Hassan Abdul-Azim: The Onus Is on the Regime
By: Muhammad Saleh
Published Friday, June 22, 2012
One of the leaders of the internal opposition in Syria, Hassan Abdul-Azim, still believes that his country can avoid civil war. He told Al-Akhbar that the regime must take the initiative in any solution, and the opposition must unite to impose its demands.
While efforts are underway to solve the Syrian crisis, forces in the internal opposition are busy monitoring the changing situation on a daily basis. They started sending delegations outside the country to prepare for the Syrian opposition meeting to be held in Brussels at the end of June.
Al-Akhbar spoke to the secretary-general of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB), a major component of the internal opposition, who believes that the conference is more critical than ever.
Hassan Abdul-Azim considered the unity of the opposition as the main condition for reinforcing its political position and strengthening the popular revolution. He said the NCB was formed for the purpose of uniting opposition elements inside and outside Syria.
He added that they welcomed the formation of the Syrian National Council (SNC) which united the external opposition. The NCB had unified the internal opposition, as a step to unite the whole opposition.
But the SNC took a negative stance against the NCB, which the internal opposition group choose to overlook. Abdul-Azim had told special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan that it is shame that the opposition cannot be united.
He stressed that unity is a popular, regional, and international demand. But what happened at the opposition meeting in Istanbul last Friday and currently happening in Brussels are merely meetings and not conferences, whose aim is to set up a unified opposition conference.
“We sent the Arab League a memo saying that a conference cannot be held without a preparatory committee, which includes representatives of the NCB, the National Platform, representatives of the Kurdish council, and other forces in the opposition,” he maintained.
He explained that the committee should propose a common political vision. The conference would lead to a joint national action committee uniting all political efforts. This way, the conference would achieve something rather than bolstering divisions.
He stressed that all current preparations are leading to the joint conference to be held at the end of this month, “and we are a major party concerned with participating in these preparations.”
Russia’s Future Role
Speaking about the role of Russia in Syria, Abdul-Azim said that “when we met Russian officials in Moscow during our recent visit, they were serious about the process for ending the crisis. The regime is primarily responsible for obstructing Annan’s plan, in addition to some external opposition sides that call for arming the opposition.”
He said that they consider Annan’s initiative as the last chance to solve the crisis. They had advised the regime several times to implement serious reforms, but it did not heed their call. The crisis continues today due to the regime’s lack of commitment to reforms, although it feigned their implementation.
Violence and arrests continue at a high rate. There are other sides with regional and international links who did not want the plan to succeed, he claimed.
He said it was clear that international consensus has not been reached yet, but there is something on the horizon following the meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama.
Moscow would pressure the regime to stop the killings and the shelling of cities and villages. And Washington would exert pressure to stop the supply of weapons and financing to the opposition in order to end the violence. Therefore, there is a shift to a political process that would spare the Syrians more violence, blood, and destruction.
On the other hand, the current efforts to organize a contact group for Syria and the international conference all serve to aid and support the implementation of Annan’s peace plan. It is the only way out of the crisis and there are yet no alternative plans. All efforts are focused on the importance of implementing the plan.
Inviting all sides with the exception of the regime to the conference meant that the international community now clearly sees the regime as part of the problem and not the solution.
He added that even armed opposition groups had committed days before the ceasefire deadline. The regime, on the other hand, did not stop the shelling for even an hour.
Speaking about future steps, Abdul-Azim believes that since the regime has not committed to the plan, there should be an increase in the number of observers, their distribution in big numbers in all governorates, and their provision with logistical equipment.
If the regime continues its violence, peacekeeping forces could protect the monitors and stop the killing. This is a possibility in light of the developing events.
Annan’s initiative is a single package to stop the violence, release the detainees, and allow peaceful demonstrations. This will lead to the launch of negotiations between representatives of opposition groups, including from the revolutionary mobilization, and representatives of the regime who are not tarnished by killings and corruption.
These steps aim to move the country from the current crisis to a democratic civil state with a plural republican parliamentary system chosen through the free will of the people.
Between Popular Resistance and Extremism
Abdul-Azim believes that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is a phenomenon produced by the regime due to the regular army’s continuous violence and shelling cities. This caused mutinies following the refusal of soldiers to shoot at peaceful demonstrations. It is a noble phenomenon and an expression that the army is for the people and should not be used for suppression.
He said that it is connected to other phenomena, such as civilians being forced to carry weapons and defend their families, as this is their legitimate right. But he did not deny the existence of other phenomena such as the infiltration of extremist groups from Arab and other countries in the region, including al-Qaeda cells. Violence and counter-violence tend to increase in situations of chaos, he added.
As soon as the regime stops the killing machine and pulls out the tanks, it will be easier to deal with the other side, especially in the presence of monitors. There will be no reason to carry weapons anymore for those who did so in self defense and the splits will stop.
Armed groups that are unacceptable to the people are easy to deal with. The monitors can deal with them. But we cannot compare the regime with other groups and their meagre abilities, Abdul-Azim maintained.
He said that the initiative should come from the regime itself. The opposition would then intervene and reduce the other violent aspects. On the other hand, if the regime continues its violence, regional and international forces will have an excuse to continue the supply of arms.
This will lead to a civil war and fighting between the breakaway groups and the regular army. National unity will be threatened and the social fabric will be torn apart.
He stressed that the regime’s international allies must exert pressure to stop the violence and that Western powers should stop adding fuel the fire.
“As long as the regime continues with its military solutions, as long as the supply of arms will remain open. Violence breeds violence,” Abdul-Azim concluded.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.