In Translation: Haitham al-Manaa on the new Syrian coalition

I was looking for interesting articles on the new Syrian coalition (see my take and links here) and came across this post by Angry Arab recommending an article by Haitham al-Manaa, a Syrian dissident who has been critical of the SNC and the armed Syrian opposition. In it, Manaa returns to a theme he has written about extensively in the last few months: can an armed opposition be united in any political meaningful way? And is does this coalition empower the organized fighters (with their ties to foreign money, recently ex-regime figures, and Islamist groups) at the expense of the broader Syrian social movement that rose against Assad, or indeed a Syrian society that has shown it is not always in favor of militarizing this conflict (here I think especially of how the fighting was brought to Aleppo mostly by outsiders) despite the regime’s atrocities?

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Doha and Its Sisters

Haitham Manaa, as-Safir, 14 November 2011

For more than two months, and all those who passed through the Syrian National Council, from founders, resigners, members, associates, and missionaries for membership headed to Doha to rescue this body from intensive care — which the doctor, Eric Chevallier[1], failed to do on his own. Neither the group photo with President Hollande, nor the injection of funding and diplomatic support was enough.

The American pragmatic mentality was more subtle when it took some of the ideas proposed by Riad Seif and reformulated them in a way consistent with a radical departure from the National Council story. Hilary Clinton announced that the product had expired, and it was now necessary for an induced birth and Caesarian section to take place for a newborn heir to succeed a brother that did not take advantage of the oath of allegiance he received from the Gulf, Turkey and the West, who did not win people over, and who did not develop a political discourse befitting the destructive violence that the country is suffering from.

Perhaps the first weak point of the old National Council was in its blind support for one idea: getting armed and importing arms for military groups. This idea failed due to its single mindedness or by making its political horizon too short-sighted and immediate.

Ahmad Mouaz al-Khatib’s words were taken as auspicious, as he talked about politics and religion and did not talk about violence and weapons. However, it was not long before we received really frightening information and testimonies as a clear article in the Syrian National Coalition confirms. Mr. al-Khatib is rectifying what he forgot in this inauguration speech, saying that he wants European recognition and financial support for the coalition, and going on to add that when political recognition takes place, this will make the coalition act like a government and then it will acquire weapons and this will solve the problems.

In a second message published two days ago, Mr. al-Khatib reveals his opposition to the National Charter approved in Cairo, affirming that “the Cairo document was not adopted in any way. I was among many of our brothers who rejected it and issued a statement that I will be the first person to withdraw when there is an item that contradicts the creed of the enduring Umma.”

Of course, here he is talking about the desacralization of public action by considering human beings to be responsible for their actions and affirming equal citizenship between all Syrians, as both of those items are rejected by some Islamists.

Despite the ambiguous relationship between the Council and the Coalition, the vagaries of the relationship between the Arab League and what the new project accumulated, despite the fact that the Council took the lion’s share (38 of the Council members, five of whom resigned) at the expense of the rest of the present and absent factions of the opposition, despite the absence of [Lakhdar] Brahimi’s mission, and the absence of the Geneva meeting, most Arab countries were silent about this in the Cairo meeting and tried to keep up appearances. However, as one attendee said, “They said what they had to say and ignored us, and we said what we had to say in a way that didn’t compel anyone.”

France is providing another example of the cacophony that it is directed toward Syria. The Defense Minister ruled out direct recognition, in Cairo the Foreign Ministry delegation contented itself with offering support without recognition, and President Francois Hollande offered recognition in a caricatural form, saying: “Today I declare that France recognizes the Syrian National Council [sic — here the author surely means the Coalition, not the SNC] as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, and as the future government of a democratic Syria, allowing it to bring an end to Bashar al-Assad’s regime.” There is no printing error here, Hollande is recognizing the Council after it removes al-Assad, giving proof of his meticulous and profound observation of the Syrian issue!

The ambiguities of the Doha text are many, and rejecting dialogue and negotiation was not in need of a political body. That is a task for warriors. The problem is that there are those who want to dictate to the Syrians what to do and force them to do what they want and turn them into yes-men, as Issam al-Attar[2] said.

Before the conference, al-Khatib said that negotiation is a religious and political duty. After Qatari generosity, the imam discovered that his fatwa was mistaken, since he has one merit, but Ford and Chevallier have two.

  1. Eric Chevallier is France’s ambassador to Syria.  ↩

Issam al-Attar is a former General Guide of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood who has since left the group.  ↩

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,