Syrian journalist Akram Khuzam criticized the role played by Qatar in the Syrian crisis and its continued funding of the opposition, stressing that he is not convinced that the state of Qatar, which has no parliament, is a protector of democracy. He pointed out that there is no solution to the Syrian crisis except through a US-Russian consensus and considered the Lebanese Hezbollah’s involvement and support for the Assad regime to be a heinous sin that has contributed to fueling the sectarian Sunni-Shiite conflict.
El-Khabar: What are your comments on the course of the revolution, two years after the Syrian crisis began?
Khuzam: This movement — and I do not call it a revolution — has erupted because the people endured those rulers for 40 and 50 years. When people saw that the rulers wanted to bequeath power to their children and their wives, they could not take it any longer. They felt as though they would live, once again, under these regimes for many years [to come]. I'm don’t support the conspiracy theories that [these rulers] conjure up just to stay in power. The developments that occurred in Tunisia and Egypt in a very short period were in favor of the people’s movement. And the strength of this movement in the street managed to push the military forces to intervene in favor of this movement. In Tunisia and Egypt, in particular, Mubarak or Ben Ali’s departure was not the result of a foreign power, as happened in Libya. It happened because the military responded to the will of the people after it felt the danger of this continuation of this movement, which could lead to civil war.
It is needless to say that the situation in Syria is different, as there was a strong movement, especially in the first eight months. The whole world knew that there was a purely peaceful movement and demonstrations that called for changing the regime. When this movement felt that the authorities were only using security measures [to respond to their demands], the proliferation of arms started to take place. There are reports that the arms came from Qatar and Saudi Arabia through Turkey and across the border with Iraq.
Thus, this movement took on a completely different character, and armed groups joined this movement, some of whom had fled from prison, while others were members of gangs and clans. Everything got mixed up, and the regime — after Jabhat al-Nusra joined the game along with other jihadists — started to use the pretext of fighting terrorism in order to defend its survival and prevent any political change from happening. Keep in mind that such a change has become inevitable in Syria, following 50 years of suffering and stagnation. In many cases, Syria suffers from a decline in culture, science and health, as well as unemployment. This country registered a frightening growth in unemployment that reached 43% before the start of the social movement. I am not talking about those who work in Lebanon, whose number reached 1 million, and who only want to be able to afford onions and bread for their families. Thus, the urge to bring about political change erupted.
El-Khabar: What do you think is the solution to stopping the war machine?
Khuzam: As I told you, the military establishment in Egypt and Tunisia sided with the people, which has not happened in Syria, but that does not mean that the whole military institution supports the security solution.
Nonetheless, it is true that the basic elements of this institution belong to Assad and are concerned with the interests of this regime, … playing on Jabhat al-Nusra’s abusive practices [to stay in power]. It is true that there are heinous practices, and we should not justify them by saying that this is a temporary stage after which we will have time to cleanse Syria of these movements.
The Syrian crisis, however, is not to be seen through the practices of Jabhat Al-Nusra, but through the oppressive practices of the regime against the people and the towns. I will not point out figures as they could be exaggerated or inaccurate, since it is hard to tell amid the tight grip of security forces on media outlets, which are not allowed to thoroughly describe the situation. They [media outlets] are also under the thumb of jihadist powers. If you are a journalist and you enter Syria with the help of the regime or the jihadist powers and say one word contrary to what they wish, you will be executed. We are going through a perilous stalemate and a state of tyranny that is represented by the security solution. We are facing extremist groups — call them as you wish — that are destroying statues [in accordance with Salafist ideology that forbids human depictions] and assassinating certain figures that are seen as pro-regime. In brief, this is the description of what is coming to pass in Syria.
El-Khabar: Assad is saying that he is defending Syria and fighting the jihadist powers that are committing murders and inciting strife. What is your opinion of this?
Khuzam: That is true; I agree. … Yet, on the other hand, I want to ask Assad: Are the acts carried out by the security forces under his auspices — arresting people in coffee shops and bombarding towns — not to be considered murder as well? Here, everyone is compelled to the principle of violence and counter violence. Jihadists say that they want to establish an Islamic caliphate because the current regime failed to solve existing problems in Syria. We are indeed facing a complete deadlock.
El-Khabar: Are you saying that Assad is claiming this to justify his oppressive stances against his people?
Khuzam: I am an advocate of this view. Assad is not the only one; all the Arab regimes claim this as well. Yet, this does not negate the risks posed by these Islamic groups and their actions.
El-Khabar: What is your explanation for [the regime] adopting a security solution?
