“Friends of Syria”: The View from Syria

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Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (L) confers with United Arab Emirates' (UAE) Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan during the Friends of Syria Conference in Tunis, 24 February 2012. Western and Arab nations meeting on Friday will demand that Syria implement an immediate ceasefire to allow aid in for desperate civilians in the absence of an international consensus on intervention to end a crackdown on an 11-month-old revolt. (Photo: REUTERS - Jason Reed)

By: Tarek Abd al-Hayy

Published Friday, February 24, 2012

While all eyes are on Tunis where the “Friends of Syria” conference is taking place Friday, Al-Akhbar speaks to opposition members and activists inside Syria about their take on the gathering.

Damascus – Opposition leaders and activists inside Syria have divergent views and expectations for the inaugural gathering of this group of over 50 Western and Arab states.

With the international rivalry over Syria growing and the popular uprising at a crossroads between peaceful and military resistance, the decisions made in the Tunisian capital are seen as having potentially far-reaching consequences.

These include the way the conferees decide to treat the Syrian opposition and whether the fractious opposition itself uses the occasion to unite behind a single representative body and strategy.

There had been conflicting reports about which opposition groups would be invited to the conference, other than the Syrian National Council (SNC) which is enjoys the backing of many Arab and Western states. The bulk of the opposition, however, appears to be represented.

According to the head of the National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change (NCB), Hassan Abdul-Azim, a “verbal invitation” was sent to opposition groups to attend. He said the NCB has a delegation in Tunis headed by Haitham Manaa and Abd al-Aziz al-Khayr.

But Abdul-Azim stressed in remarks to Al-Akhbar that the Tunis gathering was “a meeting of states concerned about the crisis in Syria, and of friends of Syria and the Syrian people, not of the Syrian opposition, which the Arab League urged to unite.”

The Syria opposition still needed to “unify its vision, demands and efforts,” he said, adding, “That is what would strengthen the Syrian revolution, not recognition of one opposition group rather than another.”

Referring to the SNC, Abdul-Azim said that if the Tunis conference recognized any one group as “sole representative” of the Syrian opposition “that would encourage it to monopolize power as the regime does. We do not want to create a new regime which monopolizes power and does not recognize others.”

Instead, “there needs to be an inclusive framework, like a National Congress, from which a leadership can emerge which unites opposition efforts, and which the Arab League and world powers can deal with,” Abdul-Azim said.

On Friday, just before the conference started, the NCB decided to pull out of it citing concerns about monopolizing the opposition’s decision-making and Western-led military interference.

"We have seen a dangerous trend towards...specifying who represents the Syrian people...leaving the issue of armament vague and opening the door to accept the idea of foreign military intervention," a statement by the NCB said.

Prominent opposition lawyer Hussein Awdat saw that opposition unity was a priority.

“There is no doubt that the presence of different components of the Syrian opposition at the conference will give added moment and greater representation to the forces of the Syrian revolution,” he said.

“But going to the conference does not necessarily mean uniting the opposition. That is the urgent requirement, before and after the conference, and both inside and outside the country,” Awdat added.

Anything possible

According to Awdat, the conference was essentially an attempt by the Arab and Western countries that sought to get action taken over Syria at the UN Security Council to bypass the Russian and Chinese vetoes they encountered there.

Awdat said “It aims principally to provide international cover, or an alternative to international cover, at least from a moral standpoint, for intervention in Syria.”

This could involve “humanitarian and UN organizations, or international coalitions and major powers, and the provision of political, economic and even military support” to the opposition, he said.

“Everything has become possible today with the Russian and Chinese pushing back against the Western and Arab mobilization,” Awdat added.

Young activists who have emerged as grassroots protest leaders appeared more skeptical about the conference than many opposition political figures.

Senior figures at meeting had confirmed their support for external intervention.

The Saudi foreign minister said arming the rebels fighting President Bashar Assad's regime is "an excellent idea," while the Qatari foreign minister called for an Arab force to interfere.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said he wanted to strengthen the opposition to increase the pressure on Assad to step down and allow humanitarian aid to flow to hard-hit areas.

