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Syrian conference for democratic self-determination

Attempting to give the Syrian people a voice in Geneva

25. January 2014
by Haytham Manna

"We call together with a large number of forces and national democratic voice for a gathered Conference to restore to the free Syrians their natural right to independent decision-making and to take a political stand together, to build a road map bringing back the role of the political solution as the only way to put an end to the plight faced by the country."

De-railing of Geneva II from the Basic Tracks

I received several letters from friends of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change – NCB expressing surprise about the NCB’s boycott of the Geneva II Conference in the context of the arrangements, the formula and the conditions in which it is being held. We were particularly the brave defenders of this conference, and we were accused of all manner of sins after our defense of it even from some people who mounted the platform of the delegation of the Coalition on behalf of the Syrian opposition in Montreux.

I wrote in my first notes about “Geneva I”/Geneva Communiqué on 10th July 2012: The Conference has been organised without the Syrians like a meeting of the Security Council, but this negative point has certainly been remedied by the Geneva Communiqué several times to say, ‘It is for the Syrian people to determine the future of the country. All groups and segments of society in Syria must be enabled to participate in a National Dialogue process. That process must not only be inclusive, it must also be meaningful — that is to say, its key outcomes must be implemented.’ From here, we say that the presence of the democratic opposition delegation as effective representation and strong interlocutors ought to be an obligatory condition for the success of the International Conference about Syria which is allegedly to be held according to the Geneva Declaration. I added that day: ‘At the regional level, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran were absent although the role of Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Syrian issue is known, and Syria is the northern front for Egypt as was repeated by all of the Egyptians officials we met.’ At the time I touched on the weaknesses of the Geneva Communiqué and the need for completeness in the process of preparation and organisation of the Conference.

We have participated actively for the success of the Geneva Conference, and we held a Conference: “For Democratic Syria and Civil State”, in Geneva 30-31January 2013 to emphasise the need for a political solution in accordance with the Geneva Communiqué. We have prepared a project for the training of Syrian political staff on negotiation, which we presented to the Swiss Foreign Affairs at the end of February 2013. Fortunately, it was adopted later by the United Nations and was almost preserved solely for the training for the Coalition on the grounds that the United Nations team received a request from the Coalition for training. I was near to disclosing this to the media as a scandal if it was not amended to become a training course for the NCB and Kurdish Supreme Council as well. Then at the last minute a veto was put on the name of the Kurdish Supreme Council. We told the Mr. Brahimi: “We want the grapes and do not want to kill guard”, and the training happened in the name of the NCB within which we included of the same number of people from the Kurdish Supreme Council delegation. So it happened, the Coalition trained in Istanbul and the NCB in Montreux, and we initiated the project of “One voice, One program and One delegation”.

When we met Mr. Ahmed al-Jarba on 9-10 December 2013 we explained to him the position of NCB and proposed preparatory meeting in Cairo and he agreed to the idea, but it seems that the outcome of the U.S. authorisation of the opposition delegation had been already determined. Somewhere it was agreed to violate the tenth paragraph of the “Geneva Communiqué” which “urges the opposition to form an effective, persuasive and representative delegation”, and to acknowledge the dictation of Saudi Arabia – U.S. that there be an exclusive delegation from the Coalition which would be “under control” as was said literally in Paris meetings before the official approval for the Coalition to attend was given.

That day, I had a call from my friend Nasser al-Ghazali telling me the old adage of revolutionaries on the French Mandate:

King Faisal I of Syria: “I’m telling you, Shahbandar: I’m the son of the Messenger of Allah and I will agree to the terms of General Gouraud and the French leadership.”

Dr. Abdul Rahman Shahbandar the Foreign Minister: “And I tell you: I’m the son of this country… and I will not agree to deliver up to Gouraud nor to anyone else.”

I said to him: No power in the world can impose something on the National Coordination Body.

There is no doubt that the Russian –U.S. consensus has paved the way for the de-railing of Geneva II from the main rails. There is no doubt also that the mandate of Mr. Robert Ford (in charge of the Syrian file at the State Department) was a disaster in itself; we are in front of a new conservator who participated with Negroponte in helping the Contras in Nicaragua, and who has a failed record on Iraq, and who Egypt has refused to accept as the appointed ambassador in Cairo. His relations were always with conservatives and semi-liberals, Islamists and those in a semi-consenting role of “minor”. He regards the progressives and democrats as close to the Syrian government, and the People’s Protection Units – YPG as a group formed and helped under the supervision of the Syrian regime. It is not possible to work with someone like this who has such broad powers to shape a national democratic civil solid delegation that will have an independent voice, and if we add to that the dominance of Bandar bin Sultan over a critical size of the Coalition, you cannot hold out hope with such a combination.

We warned the Russian side and the UN envoy repeatedly about the risk of breach of the Geneva Communiqué and the strengthening of the role of non-Syrians in the place of Syrians in drawing the geography of their future, but it seems that the deal was made. I informed Mr. Bogdanov that I personally will not attend the Geneva Conference in this format, and I think that the National Coordination Body and democratic Kurds and Arabs stand in the same position. Indeed, there was a strong and clear position taken by everybody, and all the parties refused to come under the mantle of the Coalition and the American terms.

There has been silence about the process of de-railing the Geneva II Conference from its tracks by disrespect for what Brahimi called his “confidence-building measures” which meant creating a popular incubator for the atmosphere for the Conference such as lifting the blockade on all areas under siege both by the Syrian authorities or armed groups, or the Turkish side, and the release of women, children and patients detained in prisons, the release of abducted women and kidnapped civilians, and the delivery of food and medical assistance for all areas of Syria.

Then came the tragedy of the formation of the opposition delegation, especially since 55% of the members of the Coalition were against participating in the Conference, and the representation of the Syrian opposition was reduced to less than half within the structure of the Coalition, which had essentially lost any popular support inside the country a long time ago.

So I say to all who ask us about our position today: It is not possible for a train de-railed from the track to continue on its way, and to join the process before it returns to the spirit of the Geneva Communiqué which emphasizes the role of the Syrians to lead and determine the process. It is fact that the implications of what is happening will not be positive for the Syrian people and their aspirations. We call together with a large number of forces and national democratic voice for a gathered Conference to restore to the free Syrians their natural right to independent decision-making and to take a political stand together, to build a road map bringing back the role of the political solution as the only way to put an end to the plight faced by the country.

Holding a national democratic Conference of free Syrians is a vital requirement, even basic to the existence of a strong and effective voice for the Syrians in the face of the game of nations.

*This article was published in Arabic on on 23 January 2014