Khuzam: [The regime] is resorting to this option. The security solution has not come to a halt and Assad may succeed in preventing [rebels] from entering the areas surrounding Damascus and Aleppo. Confrontations, however, will not stop given the number of casualties and the ferocity of the battle. This is not necessarily a solution to the Syrian crisis. They [the regime and the opposition] might be coerced into sitting at the negotiating table. We have the Chechnya experience that started in 1994, and later in 2005, where the opposition and regime held a dialogue.
El-Khabar: The opposition, however, refuses dialogue ...
Khuzam: Call it as you wish, be they political opposition, military groups, armed groups or jihadists. At the end of the day, they have to look for a way out so as not to let the country slip through their fingers. The risks are high and Lakhdar Brahimi sees no solution. The public is still holding on to a glimmer of hope. The crisis might be solved at any moment. The Yemen experience is to be reflected on; when Saudi Arabia asked Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to leave his post, he did. Yet, there is a bizarre discrepancy here, since the crisis might be solved tomorrow or might persist for years until Syria is completely torn apart, and this is what I fear most.
El-Khabar: How do you assess the stance of the opposition inside and outside Syria?
Khuzam: Unfortunately, the authorities have pushed the opposition to stay abroad and the latter is thus dependent on their [host] countries. [The opposition] has not taken shape until today. In my opinion, and given the current situation, we cannot say that the opposition is independent. For example, if we are going to talk about the Qatari funding of the Muslim Brotherhood, we will note that it is imposing its political stance on them. They [the Muslim Brotherhood] are not independent. Liberals turn to France and England and they, too, have political conditions [to impose].
The regime resembles the opposition in this regard. It is bound to Iranian and Russian decisions. The problem with Syria is its geographic location — one that has all the regional and international eyes set on it. Consequently, this factor complicated the situation and the elements of the crisis even more. There are major players holding the key to the political solution. For instance, America can influence Qatar and Turkey, while Russia can influence Iran and Hezbollah in order to reach a solution.
The [first] Geneva conference tackled this point, but the main disagreement is related to Assad’s fall and when it will happen. Some say that as soon as the parties sit at the negotiating table, he will be out of the picture. On the other hand, others believe he will remain in power since he is leading the search for a solution to the deadlock.
For six months or more, we have not made any progress regarding the mentioned points. The course of the Syrian revolution, which has turned into a refugee crisis, is still the same. The regime has so far succeeded in standing its ground. Unfortunately, these forces are using weapons when they feel that the political solution will jeopardize their places. Yet, I believe that the Syrian crisis was initially internal, but its geopolitical location allowed the entry of all these forces. The main problem is internal at heart because the regime remained in power for 50 years, which goes against the natural limits of evolution of Syria in all fields.
El-Khabar: What do you think of giving the Syrian seat in the Arab League to the opposition, and what is your take on Qatar’s role in this issue?
Khuzam: The phenomenon of changing the flags, the anthem and the seat in the Arab League is really asinine. Syria was boycotted, true, but this was also the case with Iraq previously. Yet, the question is the following: Does the Arab League accept the membership of the Bahraini or Saudi oppositions? As for the Qatari stance, there are several questions that have a personal sense of revenge. I believe Qatar has a negative stance. I have many questions in this regard. After long years marked by good relations between both countries, I think the reason behind the disagreement goes back to Assad’s rejection of the Qatari project to extend oil pipelines from Doha, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, and from there to Europe. Yet, is this enough reason to flare up this intentional conflict? There must be a hidden motive. Besides, I do not think that Qatar protects democracy. This is a big lie. A country that does not have a parliament and that forbids journalists from interviewing people in the streets cannot possibly be respectful of democracy.
El-Khabar: What is your comment on Ghassan Hitto’s government and Brahimi’s mission?
Khuzam: This is all a play on time, because there will be no solution until the main players decide otherwise. Obama and Putin are controlling the rules of the game. Nobody can find a solution to the Syrian crisis, whether it is Brahimi or someone else. The number of donor countries has even declined.
El-Khabar: What do you think of the stances of Russia, China and Hezbollah vis-à-vis the crisis?
Khuzam: Geopolitics means that Russia does not have strong military and economic relations with Syria, but the fact that it lost contracts worth billions of dollars with Iran and Libya pushed its regime to use the veto, in the hope of compensating for the losses. The same goes for China, Iran and America. This geopolitical dilemma alerted many regional and international countries to what they will gain, not only at the level of Syria, but also at the level of economic and political power in the whole of the Middle East. I think that Hezbollah made a terrible mistake because it is feeding the sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites, whether consciously or unconsciously. It has also contributed to flaring up the situation. After all, the law of sects is just like the law of the jungle. Here lies the danger in particular.