Syrian Human Rights Activist: Damascus Will Not Fall

The human rights activist Faeq Huwaijah discusses the scenarios for change in Syria and concludes that the only successful option is a negotiated peace, reports Shihab Al Idrissi.

al-monitor A crowd gathers in front of a building and car damaged after a bomb explosion in the Mezzeh 86 area in Damascus, in this photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA, Nov. 5, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Sana.

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syrian, russian, human rights activists

Dec 19, 2012

In an interview with As-Safir, Syrian opponent Faeq Huwaijah introduces himself as a human rights activist. He says "his work requires him to stay away from political slogans" although he coordinates with the National Coordination Committee for the Forces of Democratic Change.

The “old” opponent — a former member of the Communist Party and then the League for Communist Action — speaks as both a jurist and as a political activist. Huwaijah was deeply involved in the Syrian crisis in 1980s. He was then sent to prison for 10 years, which ended with an "apology for prolonging his detention, given the difficult conditions of the country."

Huwaijah also participated in the Syrian protest movement at home, and he still works as a lawyer in the Palace of Justice in Damascus, monitoring and following up as a human rights activist on the political arrests, all the while defending prisoners of conscience.

Huwaijah believes that Syria is currently mired in a vicious circle of continued violence, and that only three scenarios could break this circle.

The first scenario is as follows: a vertical split in the army, which would require the departure of a large group from the military, not just the departure of individual officers or elements, as happened earlier.

According to Huwaijah, however, this scenario will not materialize because the army is clinging to President Bashar al-Assad because they fear his replacement. The army envisions a society that is religiously, ideologically and nationally diverse, and thus fears a civil war and wide-ranging massacres along the existing fault lines, which have been deepened by the national crisis at these three levels.

Huwaijah says that the fear for the minority, which is voiced by those who occupy very essential positions in the Syrian army — be it in the leaderships of the Ministry of Defense and the Chiefs of Staff or in the leaderships of teams, brigades and regiments — has nothing to do with the fact that they are part of these minorities. In fact, there are officers who are part of the majority and who experiencing the same obsession and voicing concerns over the fragmentation of Syria and its people.

The second scenario is foreign military intervention by way of sending regular troops to fight a direct war using conventional methods. This scenario, however, is strongly excluded by Huwaijah because it might lead to a regional and even global war given the importance of Syria’s strategic location in the balance of the international conflict. In addition, the two camps of the conflict in Syria are linked to regional and international axes, which is what all of the other great powers are avoiding.

Huwaijah says that "on the eve of the outbreak of the revolution, he did not expect the Russian-Chinese coalition to be so supportive of the regime," pointing out that "the crisis coincided with the return of Russia and its quest to make itself into a superpower on the international level once again, knowing that it desperately needs Syria to achieve this goal."

The third possibility is international partnership. This requires the two camps that are allies of the parties to the conflict to agree on a way to resolve the crisis in Syria. This would be locally translated into a new regime involving the power and the opposition.

Huwaijah stresses the fact that the democratic civil forces are against military intervention, but asserts that they hope for such partnership, being the only realistic way out of the crisis. Otherwise, Syria would keep bleeding amid continued destruction.

Huwaijah believes that the regime will not be able to eradicate the armed opposition, "given the international support — terrible in its size — that all of the opposition factions are receiving from abroad." Therefore, Huwaijah excludes resolving the crisis based on the '80s model of armed insurgency because "the foreign support for the Muslim Brotherhood at the time does not equal 1% of the support currently received by the armed opposition. In the '80s, the support was shy and hidden and it used to be smuggled across the border. However, now the support is huge. It is explicit and given across the wide, open borders with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Support is now defined by how explicit it is, and it covers all levels, including the political level, which is the advocacy of the coalition as representative of the Syrian people."

On the other hand, Huwaijah asserts that "the opposition cannot bring down Damascus, and in order for the regime to fall, it has to take control of it. This obstacle is due to the cohesion and strength of the army in the capital and its environs.” According to the acknowledged opponent: "Militias can only create separate cantons. They cannot control the entire territory of the country, much less topple the regime and find an alternative."

Back to the international support of armed rebels, Huwaijah confirmed that the goal behind this support is "to prolong the conflict, not to overthrow the regime. The West does not seek to change the regime for fear of the rule of radical fundamentalists, who have the ability to monopolize power in any new regime, given the fact that they are most disciplined and heavily armed. Therefore, there is consensus to keep the wound open — until Syria loses its regional role and influence — and to deplete the force of the entire Syrian nation, and not only the regime."

What drives the West to go against its will? Why does it throw the lifeline to the Syrians, in the form of international consensus that will bring them out the swap, if the ongoing Syrian civil war would serve the interests of both, the West and Israel?

Huwaijah answered that "should the Syrian crisis become uncontrollable, this will not come to the advantage of Washington, as it will shake the stability of the entire region. Eventually, the fragmentation of Syria will lead to that of Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. What's more, it is not in America’s best interest to turn Syria into enclaves ruled by al-Qaeda, and the resulting ramifications. It seems that the US has concluded that Syria's regional role has come to an end and that it has lost all its regional alliance, and has become isolated and alone in addressing its internal crisis and rehabilitating its infrastructure, whose losses are estimated at more $100 billion."