Asked at the start of a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if he thought arming the Syrian opposition was a good idea, al-Faisal said: "I think it's an excellent idea." Asked why, he said, "because they have to protect themselves."

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said there should be an Arab force to interfere in Syria.

"There is a need to create an Arab force and open humanitarian corridors to provide security to the Syrian people," he said in a speech at the "Friends of Syria" international meeting in Tunisia.

The head of the main opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said on Friday an international "Friends of Syria" meeting in Tunis was not very optimistic about the impact of the conference.

"This conference does not meet the aspirations of the Syrian people," SNC chief Burhan Ghalioun told Reuters.

Activist Dia al-Deen Daghmash in Syria said it was good for the morale of protesters to see the world focus on their aspirations. But he added: “It seems now that the struggle has now become over Syria, not for the sake of Syria. That would be a disaster and mean the country is lost.”

“The best thing for the country would be for an international effort to be made to reassure Russia and draw it into the anti-regime camp,” he said, adding: “If there isn’t some breakthrough, brought about the Syrian political opposition after it radically changes its strategy, we are definitely in for a fight to the finish, not so much between the regime and the forces of the revolution, as much as a conflict between West and East.”

Another young activist, Bishr Abboud, said many like him hoped the Tunis conference would result in the emergence of a genuinely representative opposition body which would reflect their “real demands” and is capable of acting to achieve them.

“The approach of the SNC has achieved no results since its establishment,” Abboud remarked. He said that all the opposition groups attending had some popular following, to varying degrees. While those combined in the SNC had the largest single bloc of support “they have recently begun to lose it because of their inability to achieve the demands of the people.” As for the NCB, he thought its support was relatively weak, “because it has not adopted the demands of the revolutionaries. Many think that it has been infiltrated by the regime and is not independent.”

Abboud expected the Tunis conference to “condemn the regime in place of the Security Council resolution that was blocked by Russia and China, and there may be talk of opening humanitarian corridors to help afflicted areas” of Syria.

“It could also recognize the opposition as the sole representative of the Syrian people if it unites within a single body, and withdraw recognition from the regime and support the Free [Syrian] Army...The revolutionaries have become certain that liberation is coming via the Free Army,” he said.

Ghaida Awdat saw the conference as setting the stage for eventual foreign military intervention in Syria. She said the gathering would essentially provide the rationale for such intervention, which different countries could later decide how to act on, whether individually or multilaterally.

“The absence of Russia and China doesn’t matter...If the other countries decide to use the conference for whatever purpose they like, they won’t be able to stop them,” she said.

Awdat added that the Syrian opposition groups participating in the conference “do not represent all the Syrian street,” adding that, “The street still does not have a real representative.”

With reports from Reuters and AFP

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

What a bunch of hypocrits.

What would happen if the same group, SA and Qatar who sponsored this fiasco held another meeting "friends of Palestine". How many of the Western nations do you think would attend. Would Saudi Arabia demand arming the Palestinians? Would Qatar suggest sending in Arab troops?
Hypocrits.

why does saudia arabia not give arms and support to the yemen
and bahrain opposition?

You meant "Why Saudi Arabia MURDER yemen
and bahrain opposition?" Not mentioning opposition in Saudi Arabia itself....

because according to your logic they are armed gangs in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Like in syria. Ali farzat was one of it`s leaders as was Hamza al khatib.

No, according to me (and to facts) in Bahrain they are peaceful protesters against USA-backed dictator, and in Yemen some of them them are armed, but NOT armed and supported by such great friends of Arab freedom as NATO/GCC.

Of course, for the sectarian kh they are all Shia and Iranian agents, so Sunni(Wahhabi) royals could murder them without ANY protest from kh. Kh instead is asking the same royals (GCC) and their masters (NATO) to help "liberate" Syria.

If I EVER had any doubts about the true nature of National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change (NCB), I have NOT now - thanks to the author.

They are just as much lackeys of NATO/GCC aka "Friends of Syria" as SNC and FSA - sectarian murders on the payroll of imperialism. The only difference, it seems, is the petty rivalry in quest for getting more money and support from such "friends" of Syria as Gulf royals and butchers of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and so on, never mind strong supporters of Zionist criminals.

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