Riad Seif was born in Syria in 1946. He began working in a shirt factory when he was 17. In his late 30’s, he acquired a franchise to make Adidas products. Eventually the factory employed 1,600 employees and sold its products throughout the Middle East and Europe. His business success led him to an interest in helping improve the economic conditions in Syria.
He ran for and was elected to serve in the Syrian Parliament. When the Hafez al Assad regime transferred to his son, Bashar, Riad started to speak out against the corruption of the new regime. Riad was ousted from Parliament, and his business was forced into bankruptcy.
Riad became more determined to reform the leadership area of Syria. He invited likeminded leaders to meet at his home to engage in discussions for reform. This led to a reform movement in Syria and the formation of an opposition party. Riad and other reformers were arrested, and he was sentenced to jail for five years.
When he was released from jail, he was not allowed to leave the country to receive treatment for prostate cancer. He was subsequently re jailed. After serving his second sentence, the Arab Spring had become a force across the Middle East. In spite of his weak health, Riad joined in the protest and was beaten badly.
Riad continues to fight for Syrians. He was allowed to go to Germany for emergency heart surgery. After recovery, he traveled to Moscow to seek support for a U.N. sanction of Syria to prevent destruction of Syria residential neighborhoods. He was unsuccessful.
What makes someone like Riad Seif risk his life for his people? Courage is certainly part of the answer. So too is compassion and a deep moral sense of what is right. Throughout the history of nations, there are persons who become central to the pursuit of human rights. One can only hope that Riad Seif will see efforts come to fruition while he remains alive.
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“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”– Howard Zinn (Historian)