Outgoing head of the Syrian National Coalition discusses his decision to resign and the next steps for the opposition.
Talk to Al Jazeera Last Modified: 11 May 2013 09:59
|Moaz al-Khatib, the outgoing president of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) burst onto the scene in November 2012. The Imam from Damascus’ famous Umayyad Mosque was a man with a reputation for fair-mindedness and courageous opposition to the Bashar al-Assad regime.Popular and conciliatory, he seemed a ‘fresh face’ to unite and calm the fractious SNC. But he lasted barely five months.
A few weeks after his appointment as President of the SNC, he created a firestorm of controversy, bypassing the coalition by offering to negotiate directly with the Syrian government.
It was an initiative that the UN Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi called a “breakthrough”. But al-Khatib’s appeal for talks with the regime ultimately went nowhere.
He continued his own campaign, going inside Syria to speak with people in the north, and videotaped singing with opposition fighters. No one could say he was “out of touch”.
But many in the SNC accused him of not being a team-player.
But behind the scenes, he tells us, he was growing increasingly frustrated by the internal politics of the Syrian opposition.
“The people inside have lost the ability to decide their own fate,” he says.
“Matters have now reached a point that it is no longer acceptable. I have become only a means to sign some papers while there are hands from different parties involved who want to decide on behalf of the Syrians.
“There are many things I do not agree with and there were ambiguous agreements that I think were not in the interest of the Syrian people.”
This weekend, he is formally resigning his post, but questions abound:
What really prompted him to step down? Who is now calling the shots? And how will he carry on his work?
Greetings (al-salam alaikum) to you from a brave people, a quarter of whom have become homeless; and 200,000 of whose sons have been put in prisons; and who have paid a price for their freedom close to 100,000 martyrs; and whose country (infrastructure) has been destroyed at the hands of a mad, barbaric regime.
Greetings from a people that has been butchered in full sight of the world for two years and has been bombarded with all kinds of heavy weaponry and ballistic missiles while some governments still scratch their heads, wondering what to do.
Greetings from the only people in the world whom warplanes bomb in bakeries so that they might emerge drenched in the blood of women and children. Greetings from the widows and the orphans, from the tortured and the oppressed, from the injured and crippled, from the prisoners and detainees, from the emigrants and displaced, from the mujahideen and the troops, from the martyrs whose spirits have scattered throughout this misbegotten world.
Greetings from a people who will follow the path of their freedom and possesses enough will to demolish the world’s greatest idol and enough love to fill the world with tranquility, warmth, and compassion.
We hate war and fighting … and we began a peaceful revolution. The regime, with its recklessness and barbarity, pushed that revolution to arms, violence and destruction.
I will speak now about our wounded but resilient people with the following points.
First: Most Syrians have ceased to care about international conferences so long as they are unable to extend even the minimum support for Syrians’ freedom. Does the affirmation of the right of self-defense require years of the open and systematic murder of the Syrian people?
Second: With our sincere thanks to all the parties that try to help us, and they are many – we nonetheless repeat that our people has paid the price of its freedom with its blood, its decisions stem from its interests, and it rejects instruction by others in its decision-making. Regional and international differences of opinion have helped complicate the problem. Our interests may coincide with some parties, but our revolution is of our own making. The Syrian people alone ignited it and will decide its course.
Third: The Arab League, with [our] thanks, has put forward a bold initiative to give Syria’s seat to the Syrian people after [the people’s] voice [lit. decision] was expropriated for half a century. This seat is part of restoring the legitimacy of which the Syrian people was deprived for so long. This surmounting of international pressure is not just an accomplishment presented to the Syrian people, rather, it shows what can happen when there is solidarity. I say that the role of the Arab nations with their neighbors in terms of mutual understanding and cooperation is a civilized, leading role, and the Arab League must restore it. In the name of the Syrian people, I thank all of our brothers for this great accomplishment.
