After many efforts and intensive meetings to unite the Syrian opposition, a new national coalition comprising the majority of Syrian opposition forces was formed during the Doha meeting to face the next phase. At the end of these meetings Azzaman interviewed Haitham al-Maleh, a member of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
Azzaman: How do you assess the formation of this new National Coalition?
Maleh: It is known that the Syrian National Council (SNC) was composed of 240 persons belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, the People's Declaration, youth groups referred to as the Group of 64, and other blocs and forces. Those forces did not wait for the drafting of SNC bylaws for the council’s institutional and professional work, and they went directly to Istanbul to meet with international politicians. Thus, after its committees were formed, the SNC became more of a media operation than a political one. When I joined the SNC during the Tunis conference, a meeting was held in Doha during which Burhan Ghalioun's leadership was renewed and the GCC countries pledged $100 million in support to the SNC. I thought that to be a small amount because the UN had issued a report saying that there were 6 million Syrians in need of help. I said we needed $1 billion, not $100 million.
So the SNC continued to work in a chaotic manner and was unable to support the revolution for many reasons. First, most SNC members had no experience in political work. Second, the SNC was “personalized.” Only two SNC people were under the spotlight while the rest were ignored, so the SNC failed to achieve the Syrian people's aspirations. The opposition then held a long debate over forming a single entity that speaks in the name of the revolution in order to help the West support the opposition. Riad Seif put in place a plan to unite the opposition and his initiative was discussed in Paris by opposition personalities that included Michel Kilo, Sadek al-Azm, and Kamal al-Abyani. After extensive discussions, the initiative was amended and sent to the SNC, which was meeting in Doha, to either approve or reject it. The plan was that if the initiative got approved we would go forward with it and if it got rejected we will form a ministerial body parallel to the SNC. The SNC did not approve it but there was pressure from here and there. I was invited to Doha to discuss Riad Seif's initiative. After consultations and strenuous efforts, the SNC approved it and the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces was formed. That coalition represents the vast majority of the Syrian opposition and was accepted by the Arabs and the world. I think that that body is an alternative to the many forces on the scene. I think that if that body builds its institutions, it could carry the Syrian revolution to its successful end.
Azzaman: Will the coalition avoid the SNC’s mistakes?
Maleh: Of course the goal of establishing that body was to correct the SNC’s mistakes because the world was seeing the Syrian revolution as fragmented. To avoid that perception, at the end of the meeting we issued a statement that detailed our vision and path. We also formed committees, the most important of which is the judicial committee. Its mission is to prepare legal files for regime war criminals and submit those files to international courts. It will also try to recover the stolen money and form a transitional government.
Azzaman: What do you think of the criticism leveled by political currents over the exclusion of some forces [from the National Coalition]?
Maleh: No one was excluded but the problem is that there was no opposition or political parties in Syria when the revolution broke out. And when the revolution happened, many went with the flow and started organizing political blocs. The National Coalition includes 60 political groups and notable figures, and the door is open for additional individuals and organizations.
Azzaman: What do you think of the fears that a particular current, and here I mean the Muslim Brotherhood, will have too much influence in the National Coalition?
Maleh: No single party can control the National Coalition because it includes all currents.
Azzaman: But there is information that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood asked their Egyptian counterpart to send them trainers in political work. Does that mean that they are preparing themselves to take over power?
Maleh: The situation in Syria is different from the situation in Egypt. Since 1980, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has been out of the country with no real presence on the ground. So they don’t have the ability to rule Syria. But the door is open to them through the ballot box.
Azzaman: What do you think of US statements on the need to purge the opposition of extremists?
Maleh: I think those statements are stupid. No society in the world is free of extremists. The Irish fought the English for 40 years and nobody said anything [about extremists]. The same happened in Spain, Germany and Japan. Every society has groups on the far-right and far left. That should not be an excuse to not help the Syrian people.
Azzaman: Does the Syrian regime’s offer to negotiate with the opposition reflect the regime’s weak position or is it trying to buy time?
Maleh: The Syrian regime is about to fall at any moment. Its army is on the defensive while the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is controlling more and more territory. No army in the world fights its own people. There are certainly some inside the army who are unhappy with the situation because they are fighting their own people.
Azzaman: What do you think of the Chinese initiative? Can it be a basis for a solution?
Maleh: There is only one solution to the crisis: the end of the regime. After that the Syrian people will have a national conference to plan for the future.
Azzaman: Some Islamist movements said they are sending volunteers to fight alongside the FSA. Could that change the situation?
Maleh: I don’t think so. The Syrian people are trained and are fighting alongside the FSA. But we need specific arms to protect the citizens from air strikes.
Azzaman: Do you think that the Arab and international support for the National Coalition may end up lifting the arms embargo on the FSA or establishing a no-fly zone?
Maleh: I think it is a step to provide the FSA with weapons. And there are indications on the possibility of establishing a no-fly zone because NATO installed Patriot missiles on the Turkish-Syrian border.
Azzaman: If the Syrian regime reaches the end of the line, do you think it may use chemical weapons or ignite a sectarian war?
Maleh: I think that this regime is capable of any reckless action, but I rule out the use of chemical weapons. There is no sectarian conflict in Syria because such a conflict takes place between civilians.
Azzaman: Are you considering preparing legal files against regime members and submitting them to the International Criminal Court?
Maleh: We have legal files for all regime officials, including Bashar al-Assad. According to the constitution, he is the commander in chief of the armed forces and therefore is responsible for all crimes committed by the army against civilians.
Maleh: They do not realize the gravity of the crimes they are committing by supporting this regime. Iran is not only a partner in the regime’s crimes but is also inciting the killing of civilians. I have thus requested that Iran’s membership in the OIC be suspended. Any Iranian civilian who comes to Syria is a legitimate target for the revolution, according to the Geneva Conventions.
Azzaman: How do you explain the tension between Syria and Israel on the Golan Heights front?
Maleh: This tension is a sign that Syria and Israel are colluding to support the Syrian regime as it fights the Syrian people.