Will the Syrian exile opposition find its way to the people's movement?

On the patriotic and the pro-Western opposition to the Assad regime
Mohammed Aburous
Against the background of the heavy Western intervention in the Syrian issue, the opposition is divided on the question whether foreign intervention should be sought and if so to which extent.

The dummies in the Bernard Henry-Levi show in Paris

Organised by Bernard-Henry Levi’s magazine ‘Règles de Jeu’ [Play Rules], a conference of the ‘Syrian opposition’ was held on July 4th in the St. Germain cinema in Paris. The organiser, the character of the prominent participants from the French Elite as well as the speech contents lead to many questions regarding some Syrian opposition parties and groups and their link to the Western and, finally Zionist interests.

Sponsored by the same Syrian industrial Brothers Sonqur who had sponsored the Antalya conference, hundred of Syrian political activists met in the third meeting of the Syrian opposition after the parallel conferences of Brussels and Antalya.

Opponents of the Assad regimes were divided on the Paris conference, where prominent Western and pro-Zionist persons attended, such as Bernard-Henry Levi and figures from the Sarkozy administration such as the mayor of Paris, Bernard Bertrand Delanoë, Rama Yad, the former French minister of human rights, Bernard Kouchner, the former foreign minister, Fadila Amara, feminist activist and former secretary of state for development, as wells as many other personalities of the French elite. Also the known cold-war ideologist Glucksman attended.

Among the attendants on the Syrian side were some members of the executive committee of the Antalya conference representing different political parties: Luma Atasi, voice of the women at the Antalya conference and the Moslem Brotherhood represented by Molhem Droobi.

Two young activists of the Syrian opposition were immediately kicked out of the conference hall as they criticised the Zionist character of the organisers and evoked their role in supporting the Israeli crimes towards the Palestinians.

Some opposition activists who boycotted the conference were surprised of seeing their names in the participant list.
Other Syrian opposition leaders living in Paris, such as the authors Haytham Manna and Subhi Hadidi warned of its political character which would be opening the door for foreign intervention a la Libyienne..

Salim Menem, member of the consulting committee of the Antalya conference denounced the conference and the organisers, especially for the presence of persons like Henry Levi. ‘For the second time, Henry Levi tries to infiltrate the Syrian opposition’. This would ‘give the Syrian regime a justification of claiming a link of the opposition with the Zionist forces’.

Scheikh Melhem, a Syrian tribal leader who participated in the Brussels and Antalya conferences, denounced the ‘organisation of this conference by French personalities with Zionist tendencies who work against the Palestinian cause’. He also expressed his shock about Syrians who accepted to participate.

The Syrian activist Suheir Atasi called upon all Syrian participants to withdraw from the conference. ‘An enemy of the rights of the Palestinians can not be a friend of a revolution for political rights’. Ms. Atasi evoked the famous sentence of BHL, claiming the Israeli army to be ‘the most human in the world’.

Division lines between patriotic and pro-Western opposition

Until now, four conferences of the Syrian opposition took place. Two parallel meetings were independently held in Antalya and Brussels, two others were held in Damascus and in Paris respectively. While the Brussels meeting remained coherent with the reformist demands of the movement inside the country, the Muslim-Brothers-dominated Antalya conference targeted a regime change (and used the older Syrian flag instead of the pan-arabist official flag). Having the support of the Turkish state and a strong medial support, the Antalya conference was able to show dominance and to marginalise the Brussels conference. Furthermore, the success of the Antalya conference was to split the forces of the ‘Damascus Declaration’, which used to be the leading opposition group in the country. Opposition leaders in Damascus criticised the Turkish and Islamist domination of the conference and distanced themselves from the conference. Other members of the Damascus declaration who mainly live outside the country and who participated in the Antalya conference attacked the leadership in Damascus for being ‘Stalinist’.

Against the background of the heavy Western intervention in the Syrian issue, the opposition is divided on the question whether foreign intervention should be sought and if so to which extent. Although all opposition groups formally refuse a Western intervention, they are divided regarding a possible Turkish intervention. The Muslim Brothers, Kurdish and some liberal groups welcomed the Turkish intervention and (as reported by the Syrian opposition activist Burhan Ghalyoon) even encouraged a massive flight into the border region in order to create a refugee problem and to support the creation of a ‘protection zone’ by the Turkish army on Syrian soil.

