Syria “We are campaigning for a secular, multi-faith and democratic state”
Haytham Manna, one of the leaders of the National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change in Syria, which brings together 9 secular left-wing political parties, develops, for El Watan, the recommendations of his training for a way out of the political and peaceful crisis in Syria.
-The National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change in Syria, of which you are one of the leaders, is not a member of the Syrian National Coalition. For what reasons ?
In June 2011, 16 opposition political parties and 200 intellectuals and artists met in Hargoun, in the suburbs of Damascus; they declared the creation of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change with a program based essentially on the need to put an end to the dictatorial regime and the system of corruption that it established. After this strictly Syrian event, without the intervention of anyone and in coordination with the popular committees of pacifist struggle on the spot, Turkey and the United States were preparing what became the Syrian National Council. Barzani (Massoud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdish Democratic Party, editor’s note) intervened to ask a few Kurdish parties who participated in the Hargoun meeting to withdraw to constitute the Kurdish National Council.
Although the Syrian National Council was funded by four American organizations known for their links with the State Department, we said that we were ready to discuss a joint project based on the three “no” announced in Hargoun: no to confessionalism, not violence and not foreign military intervention wherever it comes from. We went to two delegations, our committee and the National Council, in Cairo, and we negotiated for 57 days. On December 30, 2011, we reached an agreement that I signed with Bourhane Ghalioune, President of the Syrian National Council.
This agreement stipulates the refusal of foreign military intervention and calls for the establishment of a civil, democratic, pluralist state, based on the equality of citizenship of all Syrians. Turkey and Qatar intervened immediately to ask Bourhane Ghalioune to withdraw his signature. Twelve hours after the signing of this agreement, the Syrian National Council has withdrawn from any engagement.
-What did you deduce from it?
We have since understood that the CNS decision is not in the hands of Syrians. Almost two months were lost. CNS leaders did not ask to review the text, they simply canceled all contact with the National Coordinating Committee with the promise of France, Qatar and Turkey to present them to the world as representatives unique to the Syrian people. They tried everything to use the Libyan model. We have said that copying the Libyan example is not only a mistake but a crime, because it will lead to militarization and disorganization of the country. The CNS failed to expand and Hillary Clinton, in the final weeks of her term, said he was dead. In November 2012, at the Doha conference,
-And with the coalition, you could not find common ground?
The Coalition asked us to put ourselves under its authority and refused to allow us to work on an equal footing as two fronts, one from the outside and the other from the inside. Our formation and our popular support are, if not greater, at least as important as the coalition.
-What are the political forces that make up your training?
Our formation brings together 9 political parties, that is to say the main part of the communist forces, Arab nationalists, Nasserites, Kurds, 4 non-governmental organizations, independent personalities. Out of 25 members of the national management, I am the only one to be abroad as head of the international section and for security reasons. Because I am threatened by the jihadists as well as by the Syrian regime which murdered my brother, and killed in his attacks 18 members of my family who were all in the civil movement who refuses violence and all forms of repression and authoritarianism. Among the 25 members of the management, two are missing. We have more than 300 activists abroad.
-But is your movement not dismissed, set aside as an actor and opposition to the national coalition?
It is known that the main news agencies in the world are under Western influence. Reuter, for example, has never taken over one of our activities in two and a half years; AFP issues one in five of our press releases. We are boycotted by all the media in the Gulf countries and Turkey. This does not prevent me from being received by 41 foreign ministers, from Beijing to Brasilia, and being recognized by a dozen European countries, whose foreign ministers have received me ( from Belgium, Sweden, the European Union). We have excellent relations with the Swiss and the Scandinavian countries. We are in very good contact with Egypt, Iraq… the Palestinian President received me three times, Moncef Marzouki three times also and also the Moroccan Prime Minister, Benkirane.
-Do you have contacts with the representative of the United Nations, Lakhdar Brahimi?