Moreover Huwaijah believes that placing Jabhat al-Nusra on the list of "terrorist organizations," "is only the first step of a long international road towards a comprehensive settlement."

However, this new American labeling of one of al-Qaeda's branch will not prevent Washington from playing a game of political double standards: working on a proxy conflict and a settlement at the same time.

While he hopes that an international convention would be held with the participation of Syria to put an end to the bloodshed, Huwaijah expressed his regret that his country could turn into another Lebanon, where the National Reconciliation Accord depends on international consensus to end armed conflicts between Lebanese.

Moreover, there is another problem on the Syrian landscape, since the national democratic movement in the Syrian opposition is relying on the West to find a solution to the domestic crisis rather than relying on itself, as has been the case in all revolutions throughout history. These revolutions triumphed on their own, without the need for the Security Council or international consensus. However, it must be noted that many figures and members of this movement, which represents the "coordination committee," have a history of opposing "imperialist powers."

Regarding this problem, Hawijha said that this is the only way out in light of the Syrian political meeting, since "the sense of nationalism has yet to become entrenched in Syria, as it is a recently-formed country. The political geography of the nation has made it a point of convergence, whether for war or trade. What's more, all foreign powers are seeking to strengthen their influence in Syria,  starting from the US to Hong Kong."

Moreover, Hawijha added that "World War I did not erupt in Europe in 1914, but in the city of Kadesh, south of Homs in 1274 B.C. between the Pharaohs and the Hittites — the rulers of the two greatest empires in the world at that time. This is what is happening again today."

On the other hand, the human rights activists said that "the lack of a genuine sense of nationalism in Syria can be seen in the many tendencies towards different non-national goals. Some people aspire to establish an Arab nation, others want an Islamic Caliphate, while some seek internationalism and global unity."

However, Huwaijah said that "there is some sort of national sensitivity in the way Syrians regard the Palestinian cause, based on the concept that Palestine is a hijacked part of their homeland, in addition to Lebanon and Jordan."

As for the Syrian regime, Huwaijah regards it as "a nationalist, Islamic, national, internationalist, liberal, socialist, etc. fraud."

Huwaijah also spoke of the Syrian situation where lines and fronts are deeply intertwined, not to mention the demographic diversity and the conflict with Israel. In this context, he said that Gulf regimes have been employing financial efforts, political Islam and their media empire in an attempt to steer the course of the Syrian crisis in their own directions and toward their best interests.

In the same vein, he said that a Gulf television channel contacted him to speak through its screen on the condition that its guest would show support to the "national council," or at least to identify with its rhetoric.

According to Huwaijah, it is not enough for a revolution to erupt. It must preserve its momentum. There have been many revolutions and uprising throughout history that ended in failure. Some revolutions were launched based on historical events, only to end in other purposes than those intended at the first place.

Huwaijah avoids describing the current movement as a “revolution,” saying that it is a “spontaneous and instinctive uprising stemming from the despair of Syrians due to the limited freedoms they experienced during the 40-year emergency[-law] period.”

He added that the uprising was sparked by the outrage of the rural areas, “whose previous gains were eliminated by the Dardari-style economic liberalization [in reference to Abdullah al-Dardari, former state minister for economic affairs], including easy loans and cheap fertilizers they had access to under Assad, the father. During his tenure, citizens enjoyed adequate subsistence standards, contrary to the policy of impoverishment witnessed in Egypt, for example.”

Huwaijah says that “in Syria, there are two [political] poles that did not exercise politics, and did not believe in politics or in dialogue. Each assumed that it would able to conclusively end the game in its favor on the ground. The regime’s calls for dialogue were not serious. The SNC used to promise its supporters that the regime would fall after Ramadan or the holidays. That was two years ago.”

Huwaijah believes that the battle will not be concluded unless the conflicting parties sit around the negotiation table. He refers to the “call to save the homeland and citizens” that he launched in April 2011, which states that dialogue and a political solution are the only means to exit from the crisis and dark tunnel.

Regarding the newly-formed coalition in Doha, Huwaijah says that “its policy is marked by opportunism and expedience, and it caters to popular instincts rather than attempting to produce effective politics to direct and redirect the people toward freedom, dignity and a democratic state.”

By referring back to history, the future can be extrapolated. By referring to the war of Pharaohs and the Hittites that took place on Syrian territory beginning of 1274 B.C., historical accounts say that these wars ended with both parties maintaining their geographical position and sustaining heavy human losses. Still, both parties claimed victory, and a peace agreement was signed between the two world powers in the year 1258 B.C. This is considered to be the oldest surviving written peace treaty in history, which prompted the United Nations to hang a copy of it on a wall in its permanent headquarters.

Will history repeat itself?

This article was translated by Sami-Joe Abboud, Naria Tanoukhi and Sahar Ghoussoub.

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