"Not reciprocate the regime"

Interview with Orwa Haj Yousef, spokesman of the Syrian “Unity Brigades” and the “Current for National Unity”, its political wing
Interview conducted by Wilhelm Langthaler
This movement is mainly composed of civil political activists of the democratic movement who, according to their self-understanding, were forced to take up arms for self-defence. They continue to defend the primacy of politics over military affairs, the people over the armed groups. They fight against sectarianism and advocate a political solution. Their appearance is an indicator of the political differentiation within the Syrian opposition.

Q: What are the Unity Brigades (UB) and how did way come into existence?

The UB are composed of people and groups originated from the civil revolutionary movement organised in the Tasiqiat [pl. for Tansiqia organisation which are local committees]. Some are also defected soldiers of the regular army. We formed our one brigades to defend us and our movement against the extreme violence and systematic killings by the regime which follows a sectarian method. We think that we ought not to respond by employing sectarian patterns as well as some groups do. This results in a political help to the regime. The armed struggle needs a clear political agenda which many armed groups lack.

Q: Are you part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA)?

Formally the UB are part of the FSA. But until now there are no clear forms of co-operation. We are working to establish them under our slogans of the unity of the Syrian soul and the protection of civil character of society and state. This is much more than the FSA stands for.
There is a lot of cooperation with many of the brigades of the FSA and especially in the regions where we work: Idlib, Damascus, Swidaa, Deraa, Hama, and Dair’ezur. The main problem in cooperation is because of the lack of organization and hierarchy of command within the FSA.

Q: What is your relation to the Salafi Jihadis and other sectarian armed forces?

The UB were created to topple the regime, so our main enemy is regime’s army. But we are troubled by many sides – not only by Salafi forces but more generally by armed groups without clear political ideas. We are firmly for democracy and a civil state and we have shown our readiness to defend these positions against attacks from all sides. Some reproached to us that we would defend the minorities. They tried to subordinate us and forced us into their formations. We resisted. We refuse to co-operate with such groups.

Q: Which weight do the sectarian forces have

There is nothing such as pure sectarian forces and we believe that the term sectarian is not accurate. There is a wide range of groups with national goals but there is also a lot of political confusion. Few could elaborate a political line or project. In this context the Salafi Jihadis are dangerous for their do not explain or discuss their political agenda but just impose it. They which to create emirates based on their reading of the Sharia – something the Syrian people will refuse.

Q: What remains of the democratic momentum?

It is a war to bring down the regime. The revolution started out peacefully and remained peaceful for half a year. Even Assad himself had to admit this. The regime did whatever it could to push it into a sectarian direction. They used their media to depict the revolution as Sunni Islamist. From the other side there is the political money from the Gulf which pushes into an Islamist direction. All this chaos is possible because of the absence of the international community which let the killings continue.

Q: Do you mean a foreign military intervention?

The international community should intervene but not by military means. There are many ways to do so. They could exert real pressure on the regime and support the opposition. But is seems as if they were just watching the massacres. Not even humanitarian assistance is coming in. The Syrian people have expressed their request for international help. It is the duty of the international community to comply with.

Q: Why Assad is still in power? Is there a reason beyond Russia’s and Iran’s support?

Firstly there are the outside factors, namely weapons, money, know-how coming in to rescue the regime. Secondly there is the meagre performance of the political opposition and the Western neglect. And thirdly there is the Israeli support for Assad. While Rami Makhlouf [the president’s cousin and business tycoon] was assuring Israel that they would have the same security concerns, Israel is interested to see the Syrians destroy each other.

Q: Was the attack on Aleppo from outside useful given the weak support for the movement inside?

Many demonstrations took place in the heard of Aleppo. There has been a students’ movement. The lawyers and doctors took to the streets. Yet is was not possible to create military forces inside because of the money the regime has been spending for Shabiha militias and arming drogue dealers and criminals to fight for their cause. But the so-called foreign attack on Aleppo is a story told by the regime which is not true.

Q: The conflict acquired a strong geo-political dimension where Russia fears that Syria will fall into the US sphere of influence.

It is too early to talk on the geo-political affiliation of a liberated Syria and project a shift from one sphere into another. In any case Syria will in the future be more oriental than western. Russia got vested interests in Syria which they want to preserve: The military base in Tartus. Foiling the plan for a gas pipe line from Qatar to Europe crossing through Syria. And not least to sell weapons.

Q: What do you think of the political solution?

We cannot refuse a political solution. We have to save what remains of the country. But to keep our credibility in front of the people the regime must stop the killing, pull back the army into the barracks and display real signs of interest for a political solution. For the time being their words have been void. They keep talking about negotiations but continue to kill. The last truce failed because they did not stop the massacre.

Q: Is the Doha coalition a genuine representation of the Syrian people or are you creating your one political voice?

The latest conference in Doha was a positive step, a rectification on the road towards such a representation. A national agenda was established and respected figures chosen who credible stand for that. It is a clear move away from petty quarrelling between personalities and groups. It should draw the support from the international community.

Q: But isn’t the place, Doha, a provocation to Russia? Wouldn’t for example Cairo be more neutral in reference to geo-politics?

It was the content which counts not the place where it was held. The Syrian opposition would not even refuse to hold a conference in Moscow. So there was no hidden negative message to Russia which will be part of a solution.

Q: What help do you expect form outside?

We absolutely need international solidarity and especially political, technical and media support.