Camille Otrakji interviews Louay Hussein, Syrian writer and long-time opposition activist, for Syria Comment.
Hussein, first arrested in 1984 as he completed his philosophy degree at Damascus University, was released from jail in 1991. Earlier this year he organised the Samiramis conference, the first opposition gathering in Damascus since protests against the Assad regime began in March.
Q1. You recently launched “Building the Syrian State” political current (تيار بناء الدولة السورية) and announced a possible conference for founding members early next month. What are your priorities and objectives for the near future?
Hussein: Our priority is to find a made-in-Syria solution that can help us prevent more bloodshed in Syria and can plan for the removal of the oppressive regime in a peaceful and secure way. We think that such a solution can be reached through the establishment of a wide coalition of opposition forces that agree to adopt a national working plan that we proposed among other documents. If we succeed in establishing such a coalition, it would be possible for us to work next on aligning Syrian public opinion with our efforts to confront the regime.
Q2. What are your current’s views of the “Coordination Committee” (mostly made of internal Syrian opposition figures) and the “Syrian National Council” SNC (external opposition)? How do you interpret the difficulties that prevented the Coordination Committee from holding a conference in Paris days ago? Was there a French government bias in favor of the National Council and against the Coordination Committee? If yes, then why? Do you suspect that the French were acting on a request by the National Council to silence the Coordination Committee?
Hussein: Our current has favorable views of all parties, coalitions or forces that already exist or are being formed, as long as they seek to protect national unity and reject outside military intervention and reject militarization of the uprising. This includes the Coordination Committee.
I do not have any specific information that can explain the obstruction of the Coordination Committee’s conference in Paris but I tend to suspect an attempt by some influential foreign elements to establish a single Syrian opposition body, the National Council in this case. Uniting the opposition at any cost is a western strategy. Their support for the National Council in every possible way is expected, especially after the Council’s wobbly start.
Q3. Many observers believe that after seven months it is safe to conclude that protests will continue and the regime will not fall anytime soon. What are your expectations for the coming year? If you expect more bloodshed, what can the Syrian people expect next from both the regime and the opposition if they both care to try to stop the bloodshed? Do you expect the leaders in the regime and the opposition to continue to resist any compromise and to trade accusations of responsibility for the violence?
Hussein: I believe there are two reasons why demonstrations will significantly diminish: first, the violent oppression by the authorities recently and second, the increase in the number of armed operations by groups opposed to the authorities such as “The Free Syrian Army”. This is why I expect more bloodshed in Syria. Moreover, I worry that if we fail to reach a homegrown settlement of the conflict very quickly, we will clearly witness different aspects of a civil war in the near future.
Facing this reality and looking back at the past seven months, I am afraid both the regime and the leadership of the opposition did not prove at all they are up to their responsibilities at the national level. This is why each of them is throwing the ball to the other’s court, and both proved unable to introduce serious and realistic initiatives. I am disappointed, and I blame the leaders of the opposition who did not dare to try to lead the street, instead preferring to proudly act merely as an echo of the voice of the street.
Take for example the slogan of “down with the regime”. It was adopted by some of the opposition leaders as if it was a full political platform. We heard them repeat it day and night but without telling us how they will bring down the regime and what is the mechanism for bringing it down and how will they deal with the regime’s security and military establishments and how they will deal with the regime’s supporters --- especially after events proved that bringing down the regime simply through people power is not an easy, or even possible, task within the existing balance of power.
Q4. Regime supporters are quick to point out that the most enthusiastic supporters of regime change in Syria are Syria’s traditional enemies, Israel and the United States in addition to some of the least democratic and most sectarian Arab countries. Do you believe that these forces are genuinely concerned about the Syrian people or are they in fact more interested in the weaker Syria they expect to emerge after the protests?
Hussein: Every country prefers weaker other countries in order to enjoy more power at all levels. This assumption is not at the foundation of the conflict in Syria. All the states you mentioned in your question need stability in Syria. This is the reason why they are trying to provide alternatives to the regime in case the street managed to shake the regime until it disintegrated and fell. Those countries worry that by then a security mess will hurt their national interests.
Q5. Reforms in other “Arab Spring” countries (Tunisia, Egypt and even Libya) are taking much longer to implement than previously anticipated. Why is it that you believe President Assad should be able to implement reforms faster and better than they are being implemented in other “Arab Spring” countries?
Hussein: Syria was a much easier case. President Assad did not lead for too long and he was not rejected by his people. Therefore, he could have achieved progress in reforms that please everyone, with considerable ease. Reforms could have been implemented quite fast because Syria was stable and its political opposition that existed was not interested in confronting the authority. It was more interested in applying pressure on it for its failure to implement political reforms.