Fourth: There are constant attempts to misrepresent the Syrian revolution, along three lines:
First, minorities. And I always say, If you want to know how the regime treats minorities, then look to our beloved brothers in Lebanon. When the Syrian regime stormed them, what did it do to them? To all the sects! Look what it did to the Kurds, to the Palestinians, and the Christians, even our brothers the Alawites! Who killed General Ghazi Kan’an, and who arrested Dr. Abdul-Aziz al-Khair? Yesterday, our Alawite brothers tore from the regime its last figleaf by declaring it renegade and savage, saying that it flouts the will of the entire Syrian people. What is happening in Syria is a struggle between slavery and freedom, between justice and injustice. And I’ll tell you about something: in the beginning of the revolution, elements linked to the regime tried to light the fuse of civil war among our brothers in Banias, in which Sunnis mix with Alawites, all of whom know that they are one people with the same rights and responsibilities. A delegation came from each, from the elders (sheikhs) of both sides and made it past the crisis, proving that the Syrian people doesn’t need the Assad mafia, that it can live together and will go on living a life with dignity and justice.
Second [of the three lines], chemical weapons. Nobody has batted an eye at what has happened to the Syrian people. There are those who have passed along timid messages, and here I’m being frank with our people, and they ask: Is it possible to destroy these weapons? And I said that is something to be decided by a comprehensive national conference that can happen, in my opinion, as part of a deal for the entire region that does away with all types of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. Brothers here and governments of the world, the opposition will not sell their country.
The third of these lines is terrorism. Is terrorizing a country for two years acceptable? Can anyone seriously talk about terror when every day the Syrian people is butchered in full view of the world? They say, We aren’t against the Syrian people, only the foreign extremists. I’m not sure if it has to do with the fact that they’re foreign, or with their beards! What about the thousands of Russian and Iranian experts and Hizbullah fighters? Are they all Syrians? Let them all leave, and we’ll ask the forgiveness of our honored brothers and guests. There are many Syrian mothers – French mothers and Dutch mothers – who have sent me messages. She said, I beg you, my children left for the jihad in Syria. Do you agree with this? I said to her, Your children have a living conscience and can no longer stand the wholesale slaughter of a people! But I also say to all the young people: If your family needs you, then do not come. Serving your parents, even if they aren’t Muslim, is at the core of jihad on the path of God. They also ask who will rule Syria. Syria’s people are the ones who will decide. Not any other country – the Syrian people will decide who will govern them and how. Its sons will work out how to live together, brought together by God’s word: “There is no compulsion in religion.” As for extremist thought, it is the product of injustice and corruption. We need to treat what leads to it, and not just blame those whose conscience can no longer the daily massacres.
Fifth: The regime is the one who rejects any solution for the crisis. We welcome any political solution that spares more blood and avoids further destruction. We put forward to the regime a humanitarian initiative without a single political or military stipulation. Just release the innocent. Arrogantly, the regime said no.
Forgive if I mentioned this example, just so you know a piece of what happens in [Syria’s] prisons. There is a hotel called the Carlton. Opposite is a [security] branch, Branch 215.I ask of the officials of the Syrian regime, if they claim that they don’t know it, to go now and visit it, before the blood is washed from its floor. Some time ago, one of my students was arrested. They hung him by his hands for seven days, with intense torture. After that, he lost his mind. Because he was being tortured in a room whose floor was covered in blood and urine and that held a number of bloated corpses, and the stench was deadly. The worms boiled in those corpses, and they forced him to sleep on top of them. He went insane from the terror, but that wasn’t enough for them. They chopped him to pieces in front of the other prisoners! Is anyone in the world satisfied with that?
We asked only for the release of the detainees, and especially the women and children. Are there children? Yes, my brothers, and I can give you names. There was a child at the Ya’four checkpoint, one year old, who went for two weeks without any food or help!