We have great respect for Lakhdar Brahimi, who has excellent diplomatic experience. We think we are fortunate to have him as an interlocutor. We are in regular contact with him and his advisers, I see him whenever possible, in Cairo, Geneva and Paris.
-Is he attentive to your proposals?
Lakhdar Brahimi defied the Syrian authorities and met the Coordination Committee for Democratic Change twice in Damascus and ten times outside of Syria.
-Are you hopeful that Geneva 2 can stand and lead to a solution to the Syrian crisis?
In the history of Syrian events, only once did the five member countries of the Security Council agree, it was June 29, 2012; they arrived at an intelligent compromise, that is to say that the essential question is not that Bashar Al Assad leaves power, but that he must transmit his executive powers to a political organ that has been called the Government of national unity, with a Prime Minister of the opposition for a period of transition. This solution, in my opinion, is an opportunity, perhaps unique for us, to obtain the maximum of our demands as a Syrian popular movement.
-Is this the line you are defending?
That is why a week after the Geneva press release, we said; we are ready to go to Geneva 2 on two conditions. The first is the participation of the three countries absent from Geneva 1 which are Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia, because an Arab proverb says: “He who is absent will cause trouble.” The second condition consists of the presence of two Syrian delegations, one from the opposition and the other from the Syrian state.
-But the opposition is divided. How to overcome this difficulty?
In modern history, there has never been unanimity in mediations and negotiations. For our part, we are ready to join an opposition delegation which would be called the Syrian national opposition delegation composed of the National Coordinating Committee, the Coalition and the Kurdish High Committee, with a few independent figures.
-And the Islamists?
They are in the coalition of which they are the main component. It is our duty to form an armed force including elements of the Syrian army, Kurdish popular units and honest dissidents to get rid of the jihadists. The complicity of the staff of the free army with the jihadist groups is not for the benefit of the free army, the jihadists took advantage of weapons and money and international protection to prevail. Today, there are more than 10,000 foreign jihadists on Syrian territory.
Syria provides first list of chemical weapons
Syria has supplied a first list of chemical weapons to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), while intense diplomatic negotiations are underway with a view to the adoption of a resolution at the UN on the chemical disarmament of Damascus. The handing over of this list is a first step in the implementation of the Russian-American agreement on the dismantling of the Syrian chemical arsenal signed in Geneva on September 14, but diplomats still face disagreements on the draft resolution to present to the United Nations Security Council.
The OPCW, which was scheduled to meet tomorrow to study the start of this destruction program and Syria’s request for accession to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, postponed the meeting sine die. According to diplomatic sources, the text to serve as a working basis for the meeting, which is the subject of discussions between the Americans and the Russians, is not yet ready. The American secretary of state, John Kerry, and the head of the Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, however discussed at length yesterday on this subject.
In a “long conversation” by phone, they spoke of their “cooperation, not only to adopt the rules of the OPCW, but also for a firm and strong resolution within the United Nations,” said Mr. Kerry. by receiving his Dutch counterpart, Frans Timmermans, at the State Department.
The five members of the UN Security Council fail to agree on a draft resolution, despite several meetings on the subject. The inclusion or not of such a resolution under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which provides for “coercive measures” ranging from economic sanctions to the use of force, crystallizes the positions of each other.
According to diplomats at the UN, Westerners seek to convince Russia, opposed to any mention of a possible use of force, that their draft text does not imply the threat of immediate military action. If a compromise is finally found, this text could be put to the vote tomorrow. A team of investigators mandated by the UN, including 9 OPCW experts, claims to have found “flagrant and convincing evidence” of the use of sarin gas during the massacre on August 21 near Damascus in the hundreds of dead, according to their report released Monday.
Western countries accuse the Syrian regime of carrying out this attack, as well as 13 others with chemical weapons since the start of the civil war in Syria in March 2011. Moscow, for its part, has always sought to clear its Syrian ally.