Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A talk with the Syrian National Council’s Usamah al-Munjid | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Usamah al-Munjid, member of the opposition Syrian National Council and counselor of the council’s general secretariat, said that the manner of dealing with the Syrian National Council has changed since the proclamation of the Arab initiative freezing Syria’s membership; the Syrian oppositionist said that this was apparent even in the way its members are officially received’

In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat, al-Munjid discusses the Arab League’s resolutions on the Syrian crisis, demands for foreign intervention, and the stands of Jordan, Turkey, and Iran.

The Following is the full test of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are your thoughts on the Arab League initiative and its decision to freeze Syria’s membership in the league?

[Al-Munjid] The regime’s promises to abide by the Arab initiative were an attempt to gain time, thinking that it could do so. However, everyone can now see that the days of the regime in Syria are counted. The recent Arab League initiative met our demands despite certain challenges, including the reservations of some Arab countries. We had also asked for the withdrawal of ambassadors and keeping only diplomatic representation offices. This decision is up to each country to do what it sees suitable.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the most important issues that you will discuss with the Arab League as you begin your dialogue with its members?

[Al-Munjid] The Arab dimension of future Syria is very important. Our aim is to work from within the Arab organization and the Arab countries for a start because we believe that the Arab brothers care about the safety and future of the Syrian people. In our dialogue with the Arab League, we will urge it to use its stature and pressure tools. Even Russia and China used to justify their stands by saying that Syria’s neighbouring countries were not complaining. Now that they have a united stand, Russia has no excuse and the Chinese are close to changing their stands.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What’s your assessment of the Jordanian monarch’s assertion that Al-Assad should step down?

[Al-Munjid] Like all the other neighbouring countries, Jordan feels the danger that the crisis poses. At present, the Syrian issue has become a pan-Arab issue. The king’s advice to Bashar to step down because he can see the Arab efforts and his stand as well as the international stands support these efforts. The issue of Al-Assad’s departure has become a given. If he remains in power he will cause nothing but destruction.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Turkey has taken several steps regarding the Syrian issue. Do you expect Turkey to play a bigger role in the near future?

[Al-Munjid] Turkey was totally ready to impose financial sanctions and it had approved this approach. However, it waited until the Arab League took a firm stand. We expect the Turkish stand to become firmer soon. During my meeting with [Turkish Prime Minister] Erdogan in New York and during the meetings of the National Council with [Turkish Foreign Minister] Davutoglu in Turkey, they affirmed that decisions will be made. Davutoglu also affirmed that Turkey is prepared to deal with the National Council as the Syrian people’s representative.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the international stand on the opposition after the Arab League’s decision?

[Al-Munjid] The manner of dealing with the Syrian National Council changed as well as the level of the official reception of its members changed after the Arab League’s decision. Everyone is now convinced that the Arabs have washed their hands off the Syrian regime.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you expect from Iran, Syria’s strongest ally? Will Iran stand idly by and simply allow Al-Assad’s fall?

[Al-Munjid] Iran’s support for the Syrian regime is on the diplomatic and moral levels. The Iranians know that Syria will not be established on sectarian lines and that the Syrian people are striving to establish a civic regime built on democracy and plurality. Iran is calculating as it deals with the regime. At the same time, it is preparing for what will come after; it has already met with some opposition currents.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion on those that say that Al-Assad continues to be popular in Syria as can be seen from the thousands of his supporters on the streets?

[Al-Munjid] We saw thousands in the Green Square in Libya and thousands of supporters of Ben Ali before his fall. We also saw the thousands of supporters of Mubarak in Egypt. The majority of those that we see on the Syrian streets are government employees or private sector employees whose employers are threatening them with dismissal from their jobs. We also recall that more than 100,000 people were chanting Ceausescu’s name 24 hours before his fall. The presence of the masses on the streets does not necessarily mean that they are expressing a genuine wish for the regime to stay.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the most important actions that the Syrian National Council has taken so far?

[Al-Munjid] We accomplished several goals most important of which was forming the council’s financial and political institutions. This began immediately after the council was announced. The general secretariat of the council meets regularly. We are finalizing the establishment of our representation offices abroad. These have begun to operate in Washington, Paris, London, the Gulf, Turkey, and Cairo. We are also exerting major efforts to finalize our international relations.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the political program that you wish to draw up through your recent meetings and contacts?

