Syria's Domestic Opposition Prepares for Damascus Meeting Amid Tensions With Armed Factions
By: Tariq el-Abd Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon).
As the crisis in Syria continues, Syrians are torn between fighting gun battles on the ground and getting involved in political initiatives. As the Syrian government's army army and the opposition's guerrillas mount hit and run raids against one another, solutions to the Syrian crisis are being debated in diplomatic corridors in New York, Moscow, Cairo, Ankara and Tehran. These ideas have so far been rejected by both the regime and the opposition factions, who now seem to be betting on a military solution to the conflict. This may be an indication that the armed opposition hopes to receive advanced weaponry, which would be crucial in allowing it to accomplish this feat.
About This Article
Syria's opposition activist and National Coordination Committee leader Raja al-Nasser rejects a military solution to the Syrian crisis, a point of contention that has split opposition groups in Syria. In this interview with As-Safir's Tariq el-Abd, he says that some opposition activsts prefer fighting to a political solution in order to not just to bring down the regime, but also to “establish a new order.”Publisher: As-Safir (Lebanon)
Syrian Opposition Figure Raja Al Nasser to As-Safir: “A Transitional Government will cause Defections in the Opposition”
Author: Tariq el-Abd
First Published: September 4, 2012
Posted on: September 10 2012
Translated by: Kamal Fayad
Categories : Syria
However, diplomacy is once again trying to silence the sound of gunfire. Planning is underway for a conference meant to regroup all domestic and foreign-based factions of the opposition in the heart of the Umayyad capital (Damascus). This might allow these groups to catch their breath and present a solution that would help save lives and prevent the destruction of state institutions.
The opposition National Coordination Committee (NCC), one of the most prominent representative groups of Syria's internal opposition factions, has already announced September 12 as a tentative date for the conference. Meanwhile, other opposition factions have questioned the utility of such a meeting and contend that it may circumvent the results of the Cairo conference [held by Syrian opposition groups in early July], where participants agreed on the necessity of overthrowing the regime. However, leaders of internal opposition groups continued to prepare the conference, gathering guarantees that external opposition figures would be able to attend such an important meeting in the heart of the Syrian capital.
Below is the interview As-Safir conducted with Raja al-Nasser, the general-secretary of the National Coordination Committee, about the unity of the opposition and the Damascus conference.
As-Safir: Will all Syrian opposition groups based abroad be invited to attend? Will there be guarantees that they would not be harassed by the regime?
al-Nasser: The national conference, which many political parties have asked for, must be held in order to save Syria. We do need real guarantees for it to be convened and for it to succeed. These guarantees are not limited to commitments undertaken by the regime — they will also come as a result of the possible participation of international delegations, or through international guarantees that we are trying to secure from representatives of the United Nations and major powers.
The conference will be held if guarantees of the like are obtained; otherwise, the Preparatory Committee will hold a special meeting to discuss and assess the situation, in light of the latest developments.
All factions that believe in change and reject violence as a means to achieve goals will be invited. It is understandable that violence may be used for those cases of self-defense, for Syrian law allows it, as do all other legal systems. But right now, there are no real guarantees for this, and all citizens have the potential to be martyred or apprehended. Yet, we ask for a bare minimum of guarantees: that participants not be targeted before, during, or after the conference, and that they not be asked about the views they may express.
As-Safir: You have put forth an initiative to stop the violence, but it has been rejected by many factions. Can you share some of the details of this initiative, and are you still calling for a political solution?
al-Nasser: The initiative, upon an in depth review, does not equate between the two sides. Following wars or conflicts, truces are usually called for by one of the belligerents, or a third outside party, and do not necessitate that one party or the other abandon its demands. They are meant to temporarily put an end to battles so that other means can be found to achieve prospective goals.
Our initiative comes following a barbaric escalation of violence, evidenced by the daily massacres and destruction of neighborhoods and villages through the use of heavy weaponry, including airplanes. Meanwhile the rebels are limited to the use of small arms, and they mostly use them in self-defense. However, they do sometimes use them in order to achieve personal goals or serve the interests of certain factions.
In light of this situation, where violence has escalated to new heights and hundreds have been dying on a daily basis, it was natural for the National Coordination Committee (NCC) to launch its initiative that hopes to put an end to the bloodshed, reduce the level of destruction and prevent a civil war from erupting, the signs of which have become too evident.
This initiative, which includes a cease fire between both parties, does not mean that the rebels should abandon their arms, or that the regular army should retreat from the territories under its control. Its purpose is to change the rules of the conflict and find less costly ways to achieve that change. The initiative also entails the release of prisoners held by both sides, whose number is estimated at tens of thousands held by the regime and dozens — or hundreds — held by the rebels. The initiative will also strive to secure aid for the estimated six million Syrians displaced and affected by the conflict who are in desperate need of help.