This attitude towards foreign intervention determines the level of demand of the opposition groups. The part of the opposition who is concerned about the sovereignty and the integrity of Syria keeps demanding reforms and continues to warn of a possible intervention. Groups seeking the intervention openly demand the removal of the regime, aborting any kind of a peaceful compromise.

On June 26th, a further opposition conference was held in Damascus itself and tolerated by the regime. Again, patriotic groups outside the country cautiously welcomed this meeting as a positive sign seeing the opposition articulating itself inside the country and the regime having to tolerate this. Groups who favour the intervention described the conference as a theatre initiated by the regime and considered the participants –of which many are credible opposition leaders who spent years in regime prisons- as puppets of the regime.

The same division was visible regarding the Paris conference on July 4th. Organised by openly pro-Zionist forces in Paris and openly calling for a severe intervention against the Syrian regime, the Bernard Henry Levi conference made an ideological attack on all elements of the classical Arab liberation movement (Pan-Arabism, Palestine issue) and summarised the neo-colonial Western approach calling to ‘end the oriental tyranny’. The way how the different groups reacted to this conference was characteristic for its attitude towards Western imperialism and deepened the division already visible after the Antalya conference. No wonder that five members of the executive committee of the last were present.
The Paris conference only embarrassed the opposition and enforced the claim by the regime against this ‘opposition’ being agents of the West and of Zionism. Further Western threats rather strengthened the regime in its image defending national sovereignty.

Dialogue under fire? With whom?

In this context, and without changing its attitude towards the protest movement, the regime felt strong enough to call for a ‘dialogue’ with the opposition forces in the country. Major opposition groups hold on to the condition to end the suppression before the dialogue starts. Other activists joined the first dialogue meeting and criticised starting the meeting before real steps are taken by the regime towards de-escalation. On the same day, heavy protests broke out in many Syrian towns to emphasise the refusal of negotiating with the regime under these conditions. The visit of the US and French ambassadors in the northern city of Hamma in order to meet the protestors returned the initiative to the regime supporters who were able to organise heavy protests in front of both embassies. The Western pressure on Russia to push sanctions against Syria in the UN Security Council and the unilateral sanctions declared by US and European states confirm the fear of a Western neo-colonial intervention in the country and evoke the destiny of Iraq.

Pro-Western forces are cooperating with a scenario which is able to disintegrate the Syrian state and which might lead to the division of the country or the creation of a weakened state dependent on foreign aid. However, the Assad regime is not managing to cope with the threat and is not able to facilitate national reconciliation before foreign intervention finds more allies. Even under the assumption that President Bashar Assad is willing to reach reconciliation, it is doubtful whether he would be able to impose such a reform against the will of the state apparatus. Different groups of interests within the state would loose their influence if reforms were taking place. They would be able to ensure that Assad’s words remain words. On the other hand, the Muslim Brothers and other groups linked to Turkish and/or Western interests would on their turn sabotage any kind of reconciliation between the protestors and the regime. For this, they would be ready to offer the regime more canon fodder, which the latter will stupidly keep shooting at.

Secial challenges to the democracy movement in Syria

Different to other countries of the Arab region, where the popular movements are facing completely pro-Western dictatorships and are being suppressed by the regimes with Western support, the Syrian democratic movement is facing a regime which officially supports resistance movements and is an alliance with Iran, with which it built until now the axis of the ‘real-existing’ anti-imperialist resistance in the region. The Western intervention targets precisely this fact and is trying to make use of the authentic and in all terms legitimate popular demand for democracy and social justice. This not only complicates the situation for the anti-imperialist solidarity movement (whose weight is rather symbolic at the moment), but for the Syrian democratic opposition itself, who is facing the challenge of organising itself under the fire of the regime. It will be forced everyday to prove its patriotic character and to distance itself from foreign interventions. This would be the only way to meet the peoples’ movement. Otherwise it will be the reactionary parts of the opposition who will introduce the –possibly Turkish-flagged – Western intervention. This in turn would provide the regime with the gift of legitimacy in terms of being the country’s defender against a real neo-colonial invasion.