[Al-Munjid] We are working on several issues, primarily on drawing up a road map for the nature of the change in preparation for the post-Al-Assad stage. Our program also includes protection of the minorities and the form of the sanctions that can contribute to the fall of the Syrian regime as soon as possible. We have presented many files and we are drawing up a program that would lead to our recognition. We are also studying the next steps and possible scenarios for the change. We cannot move while the regime is killing unarmed civilians; we have to prepare true scenarios. We have a task force that is preparing for the transitional stage on more than 12 fields of governance. Local experts are cooperating with international experts to implement a program for reform as soon as possible and to set the priorities. At present, we are not focusing on the scenario of the regime’s fall as much as we are preparing for the post-Al-Assad stage.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it possible for the Syrian opposition to turn into armed movements to confront the regime’s army?

[Al-Munjid] We oppose 0the carrying of arms by civilians but we salute the sons of the army that defected from the regime. We support the sons of the army and urge them to defect. There should be a distinction between the defectors from the security organs or the army that are accompanying the demonstrators and setting up checkpoints in their defense. We believe that the economic an d financial sanctions imposed on the regime have been successful in addition to the ban on oil exports that represent 30 percent of the national economy. Tourism – that represents 27 percent of the economy – has dropped to zero. All this helps at shortening the life of the regime. We are striving to have more actions in this direction.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it possible for the divisions among the Syrian opposition groups to lead to splits in the future?

[Al-Munjid] The biggest bloc that enjoys the support of the street is the Syrian National Council and the coordinating committees are part of this council. There are also other sides that are not sure of themselves to whom we say that they should surpass their personal ideas. The hands of the council are stretched to all and everyone is invited to the dialogue. Our differences are not with the opposition but with the tyrannical clique. We also affirm that all the opposition currents have the same agenda despite the organizational differences. They all seek Al-Assad’s fall and then to build a democratic and pluralistic state. Everyone is in agreement on building a modern state. The differences do not rise to the level of splits; it is just a stage to put the cards in order. But we say that the National Council gained its legitimacy on the ground and from the trust of the street. We operate within the framework of this trust. We know that the seriousness of the council is being tested; this is the constant incentive in our actions.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The western media has been talking about the Syrian scene, saying that the Libyan scene may be repeated in Syria if Al-Assad goes on with his actions. Is it possible for what happened in Libya to be repeated in Syria?

[Al-Munjid] There are many differences between the two situations. Libya is homogenous on the ethnic and sectarian levels. In Syria, however, we have different sects and minorities. Libya’s geography separates it from its neighbours by a vast desert. The situation is different in Syria. Syria’s army ranks as the 16th in the world and this is very different from the structure of the army in Libya. In Libya, the population density is vertical but the distribution of the population in Syria is different and it is hard to reach some regions. On the economic level, Libya has liquidity and this is also different in Syria. We also have political diversity in Syria; in general, there are many differences between the two countries. We are not asking for military intervention but for protection of the civilian population and there can be no stagnation in the political decision-making process. We believe that the best option we have at present is to safeguard the peacefulness of the revolution. We are seeking only the protection of the civilian population. There are many examples of the roles played by the United Nations in this regard and the best example is what happened in Kosovo in 1998.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the regime have a chance to remain if it abides by the first Arab initiative, orders its army to stop killing the demonstrators, and carries out the reforms that [Syrian Foreign Minister] Walid al-Moallem said that the regime is working to carry out?

[Al-Munjid] This ended several months ago. No matter what the regime changes, everyone is now convinced that it cannot undertake any reforms. If it withdrew its army, the regime will automatically collapse. Despite the killing machine, the Syrians are taking to the streets in thousands. If the army withdraws, millions will take to the streets in all the towns demanding the fall of the regime.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the message that the national council wishes to convey to the Syrians inside the country?

[Al-Munjid] There are three messages that we wish to convey. The first message is to the sons of the sects. We wish to tell them that our battle in Syria is not a sectarian one. We are all opposed to a regime that wants to hold you as hostages against the people. The sectarian issue is a lie; we are all partners. Your blood is our blood and our sons face the same fate, especially the Alawites. We wish they would be clear in their stand to distance themselves from Al-Assad. The second message is to the army. We tell them you took an oath to protect the homeland; you did not swear loyalty to the Al-Assad family. Your military duty is to protect the Syrian people. You have no excuse. Anyone that fires a shot will be taken to account and he cannot later say that he was following orders. We urge them to protect the Syrian people and not to support the regime. To the deluded businessmen that think that the regime will remain, we say that anyone who kills a Syrian citizen will be taken to account whether he opened fire or gave the order to fire or paid for the bullet that was fired”. The Arab revolts and history are a good example for you. We want you to take a historic stand. There are great opportunities before you. Half the population is under 20 and there are opportunities for foreign investments. The vast horizon is open to you. We invite you to a new era.