In short, the goal still is and has always been to protect civilians. All forces and initiatives, whether they supported the regime or the revolution, have mentioned the need to protect civilians. This is at the core of our initiative as well, and it is clear that rejecting or questioning our initiative has had nothing to do with its content. This kind of rejection is an embodiment of a purely political struggle and an attempt to sabotage any political solution to the crisis in Syria, even if it leads to a peaceful revolutionary victory.
Some can only rule through the presence of arms, and their goal here is not merely to overthrow the regime, but to try and establish a new order. Ultimately, it is a battle between those who want to build a democratic state at the lowest possible cost, and those who only believe in violence and want to establish an unknown system open to all possibilities.
As-Safir: As we talk here about your conference and initiative, opposition factions have met with Arab League representatives and established follow-up committees that exclude [your body] the National Coordination Committee. What is your view on that?
al-Nasser: What took place in Cairo on September 5 did not constitute a meeting of the follow-up committee for the Cairo conference [July 1-2], which included all opposition factions. On September 5, certain parties simply allowed themselves to establish a special committee tasked with organizing the meeting and defining its participants, elements and functions. The meeting was sponsored, moderated and funded by the US-based Brookings Institution, and a representative of the NCC attended given that part of our work is to communicate with all factions, regardless of their level of legitimacy and representation.
At the meeting, our delegation made the valid point of noting that all participants were based outside of Syria, and that the NCC was the only internal faction represented. A heated argument took place regarding the NCC’s initiative to stop the violence and reach a political solution — most of the other attendees backed a military solution as the only way out. This is completely contradictory to the NCC’s vision, as well as that of [other] internal opposition forces. It also is inconsistent with the outcome of the Cairo conference and all regional and international proposals. They asked the Committee to withdraw its initiative — which we refused to do. We also declined to sign any statement to that effect.
We certainly don’t consider this meeting to be representative of the [Cairo] conference or the opposition. It is only representative of the parties who participated in it and their supporters. It should be noted that some of the attendees declared that they were participating as observers and did not intend to effectively partake in the discussions. We stressed the need to unify the internal and external opposition’s views, and adhere by the outcome of the Cairo conference. Moreover, we stressed the NCC’s reservations concerning an important part of the political decisions reached there, because they were not consensual. Therefore, the NCC still considers itself an integral part of the Syrian opposition. Since April, preparations have been ongoing for the opposition’s Damascus conference, and we issued a statement to that effect in a press conference in August.
As-Safir: How does the NCC view the subject of a transitional government, which is being discussed abroad?
al-Nasser: We think that talk about a transitional government is a waste of political effort and will lead to further dissent within the opposition. Today, the need for a government is less that the need for a unified stance and an end to violence through a political solution. The revolution’s goals must be attained through change; therefore, it is senseless to establish a transitional government before achieving a democratic transition.
Furthermore, there is no complete control on the ground, and no faction fully controls any safe areas where life takes place normally. Instead, only a series of self-administered regions can be established — as is the case with the many Popular Committees that have been formed in some cities and villages. I think that talk about a government built on the ruins of Baba Amr and Salahedin neighborhoods cannot serve the revolution or the desire for change. This kind of proposal is merely an attempt by some to impose themselves politically and divvy up the spoils of war, which is detrimental to the revolution.
In short, it is premature to talk about such matters, and those who are bringing it up are not serving the revolution’s interests, but are advancing political agendas. The priority must be given to finding ways to achieve victory for the revolution and its goals. Afterwards, one can discuss the transitional period and the formation of a government that would lead the country. It is much too premature to discuss that now.
As-Safir: Does this also apply to the issue of a national unity government as was proposed in the Geneva accord?
al-Nasser: All factions talk about governments but fail to mention the transitional period. The transitional period cannot begin before violence, death and destruction are ended, and before all those whose hands are tainted with blood are removed from the scene. It is important that any [future] government possess all the authority of the executive branch, for the Syrian constitution gives the President and the People’s Assembly absolute power. Therefore, the government must possess all executive powers and pave the way for the election of a pluralist parliamentary system, as was envisioned by the Coordination Committee. Anything other than that would be futile, as it is futile to talk about a government while the foundations for transition have not yet been laid.
As-Safir: Are you optimistic about the mission of United Nations’ envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi?
al-Nasser: We have hope in all political efforts; but the proposed plans are useless unless there is international, regional and local consensus. We will of course cooperate with Brahimi, but we still see the need for international support first, a consensus reached between all major powers, and the adoption of a specific program and timeline, for we reject the idea of an open deadline. We must go beyond deadlines and the wasting of time in order to search for real solutions, while noting that some international and regional factions could convince the regime to cooperate in a positive fashion, such as Russia, China and Iran. But recent Russian statements point to them not being serious, yet, to put pressure on the regime in order to stop the cycle of violence. We also feel that progress has been piecemeal and limited, maybe in anticipation of the US elections, and maybe to wear down the Syrian people, state, and institutions, so that they may accept any and all solutions.
|Back to news list|