March 2024 Update

Welcome to your first bi-monthly Catalyst Community update!  As a member of this community, we will provide you with regular updates bi-monthly. Our updates will include behind-the-scenes information and reporting on our work.

Earlier this month, we held our annual For Syria Conference. It was an amazing experience, and we were proud to see so many come together for the cause of a free Syria.

Let's dive into our first-quarter highlights!


Our Q1 In Review:

A Special Update from our Policy Chief:

I am thrilled that our first update as a part of this program will give you further insight into our first significant community legislative milestone this year: the passage of HR 3202, the Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act, in the U.S. House of Representatives. This significant news is a testament to the power of our collective investment in advocacy work, as accomplishments such as this take time to happen.

I wanted to take a moment to highlight a few specific encounters in our journey that shed light on why our presence on the Hill was integral to its success:

  • The impetus for this legislation began not this year but in 2022. We observed that regional countries were taking steps to re-engage with the Assad regime, a trend that the Biden administration or Congress did not address. We decided to address the normalization issue as our top priority for 2023. In January, we went to Capitol Hill to pitch to congressional allies the idea of introducing legislation that would directly push back against normalization efforts. Quickly, efforts to draft a bill were underway.
  • The deadly earthquakes that struck NW Syria and southern Türkiye in early February 2023 underscored the urgency of finalizing a draft quickly as regional autocracies exploited this tragedy to normalize relations with Assad further. In response, we intensified our efforts in collaboration with congressional staff, going through multiple drafts until we achieved consensus on every bill provision. During this period, we met with Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and his staff in March to request the introduction of a companion bill in the Senate. Senator Risch agreed and introduced S. 2935 with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
  • When the bill text was finalized, we worked on two fronts to ensure that it would be bipartisan legislation when introduced. We contacted Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), who agreed to be the first Democrat co-sponsor. At the same time, we solicited and obtained public endorsement of the bill from former prominent government officials, including Amb. Fred Hof, Former Special Envoy for Syria under President Obama, among many others.
  • When H.R. 3302 was introduced on May 11, 2023, the Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved the bill within two days. For this to happen, lengthy negotiations took place behind the scenes between Republican and Democratic staff aimed at preserving the bill’s original intent and substance. We played an instrumental role in these negotiations, ensuring the bill remained robust and its provisions were not significantly compromised.
  • Then, we turned to the grassroots to activate the community to contact their representatives to support the bill. This produced a groundswell of support that increased the initial number of original co-sponsors from 7 to 52! As this robust level of support was rising, we contacted House leadership to put H.R. 3202 on their legislative radar. Then, last month, when we felt confident in our bipartisan support, we got Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) to request Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) schedule a vote on H.R. 3202.  
  • Not surprisingly, even before Speaker Johnson announced floor consideration would take place in mid-February, the legislation encountered opposition from actors who circulated baseless assertions that the bill would impede humanitarian activities. In response, we mobilized grassroots support and enlisted the aid of Syrian humanitarian NGOs on the ground to demonstrate to Congress that these allegations were unfounded. On the day of the vote, Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), with our assistance, lobbied fellow progressive lawmakers with information provided by the Syrian NGOs.
  • House consideration of H.R. 3202 would be a historical landmark for U.S.-Syria policy. To be a witness to history, we led a delegation of community members to the U.S. Capitol. We sat in the balcony of the House of Representatives and watched the floor debate in person. Members from both sides of the aisle gave speeches calling for the bill’s passage. No one spoke in opposition to the bill.
  • The result, as you well know, was a blowout. H.R. 3202 passed by a margin of 389 to 32. We celebrated this overwhelming victory in the congressional office of Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC). Wilson thanked and credited the Syrian American community’s hard work throughout the process. 3202 and passing the bill in the House.
  • On a side note, I want to share how and why Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) was the only progressive caucus member who voted for passage. Following a chance interaction on Capitol Hill in 2023, we seized the opportunity to discuss the bill with her staff and later with Talib herself. On the eve of the vote, community leaders reached out and connected with her about the bill. The Congresswoman saw that the Syrian community would not be ignored despite her historical rejection of legislation that may involve sanctions. Moreover, discussions with her office led to the introduction of the “Justice for Syrians Resolution” (H. Res. 590) aimed at holding the Assad regime accountable through U.N. tribunal courts.

As we embark on the next phase of our journey and focus on the Senate version (S. 2935) of the bill, your involvement remains crucial. Your continued support brings us closer to achieving our goal of a free Syria. Thank you for being an integral part of the Catalyst Community.

With deepest gratitude,

Mohammed Alaa Ghanem
Policy Chief