"It is a step in the right direction," said Haytham Manna, when asked to describe the recent Arab plan developed for the Syrian [crisis]. Manna is the Head of the Executive Bureau of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change (NCB) abroad; a leading opposition figure outside of Syria; and one of the most controversial leaders, criticized for his positions, which do not fall within the consensus of the “Syrian National Council” (SNC) led by Burhan Ghalyoun.
According to Manna, a Syrian opposition figure based in Paris, the best thing about the Arab "road map" is that it will stop the internationalization [of the Syrian crisis]. Moreover, the solution it suggests will overthrow the regime while preserving the institutions of the Syrian state. Consequently, it will protect Syrian security forces and institutions and prohibit those wishing to intervene to overthrow the regime from repeating the Libyan experience and ruining the Syrian state.
Manna believes that Egypt has played a key role in pushing the Arab action plan forward in order to prevent Qatar from being the exclusive decision maker in the Arab region, especially after Saudi Arabia withdrew its observers from Syria.
Asked by Al-Safir about his opinion of the Arab proposal, which envisages Syrian President Bashar al-Assad handing power to his deputy, Farouq al-Sharaa, Manna said that "it is a plan which takes into account the demands of the opposition. It does not provide us with a preset program and does not aim at favoring one party over another. It is a step towards [the opposition] for several reasons. In fact, it has chosen people whose hands have not been stained with blood to work in the transitional phase. It has left the door open to an Arab solution and wards off the specter of internationalization, even if the plan has been submitted to the Security Council for consideration. Furthermore, it protects the Arab Observer Mission and pledges to study how to meet their demands. This is exactly what we want. This is why we are satisfied. Moreover, the Syrian crisis is still within the Arab League and has not been transferred to the Security Council, as was requested by some opposition members."
The new Arab plan reiterates the need to revive the agreement between the NCB and the SNC, after the latter decided to terminate an agreement signed with the NCB last month in Cairo. The dispute [between the two parties] arose when the parties had to pledge to reject all forms of foreign military intervention, keep the Syrian issue under the auspices of the Arab League and protect against the threat of foreign intervention. Will the Syrian opposition try to unite again?
In response to this question, Manna said that "the general convention of the Syrian opposition has returned to the table and the plan is reminding everyone of their duties. For its part, the opposition has to assume its duties towards its allies. [It has] to determine its frameworks as well as its joint political transition program. Because of the Arab plan, the government will face its responsibilities towards its ally Russia. In fact, the latter’s support of the plan seeks to prove that following 11 months of bloodshed and popular uprising which did not lead to any reforms [in Syria], it is capable of doing with its ally Syria what the US did with its Egyptian ally Hosni Mubarak, when it had to make tough decisions to break the deadlock.”
Syrian opposition members assert that the new Arab Initiative would not have been developed had it not been for the negotiations between the Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil el-Arabi, and Russian diplomatic involvement in the nomination of Al-Sharaa [as the interim President]. The framework of the deal had been crafted during meetings which took place last month in Moscow with Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa. What does this deal stipulate?
Manna said, "the deal stipulates that Russians ensure the security of the president's family, the regime's inner circles and some senior officials. But senior [army] officers will play a major role in the transition process. They want to change the regime without sacrificing the country. The structure of the state will not change radically, but the new group will work to maintain Syria's regional and international alliances, as a guarantee [in exchange] for Russia's abandonment of the current regime.”
NCB opposition members inside and outside Syria asserted that the proposal will stop Islamic movements as well as the Muslim Brotherhood [from accessing power], and will keep them from playing a major role in the transitional phase. [Asked to comment on this fact], Manna said that the Arab plan and the transitional phase are [not in the interest of] the Muslim Brotherhood because this movement has no [representatives] within the established state institutions, knowing that these institutions will be retained. Moreover, their movement has no influence on the administration, unlike other liberal and secular parties and movements or the advocates of Arabization in general.”
He added, "Farouk al-Sharaa, as opposition members say, seems to retain strong cards. In fact, he can connect with technocrats and negotiate with the internal opposition, with which he met during the consultative meeting held last July in a bid to unite it, to no avail. Moreover, he has a technocratic and military government by his side. But the opposition will not accept that he leads a transition phase with presidential powers similar to those which President Bashar al-Assad has today. According to the NCB, any opposition government operating beside the interim President will only work in accordance with the Constitution of 1950, which offers more powers to the government than to the president and ensures the sovereignty of the government.
“Moreover, the government will be in charge of setting the election dates and [establishing] the transition bodies. It will not accept that the interim president use the powers of President Assad, which would turn ministers into mere officers with no real authority.”
Asked about Al-Sharaa and whether he will be part of his government, Manna said, "according to us, this is out of the question. It is not his government. I think that we will have to go through the Tunisian transitional experience, meaning that a group of reassuring technocrats [will be appointed] first, and the solution will be gradually developed.”
Concerning the Syrian regime's rejection of the Arab plan, Manna believed that “the regime will regret it, and will return to it just like it has returned to the Arab initiative. The solution it is suggesting, namely the opposition's participation in a broad government and keeping things as they are, is not acceptable.”
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