GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Louay Hussein is a Syrian pro-opposition politician who was arrested by the Syrian regime several times, beginning when he was a university student. He was banned from traveling and prevented from obtaining a passport under the rule of President Hafez al-Assad as well as under his son, Bashar.
With the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, with a group of other young Syrians, Hussein founded the Building the Syrian State movement in September 2011, denouncing the current Syrian regime as authoritarian. The movement defines itself as a political organization with a futurist vision for Syria. Its involvement in the current conflict has aimed to advance patriotism.
Hussein left Syria through Turkey for Spain after he was released from detention in Damascus. He had been detained on several charges including "weakening national sentiment." Hussein has long been a controversial figure, as his orientations differ from those of most of the Syrian revolution’s activists and actors, and he has been criticizing the opposition’s performance. He is against militarization and extremism, and has been accused by Syrian activists of holding ideas and positions close to those of the Syrian regime.
His full interview with Al-Monitor follows:
Al-Monitor: The Building the Syrian State movement has recently prepared a memorandum outlining the movement’s vision of the transition period in Syria, in accordance with the UN approach toward the Syrian crisis. Would you please explain what this memorandum is about?
Hussein: We are in the midst of UN and international efforts to reach a settlement to end the situation in Syria, according to the Geneva-based international resolutions and UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
This effort focuses on involving all of conflicting parties in a transitional authority that would prepare the country to hold elections in a predetermined period of time. This matter requires many criteria, principles and details. This is why all political forces need to propose their vision regarding this process. For our part, we included many criteria which must be adopted when developing transition options, such as adopting the concept of "no victor and no vanquished" and including a minimum of 30% women in all institutions and bodies that are being formed, as well as including the opposition and other parties in all institutions, according to the Geneva statement. There is a number of key points that must be preserved, such as the adoption of a constitutional declaration for the transitional period, postponing the drafting of the constitution until a legislative body is elected by all Syrians, the formation of a supreme constitutional council to supervise the transitional executive bodies and their commitment to what was agreed upon in Geneva, the participation of all Syrian components in all authorities, without excluding any of them, but without being based on a proportional quota system. This is in addition to the distribution of power between all transitional institutions to avoid having a single institution capable of monopolizing and controlling the other institutions.
We stressed the need to have an independent judiciary headed by the Supreme Judicial Council, whose members will be appointed according to their posts, namely the head of the court of cassation, the general prosecutor, heads of the military and administrative judiciary and others. They will be selected through an agreement between the UN and the Syrian parties, and not in accordance with the quotas in the Geneva statement. It is hard to summarize the vision in a press interview, but I tried to introduce the criteria and principles according to which the transitional governance institutions are formed.
Al-Monitor: The [memorandum] speaks of the protection of all religions in Syria to prevent the establishment of a sectarian system. Does that stem from your fears of a sectarian conflict in Syria? If that is the case, are these fears the movement's or your own?
Hussein: There are no fears. We want to have a state for all Syrians, not for any particular religious, nationalist or political party alone. We want a secular state.
Al-Monitor: Your vision includes demands for the confiscation of the properties of the Arab Baath Socialist Party and National Progressive Front, which are the governing authorities in Syria. Is that a clear call for a de-Baathification in Syria?
Hussein: Absolutely not. We do not accept de-Baathification. Yet in order for the competition between the political parties in the country to be legitimate, parties should not own properties that they obtained from the state as the leading parties. Thus, there is no way to compare Building the Syrian State with the Baath Party or any of the [National Progressive] Front’ s parties, which have headquarters and vehicles at the heart of the capital and the rest of the Syrian cities that are the state's properties and not their own. We only have partisan properties.
Al-Monitor: Taking into account the social, political and military divide of the Syrian scene and your previous statement that what is taking place cannot be called revolution, how do you see Syria today and in the future?
Hussein: I am not a political analyst to express how Syria will be in the future. I can say how I want the future to be and what I am trying to push to achieve it. Syria today is a field for international conflicts, not just Syrian ones. This does not mean that Syrians are not fighting among each other, but they are no longer the decision-makers when it comes to their own destiny, after all Syrian parties gave up to international powers. The conflict has become an international dispute being fought by Syrian proxies. The regional countries can only work through and influence sectarian Sunni and Shiite or nationalist militias, and for this reason this image of the conflict [as a proxy war] is becoming more and more pronounced.
We want Syria to be a state based on the concepts of citizenship and equality for all Syrian people without any discrimination on the grounds of religion, sect, race or sex. We want this state to adopt a democratic system of governance. We will not accept the prevailing growing sectarian and nationalist conflicts, but we will challenge them as much as we can.
