Veteran Syria opposition figure Michel Kilo dies in exile

Prominent opposition figure Michel Kilo died of Covid-19 on Monday in Paris.
Tuesday 20/04/2021
A 2019 file picture shows Syrian writer and human rights activist Michel Kilo at his home, in Paris. (AFP)
A 2019 file picture shows Syrian writer and human rights activist Michel Kilo at his home, in Paris. (AFP)

BEIRUT--Prominent exiled opposition figure Michel Kilo died of Covid-19 on Monday in Paris after a lifetime of peaceful struggle against Baath party rule in Syria, his daughter and colleagues said.

Kilo’s daughter Shada said he died in a Paris hospital. She said he had been in stable condition but then relapsed and had to be intubated. She said she had not been able to talk to him for the last 10 days.

“My father was an amazing dad. I will miss everything about him. He was very present in our life and that of his grandchildren,” she said.

“He is a big loss for Syria. He was the tolerant moderate mind, forgiving, loving. He was respected even by his enemies.”

Kilo, who turned 80 last year, was a key player in efforts to form a credible non-violent alternative to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime during the early stages of the conflict that erupted a decade ago.

“A great loss. Michel Kilo departed today after he was infected with Covid-19,” senior opposition figure Nasr Hariri wrote in a statement.

“Michel was an intellectual and patriotic powerhouse and his dream was to see a free and democratic Syria. God willing, the Syrian people will carry on this dream and see it through,” he said.

Kilo, who was also a writer, was born in 1940 to a Christian family in Syria’s Mediterranean town of Latakia, a bastion of the Assad family’s Alawite minority.

He had opposed the ruling Baath party since it came to power in 1963.

Formerly a member of the Communist Party, he was jailed in Syria from 1980 to 1983 under Hafez al-Assad, and then again from 2006 to 2009 under Bashar.

In September 2000, he was one of around 100 intellectuals who called for reforms including public freedoms, political pluralism and the lifting of the state of emergency in what became known as the Damascus Spring.

He also belonged to a group of prominent Syrian opposition figures who in 2005 signed the “Damascus Declaration” calling for democratic reform in the autocratic Arab nation.

When mass anti-regime demonstrations swept Syria in 2011, he advocated peaceful protest but warned that armed resistance would lead to civil war.

“From the very beginning, the regime has followed a plan — push the protesters to extreme options, to take up arms. A peaceful civil movement is not what it wants at all,” Kilo said in Damascus before the onset of a conflict that has since killed more than 388,000 people and displaced millions.

In 2013, he joined the opposition alliance, known as the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) before quitting over internal divisions.

Burhan Ghalioun, a Syrian-French professor of sociology and a prominent opposition member, called Kilo a “historical figure.”

“It’s a big loss for the democratic and freedoms movement in Syria but also the Arab world. He was one of the most important pillars of the Syrian opposition,” he said.

“He is a historical opposition figure, an important intellectual, thinker,” Ghalioun added. He withstood all the pressure and resisted oppression all along.”

In a tribute on Monday, the SNC said Kilo had “dedicated his life to Syria and fought against tyranny for more than fifty years”.

Kilo often spoke out against the internal rifts weakening Syria’s opposition and in 2015 he said the conflict’s foreign brokers have made matters worse.

“We are hostages to meticulous political and diplomatic games” by states that each hold a “Syria card” they want to play, he said.

Fellow exiled opposition figure Alia Mansour mourned Kilo on Twitter.

“Michel Kilo spent his life opposing the Assad regime, fighting for freedom and democracy for Syria and its people,” she said.

“How unfortunate that you left before witnessing the downfall of the tyrant.”