Leader of the opposition Syrian Social Nationalist Party Ali Haidar says armed groups who derive their support from external sources are harming the revolutionary process in Syria. He also contends that the real opposition movements now find themselves stuck between the armed groups and the state. I interviewed him in Damascus.
The Syrian Social Nationalist Party is a major opposition party that is currently caught in a tight spot between the regime and the armed groups against which it is fighting. The party was founded in 1932 with the aim of liberating “Bilad Al-Sham,” — that is, Lebanon, Jordon, Syria and Palestine — from French and British rule. Initially banned by the Syrian Ba’athist regime, after its legalization in 2005 the party was able to attract a significant youth following. Party leader Ali Haidar, like other members of the “internal opposition,” emphasized the divisions within the opposition and “the emergence of armed groups harming the peaceful reform process.” He adds that “Syria is heading toward disintegration and invasion by foreign powers.”
Radikal: Where is Syria headed?
Haidar: Let me first elaborate on from where Syria is coming. Syria plays a central role in this region. It has enemies: Israel and the US. It also faces domestic issues. Ten years ago, we claimed that the regime had lost its strength and that the single-party system would not work anymore. This system had been at the root of several problems. When revolution broke out in Tunisia, it was obvious that the wave of change would hit Syria as well. First of all, Syria’s enemies were eager to take advantage of this opportunity to meddle in our country. Secondly, the people had their own demands to make. Thus, the protests began. Foreign intervention started from the very earliest phases of the protests. Not only did these powers transfer funds, but they also provided arms to certain groups. In this way, we found ourselves sacrified between the regime and the armed opposition. The situation evolved into a conflict between the regime and the armed groups on one hand, and an actual revolutionary process on the other.
Radikal: The regime used weapons against the opposition. Didn’t this encourage the opposition to do the same?
Haidar: No, never. The regime did not use heavy weapons or interfere with the peaceful demonstrations for months. What’s more, 30 opposition groups refused to take up arms.
Radikal: What is basis of the division in the country?
Haidar: Throughout history, all civil wars have ended with disintegration up with disintegration. However, Syria is not yet at this point. Now, we should acknowledge that a victory by one of the two sides will not bring about a solution. All Syrians should engage in dialogue. Conflict will only invite foreign intervention. According to intelligence gathered by my party, the armed groups have obtained their arms and money from foreign powers.
Radikal: Where are the weapons coming from?
Haidar: The weapons come from the Turkish border, the Quriya region located on the border with Iraq and the Wadi Khaled Valley in Lebanon. We know this to be a fact. The Lebanese branch of our party was able to obtain information on a camp providing training for armed groups in the Lebanese district of Akkar. This camp is similar to the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp. There was also a camp in Jordan, yet Amman closed it down because things were moving unfavorably for Jordan. The US also set up a camp on the border between Jordan, Syria and Iraq. The armed opposition groups were trained in this camp by Americans.
Radikal: Is this still going on?
Haidar: I have no detailed information on what’s going on now. But one thing to note is that both light and heavy weaponry manufactured in Israel have been smuggled into Syria.
Radikal: What are the roles being played by Qatar and Saudi Arabia? While the Qataris support the Salafis, the Saudis are backing the Wahhabis. How is this competition reflected in Syria?
Haidar: Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been competing for over 30 years over who can truly represent US interests in the region. This competition intensified when the US started to rely more heavily on Qatar. Qatar is less costly and troubling for the US to deal with, while Saudi Arabia is tackling some domestic issues. Qatar is more like a company than a state. The local people constitute only 40% of the population.
However, when it comes to Syria, there is no competition between these two countries. There is rather a coalition where each country supports its own groups.
Radikal: Does Hezbollah have a role?
Haidar: Hezbollah has no role in Syria; they have no members in Syria. In Lebanon, their stronghold is in the south. Syria and Iran have longstanding relations, but there is, however, not a single Iranian soldier in Syria. At most, Iran is helping to provide intelligence and financial support.
Radikal: What do you think of the Syrian National Councilar?
Haidar: The “Istanbul Council” has nothing to do with Syria. They don’t represent the people. The real opposition is here. Like the Western media, which never talks about the real opposition, the regime doesn’t talk about the real opposition here either.
Radikal: Will the Annan Plan work?
Haidar: It depends on the policies adopted by foreign powers. The potential reconciliation of Russia and China with the US is important. The US is looking for a way out of this situation since their plan has already collapsed, and the Russians are also seeking a solution that will satisfy the US. However, while the US holds talks with the Russians, they are simultaneously asking Saudi Arabia and Qatar to support the armed groups. The US is trying to emerge from this crisis with the most benefits.
Radikal: Can Turkey play a role to solve this crisis?
Haidar: Turkey’s role has only been negative. It failed to remain neutral and adopted a sectarian stance. It assumed a stance parallel to that of the US. It ignored the real opposition and did not engage in dialogue with us. We met with political parties in Turkey. The government knows of our presence, but refrains from contacting us. The government prefers to support the armed groups. Turkey presented the “Istanbul Council” as the Syrian opposition’s sole representative to the international community. Turkey should reverse this policy. It should remain neutral to the different sides representing the people and focus on a political solution. Turkey is not really talking about a dialogue.