Al-Monitor: In light of the ongoing sectarian and religious conflict in Syria, to what extent do you believe Syria can achieve freedom, dignity and democracy?
Hussein: Freedom, dignity and democracy are goals we must strive to achieve since one cannot expect that they will come about on their own. Such goals require enormous efforts in light of the impediments by several local, regional and international powers. These goals need a powerful will and relentless brave fighters who do not surrender. We are in the midst of this battle, and most of the powers are against these values and goals. But I personally expect to find such an indomitable will once the sound of the cannons stops for a while.
Al-Monitor: You usually talk about Syria as the homeland of all of its components. What do you say to those who accuse you of being sometimes biased in your statements in favor of the Alawite sect, given that you are Alawite yourself?
Hussein: No comment.
Al-Monitor: Why did you leave Syria while you were always adamant about staying there?
Hussein: I felt my life was in danger and that the regime was ready to assassinate me for my opposing opinions.
Al-Monitor: There have been talks that you were promised personal benefits by international parties for leaving Syria. What do you say about that?
Hussein: I will not reply. The rule is that the burden of proof is upon the claimant. The party making the accusation is supposed to provide evidence and not the accused party. Otherwise, a man could claim that 1,000 persons have robbed him and they would have to prove that they did not. I do not respond to such talk.
Al-Monitor: What are the reasons for your positions against the revolution? In your first appearance after leaving Syria, you refused to acknowledge the Syrian revolution's flag at a conference with the head of the Syrian National Coalition, Khaled Khoja, since you believe that the flag of the Syrian Arab Republic does not only represent the regime. Then, you joined the High Negotiations Committee only to definitively withdraw from it later on.
Hussein: I said over and over again that I stand with Syria and the Syrians, and not with any other party. I am only against the regime because it is against the interests of the Syrians. I will not support anything that claims to be a revolution unless it promotes the interests of the Syrians — and I mean all Syrians, no exceptions. I am not seeking to win favors with this or that party, but I try to have a clear conscience. I am always ready to be questioned and assume responsibility for any action I have taken that harmed the Syrians or caused the death of any of them.
Al-Monitor: A leaked audiotape attributed to you stirred controversy, as you were heard saying that you do not like the revolution and you do not want it. As an opposition politician, how can you be this daring, while politics require diplomacy?
Hussein: This has nothing to do with diplomacy. These statements were stolen without my knowledge and were distorted. But to clarify, I said “this revolution” and not “the revolution.” I was referring to the revolution that the thief and I were talking about when he was recording my statements without my knowledge. I was talking about the bloodthirsty, the sectarians, thieves and their ilk who call their movement a revolution. I not only reject this revolution, I fight against it.
And now I am also against the revolution led by Jabhat al-Nusra. It is not enough for a party or a person to raise the slogan of the revolution to be considered a good person or party. This is very simple. A person must be of a good nature to be later on described as a revolutionary. The movement must be beneficial to the people to be called a revolution and must not commit criminal acts.
Al-Monitor: You recently posted on Facebook a statement that raised the ire of the Syrian public from the Sunni sect and other activists, as you used the expression “Sunni scum” in reference to extremist fighters. This Syrian Sunni community was infuriated by the use of this expression. You did not stop there — the next day you wrote about “Alawite scum.” As a politician, don’t you think that these statements lack diplomacy and fuel the Syrians' hostility toward you?
Hussein: The word "scum" is not used to offend the Sunni community, since it is used here to describe a specific social category, just like we say, for example, Sunni intellectuals, Alawite peasants or Kurdish aristocrats. Those who were offended are not the Sunnis but the Sunni scum. Of course, scumbags may wear a tie, put on makeup or own a car. When some describe the so-called “Ibrahim el-Youssef massacre” as the “Sunni” massacre, they surely mean only the Sunni scum. The Sunnis — and I believe I am a part of them — do not glorify a sectarian killer such as Ibrahim al-Youssef.
Al-Monitor: Building the Syrian State includes members from all the Syrian components and its vision is based on the idea of Syrian patriotism. We are hearing that the Kurds are advancing in northern Syria and have declared a federal system. What is [your group's] take on the Kurds’ advancement, and how do you see the future of the Kurdish cause in Syria?
Hussein: I did not quite understand the expression “Kurds’ advancement.” If you are referring to the control by an armed Kurdish faction over large tracts of Syrian territory in the north of the country, we believe this is similar to the control imposed by other groups in other regions. These are partisan efforts to impose a political presence in Syria's future. We do not have any secession concerns.
As for my opinion about the future of the Kurdish cause, I am waiting for our fellow Kurdish citizens to explain what the Kurdish cause means now. This expression seems to have lost its meaning. There is no Kurdish cause now.