Syrian Opposition Voices Supporting Peaceful Political Change

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Images of Syrians taken before and since the start of the crisis can remind people of what is at stake in Syria. (Images taken by the editor of Socrates and Syria in Syria and from Syrian TV.)

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When western politicians, journalists or commentators use the term ‘opposition’ in relation to Syria, in most cases they are referring to a militarised ‘opposition’ or an external opposition which supports one or many of the armed groups operating in Syria.  These groups depend heavily on foreign fighters and funding.

INTERVIEW WITH A DISSIDENT

However, there are Syrian opposition figures who eschew violence and this is despite the fact that some have been political prisoners for years, if not decades.

Russia Today reporter Oksana Boyko interviewed a dissident who had spent 14 years in prison.  The interview took place in Damascus in  August 2012.   The report was titled “Syria rebels just hostages in hands of allies”. 

The dissident explains that he had concluded he could not support an armed revolt because such a revolt would lead to the destruction of Syria, not to democracy.

“THIRD CURRENT”

While in Damascus with an international peace delegation in May 2013, I interviewed a group of activists from “Third Current” who expressed their support for Haythem Manna.

Haytham Manna is a prominent opposition figure who now operates outside Syria and who also doesn’t support the militarised opposition.

This is a summary of points “Third Current” members made in that interview. (The audio interview can be accessed below.)

‘Third Current’ is not a political party; they are a group whose aim is to help resolve the crisis in a peaceful way.

They recognise the Syrian army as a national army, and not ‘Assad’s army’.

They recognise that the collapse of the national army, despite its mistakes, would result in the collapse of the country and state, similar to (or worse than) Iraq.

They say they have three guiding principles:

  1. They are against violence.
  2. They are against the Islamisation of the political system
  3. They are against interference by outside armed forces.

The Third Current members reject the idea that the crisis is simply a minority Alawite regime fighting a Sunni majority; Syria has more than 40 sects and religions, so it is more complex than labelling it a conflict between sects; also the army and security forces are composed of various sects as much as any bureaucratic institution.

They recognise that since the crisis, the real power in Syria has returned to a ‘ruling class’ or ‘old guard’ made up of the president, high-level officers in the army and security forces, and some big business-people. The Prime Minister and government do not ‘govern’ Syria.

They argue that if the president had dealt with the crisis differently from the beginning, the current situation might now be better. His initial popularity has waned as his promises haven’t materialised.

What the Third Current members want from the president and regime is to:

  • Allow true political practice (at present, the opposition is treated in a tokenistic way by the media and regime)
  • Separate civil authority and religion (“We don’t want political parties based on religion”).

Coalition of Doha replacement ‘government’

The Third Current members argue that:

  • the Coalition of Doha has little support in Syria
  • some of the opposition/Coalition ‘government’ members are largely unknown in Syria (and that they shouldn’t be speaking on the people’s behalf)
  • some of the opposition/Coalition ‘government’ members are ex-Security forces personnel and/or spies (and so are not wanted as a replacement government)

USA

The Third Current members seem to distrust the USA:

  • they are allies of Israel who is “our first enemy“
  • years ago Kissinger said, ‘Syria must be destroyed from the inside’

Extract from an interview with Haytham Manna, published 30 June 2012.

……. in terms of vision, I launched the fundamental trinity, as I named it, so as not to lose our compass. The trinity is: no to foreign intervention; no to arming and violence; and no to sectarianism. Many people accused me of being heartless, telling me that I was being too theoretical. But then the political movements adopted this approach [of the fundamental trinity]. This was the case even with the Muslim Brotherhood in the early stage [of the uprising]. I had been on a television show with the poet Rawi, wherein he stated that, “we adopt this trinity.” But then they changed their position; many people changed their position. Initially, Ghalyoun and everyone else adopted this trinity.

We held firm to this trinity for two reasons. The first has to do with the national question, which is a very sensitive issue in Syria, and has been the case since we were children. We have a battle before us. The term “natural Syria” is one that six-year-old children hear [as they grow up]. “Natural Syria” extends all the way to Gaza. This is how we were educated. It was not meant in the sense that Palestine should be occupied or incorporated. Rather, it was meant in the sense that an affront to the Palestinian cause was considered a dagger in the Syrian and Arab causes. It was therefore not possible to coldly deal with the [Palestine] subject, or to act as it if one had nothing to do with it. The second reason is the issue of the Golan Heights. Until today, we have one million displaced persons from the Golan Heights. The West and the entire world are sacrificing them, and for what, approximately eighteen thousand illegal settlers? This is an [ongoing] war crime. The settling of a population under conditions of occupation is a war crime. And there is international silence and complicity in this issue. We also have the issue of Lebanon. For example, I have a sister who was not politicized prior to the uprising but is now. She gave her home to a family from the south [of Lebanon] and went to Dar’a. She did not ask them who and what is in the house because it was her duty. For her, the resistance is part of her existence and culture; therefore, you cannot separate the simple regular citizen from these basic rights, because the rights of individuals and the rights of peoples are interrelated. This is part of their collective memory.