We prefer a political solution in order to save more blood and destruction. The Syrian revolution has no warplanes or Scud missiles, and the regime alone is the first and last one responsible. We want freedom, not for the country to go on to more destruction. We want to proceed according to transitional justice and a national understanding and a clear political solution that prevents this regime from inflicting more savagery and devastation.
Sixth: Syrian society is a civilized one. But its sons suffer from something: that they had never before sat with each other. They discovered themselves with the revolution. They established civil administrations, police forces, courts, a judiciary, underground hospitals, schools amid the bombing!
There are many obstacles, but there is a determination to succeed. Among the accomplishments so far is the establishment of a temporary government whose president, Ghassan Hitto, was chosen and in whom we all have confidence. We in the National Coalition’s council wait for Mr. Hitto to submit a platform for debate. Just as we are now considering turning the Coalition into a comprehensive national conference.
Seventh: We ask, in the name of our oppressed people, for support in all its forms from all our brothers and friends. That includes the full right to self-defense, Syria’s seat in the United Nations and other international organizations, and the freezing of the money that the regime stole from our people, to be set aside for reconstruction.
Seventh: I thank all the governments of the world that support the Syrian people in winning its freedom, and we ask them all to meet the commitments to which they promised.
There are tens of countries that have offered assistance. An American official said to me: Are you embarrassed to say that the United States has helped you with $365 million for humanitarian aid? I said, We’re not embarrassed. And we thank all the world’s governments, but I say: The role of the United States is bigger than this! And I requested in a meeting with Mr. Kerry that a Patriot missile umbrella be extended over Syria’s North. He promised to study the issue, and we still wait for a decision from NATO to save the lives of innocents and return those displaced to their countries. Not to fight, but rather to protect people and allow them to return to their normal lives.
Tens of countries provided assistance, and I thank in particular the state of Qatar that hosted the conference, and our dear brothers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and our brothers in Jordan and Lebanon and Iraqi Kurdistan, all of whom shoulder a great burden. I offer special thanks to our brothers in Turkey and Libya, and to the unknown soldier who opened his arms unconditionally to Syrians, our brothers in Egypt. I thank our honored brothers in the Emirates, Tunisia and Morocco, and all the countries that joined us in this meeting. I thank our brothers in the Emirates, I thank our brothers in Tunisia and Morocco, and all those who supported the right of the Syrian people to their freedom. I ask all of them to ease the processing of Syrians and their residency, and to support them to the extent possible.
Eighth: Our dear brothers, forgive me if I’ve gone a little beyond the bounds of diplomatic custom. There’s something I’d like to say to you in front of all of our peoples: Omar bin Khattab was stopped by a woman in the road who said to him, Fear God, Omar. So [his companions] said to her, You say this to the Commander of the Faithful?! [Omar] said to them, Leave her. There is no good in her if she does not speak up, and no good in us if we do not listen.
I say this to you as the youngest of your brothers: Deal mercifully with your people for fear of God, and shield your countries with justice and fairness, and sow love everywhere. Our peoples long for more dignity, justice and equality, and I’m sure that if we walked among them, they would embrace us and lay their heads on our shoulders and cry for the weight of pain and trouble they bear. Our peoples are a heavy responsibility. We ask God to help you support them in your goodness.
And there is a request that reached me in hundreds of messages, even if it is outside the normal bounds of diplomacy. I ask you, if you think it appropriate, to pass a resolution in this conference – including whatever necessary to accommodate the conditions in each country, and in response to the calls of many – to release all the detainees in the Arab world, so that the Syrian revolution’s day of victory in breaking the cycle of injustice might be a day of joy for all our peoples.
From Surat al-’Asr: ‘Indeed, mankind is in loss, except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.’
May God’s peace and mercy be upon you.
Please forgive any typos in either the video or the written translation. Been racing to get this out in time to be useful.
Inspiring, courageous, straightforward, love him. Please stay on board ya Oustad !