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Syrian Salafis meet with Lebanon’s Christians | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Beirut, Asharq al-Awsat- Syrian Salafis say they are taking the concerns of Lebanese Christians and the West into account. They believe that the regime has distorted their image and incited a fear of them without any real justification, something that has adversely influenced international positions towards the Syrian revolution. Therefore, Salafi members of the Syrian opposition, who fled from the regime to Lebanon, are currently holding intensive secret meetings with Christian leaders and figures. Here the Syrian Salafis are explaining their viewpoint and presenting their vision for a new regime in Syria that adopts the idea of a “civil, democratic, and pluralistic state,” according to informed sources that spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat.

While reassuring the Christians, both Western and Lebanese, has become the main headline of these current, low-key efforts, the Salafis do not deny that they are seeking a political role for themselves, and that they want the same authority as other Syrian citizens, as this is their democratic right.

The informed source revealed: “These meetings included Sunni and Christian politicians in particular, but the emphasis has been on meeting with the Christian leaders.” The source explained: “The issue is not restricted to one meeting with each party; rather the Syrian Salafis have held more than five meetings with Christian sides, something similar to open dialogue between the two sides.” The source spoke about “Christian satisfaction with regards to the new ideas they heard in the Salafis discourse, which they have not heard before.”

Asharq al-Awsat learned that “Lebanese Christian politicians have assisted the Salafis in holding meetings with Americans and Europeans to explain their new outlook, and to urge the Westerners to adopt a decisive stance towards the regime without fearing Islamic alternatives that may exclude others, seek to isolate minorities, and punish them.”

Those who describe themselves as neo-Salafis talk about “a new political concept that is not based on fanaticism,” adding that “the ideology that is based on excluding others and animosity is over, and the collapse of the current regime should herald the beginning of a new era in Syria that is governed by the ballot boxes and the will of the people.”

The informed source refused to deny or confirm whether the Salafis have met with representatives of the Phalange Party, or to name any specific groups that they have met with due to the sensitivity of the subject, but he went on to say: “Muslims and Christians have cooperated to render these meetings successful.” The source added: “The Salafis understand the concerns of Maronite Patriarch Bechara El Rahi, which he expressed during his recent visit to Paris, and they heard what [former] President Amin al-Jumayyil and his son Sami al-Jumayyil said in the media about “the need for the revolutionaries to reassure the minorities”. Therefore, their efforts aim to fully serve this purpose.”

Asharq al-Awsat learned that the Syrian Salafis’ meetings also included Lebanese Salafis, and that the discussions by the two sides have not been “totally amicable”, although “coordination with Lebanese Salafis is not a current priority”. Rather, the Salafis wish to inform those who do not know that “Salafism does not necessarily mean excluding and rejecting others, but it means a return to the path and approach of the righteous ancestors, and this is something that can be interpreted in many ways.”

The Salafi opposition present in Lebanon believe that they represent a category which deserves to be taken into consideration in many governorates in Syria; therefore they speak with significant weight on the ground. It appears there has been uninterrupted contact between them and the Syrian National Council, which has recently been formed in Istanbul, because they think that they are an inseparable part of it as a transitional commission awaiting the overthrow of the regime.

Asharq Al-Awsat has learned from an informed source that the meeting between the Salafis and the Americans (whose official or representative nature has not been disclosed) ended to the Salafis’ satisfaction. The source added that “the Salafis have explained their new positions and have spoken about their desire to participate in Syrian political life as one of the components of Syrian society. On the other hand, they have received an understanding of their ideas.” The source added that “the Salafis have heard from the Americans with whom they met that Syria is heading toward a scenario similar to what happened in Libya, if the situation continues as it is now.”

The source explained: “The National Council is calling for international protection for the civilians, while the regime continues to repress and kill the demonstrators. The majority of the opposition rejects any direct foreign interference on Syrian territory; therefore, the remaining option, according to what the Americans said, is to protect the civilians from the air and arm the revolutionaries, particularly those who have deserted from the Syrian Army and who are engaged in fierce battles using light and medium weapons.” Asharq al-Awsat requested to hear the US opinion precisely as it was told in the meeting, and the source said: “The Americans have emphasized that the Syrian regime, as far as Washington is concerned, is over, and that the next few days will witness developments that they described as very important internationally.” They also clearly stated that “Syria is heading toward the Libyan scenario.”

The Syrian opposition Salafis currently present in Lebanon also stress that they felt satisfied with the statement made by US Ambassador Maura Connely during her visit to Lebanese Defense Minister Fayiz Ghusun two days ago, in which she underlined “the importance the United States attaches to the role of the Lebanese Army in protecting the members of the Syrian opposition who are staying in Lebanon,” which is something that may ease the pressure on them in the coming days.

When asked whether the opposition agrees on foreign intervention in the same manner as Libya, and for the revolutionaries to be armed, an anonymous Syrian opposition figure who is active in Lebanon replied: “The economic situation is bad and the people have become tired, and the lengthy duration of the revolution is not in our interest but rather that of the regime, which is counting on the fatigue of the people. The demonstrators all raise banners demanding the protection of the civilians, and the formation of the unified National Council is a step toward requesting international protection for the civilians.”

The opposition figures that Asharq al-Awsat spoke with do not believe that they would drag their country into a foreign war through Libyan-style intervention, particularly since the regime itself -according to their viewpoint – “is now seeking to fabricate a foreign war or involve the country in sectarian conflicts to extend its life in power; therefore, a war should be imposed on them and they should be engaged in it.”