Particular individuals, groups, and media outlets have certainly played a role in destroying this consciousness. Just as an example, and only three weeks after the start of the uprising, Al-Arabiyya was giving airtime to several Syrian individuals that were claiming that Hizballah elements were fighting in Dar’a [on the side of the army]. I mean, come on. We all know each other and what is going on. We know the Lebanese and the Syrians. They even started talking about snipers that do not know how to speak Arabic because they were coming from Iran and elsewhere. This was the beginning of the insertion of the regional [struggle] into the Syrian mobilization. This went on to such a degree that people who were supportive of the resistance, as well as opposed to both authoritarianism and corruption in Syria, were now against the resistance.

There was now a separation between the civic and the national. This was a separation that was advanced by organized media, various regional factions, and a number of Syrians. One way or another, they succeeded in creating a situation wherein resistance and rejection were considered nothing more than tools at the disposal of the regime for the purpose of bolstering its nationalist credentials. This is with the full knowledge that Hamas does not need the Syrian regime for the purpose of legitimacy in Palestine nor does Hizballah need Syria for the purpose of legitimacy in Lebanon. Hizballah does not legitimate itself from outside of Lebanon, for its first source of legitimacy is Lebanese, and only secondarily can one speak of supporting elements [like the Syrian regime].

Consequently, the first battle for the National Coordinating Movement upon its inception was the combining of the civic and the national. We are not the enemies of resistance— the situation is quite the opposite. If the authoritarian regime supplied the resistance with offices, then we must supply it with bases. This is the first point. The second point—a very important one—is that we are waging our struggle on the basis of good relations with neighboring states without prejudice. Therefore, we are not here to replace Iran with Turkey or Turkey with Iran. We have a neighborhood forced on us by circumstances beyond our control. You can change your wife by divorcing her, but you cannot change your neighbor. It is therefore important to have good neighborly relations that are balanced across all. We are not here to wage a war on behalf of anyone. We are not revolutionaries at the beck-and-call of this or that project. If the West sabotages the Iranian nuclear issue, then it will not be by means of the Syrian citizen or the Syrian martyr. The Syrian martyr is not going [out into the streets] for the sake of stopping the Iranian nuclear program. The Syrian martyr is going [out into the streets] in order to bring down the authoritarian regime. There can be no confusion or mixing between these two goals. Proxy wars through the Syrian people will be at the expense of the Syrian revolution.

This was our program and the battle is difficult. This is why the media was incredibly focused on the presence of foreigners—but what foreigners? When we look closer we find people coming from al-Ramadi in Iraq, whether they are Iraqis or Saudis carrying Iraqi papers. We even find Libyans and people from other parts of the Gulf. We found corpses of Egyptians and the Maghreb. Unfortunately, the door into Syria was opened for Islamists and Jihadists. All of this, while the talk is about Iranian infiltrators and Hizballah fighters inside Syria.

One issue is that we are opposed to any non-Syrian presence in Syria, irrespective of from where it may come. We are asking for the opposite: border control. We are asking that all Arabs and non-Arabs that are on Syrian soil leave the country safely because we are going to struggle so that they have no legal protection in the event that they do not know the land, do not abide by a cease-fire if one were to occur, and do not submit to a political settlement should one be reached. They are therefore a fuel in the sparking and spreading of violence. They must leave the country. As I have said numerous times, go home and return from where you came. You are harming the Syrian revolution and you do not have a role to play in it. The evidence of this is that we know who is responsible for most of the explosions that have occurred, in which most of the victims were from the Syrian people.

A second issue is the need for a balanced Syrian policy. We will not cut off relations with Russia or China in order to become prisoners to relations with the United States. No, we will have balanced foreign relations and balanced economic relations. If the Japanese cadres are the better ones in terms of technological advancement in Syria, then we will collaborate with Japan. No one will tell us whether we have the right to do so or not. This is a very fundamental issue.

The primary locus of the success of the civilian democratic Syrian revolution is in the sovereignty of it decision-making. It is important that it possess a sovereign decision-making capacity. We must not sacrifice our independence so that we can determine whom we deal with and how. If this first form of independence holds, then it is possible for the second form of independence to succeed. If we sacrifice the first form, then we will pay the price for [forgoing] both [forms of independence].

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