation has fallen short, it is individuals who bear responsibility, not the idea or the ideology. The validity or invalidity of an idea is tested through its relevance to reality and its responsiveness to needs and requirements. The Ba'ath did not invent the idea of pan-Arabism in society, rather the Ba'ath came about as a natural result of a society imbued with all the elements of Arab nationalism. This nationalism, accused by some of chauvinism and racism, is made up of a human civilization capable of absorbing all the cultures, ethnicities, and spiritual affiliations which have formed this society for thousands of years, and consequently it is the foundation of the development and stability of this society. As long as this national existence is part of the reality of this society, the role of the Ba'ath will remain essential, because it bases itself on a solid reality, and is the mouthpiece for its most progressive forces, as well as the concepts and ideas which express its continuing dynamism. 

Fellow party members, In the past few years we have achieved a great deal in our economic life and our service sector, which has improved the living conditions of our citizens, although we have fallen short of our ambitions. We have also carried out significant financial and monetary reforms, improved the investment environment and passed the necessary legislation in order to accelerate economic and social development. Nevertheless, we have faced numerous difficulties because of the weakness of the administrative structure, the lack of qualified people, and because of the chronic accumulation of these problems. On top of this, international conditions and successive events in our region have had a negative effect on investment and development opportunities where we had hoped for better. What makes us optimistic about the next stage is that a major and important part of the necessary legislation has been passed, which lays a wide base on which to build after we improve procedures and overcome internal constraints. This should be accompanied by choosing qualified, honest people who strongly believe in the national development project we are embarking on. 

During this Congress, we have to address all the issues and ideas put before us, and to discuss and analyze them without exception. We also have to focus on the proposals and themes which can push the reform process forward in order to meet the needs of every sector within our society. We should rearrange our priorities so that we begin with the most pressing and proceed to the less urgent. The economy, improving economic performance and improving the living conditions of our citizens is a priority for us all; which means that we should accord it the attention it deserves in our discussions. Corruption also continues to pose an economic, social and moral problem; and we need more effective and decisive mechanisms to combat it. Although it is not the job of this Congress to draw up plans for the implementation of policies for the economy, society, and public services, or to find solutions to various problems, it is the Congress's duty to define the general direction of the party and to delineate the general features of our future choices which open the doors to the relevant authorities to carry out a wide ranging development process, discarding ready made formulas and preconceived frameworks. 

Thus, we have ahead of us great responsibilities towards our citizens who aspire to improvements in their living conditions and in public services. This cannot happen without achieving higher growth rates. The only way to realize that is to overcome failures in our performance and address the negative practices which hamper our progress and constrain our reform project. 

Fellow party members, I call upon you to exercise your role in a courageous and responsible manner by pointing out both our limitations and our achievements, by addressing the shortcomings we suffer from as well as the successes we enjoy, and by being as honest as possible in your discussions and proposals about the concerns and aspirations of the public, bearing in mind that every decision you take and every recommendation you make should express only our internal needs, regardless of any considerations which aim at pushing us in directions which harm our national interests and threaten our stability. 

I am certain that the Party's Tenth Regional Congress, its discussions and recommendations, will be a major event and an important landmark in the march of our party. It comes in the context of developing our country and enhancing the role of the party, developing the party's intellectual principles and modernizing its social project in order to activate our political institutions, to expand popular participation in national decision making and to be more open towards patriotic forces in a manner that enhances the position of our home country, and allows every one to take part in building Syria's future. 

Once again, I greet you all, fellow party members, members of the Tenth Regional Congress of the Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party, and I greet every Ba'athist carrying out his or her duty honestly and faithfully. 

I greet all the fellow members of the National Progressive Front. Your contributions have enriched the conversations and intellectual discussions that preceded this Congress. 

I also greet all the secretary generals of the different parties. We are pleased to have you with us at the opening of our Congress. 

My greetings go to our great people, the source of our inspiration and pride. We shall work together to ensure that Syria remains at the heart of Pan Arab dignity.

 

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