In order to protect the revolutionary process from being co-opted by imperialist powers, the Syrian opposition largely rejects calls for foreign intervention, writes Khalil Habash.
The debate around foreign military intervention is less about its possible implementation in the near future and more about the capacity for the Syrian opposition to protect the revolutionary process in the country from the imperialists. The latter, despite their declarations in favor of the Syrian people, only want to push forward their interests and not the ones of the revolution and the Syrian popular movement.
Imperialist powers such as France, the UK, and the US are releasing conflicting statements about the difference between the Syrian and Libyan scenarios in an attempt to justify their unwillingness to intervene at the moment. Instead, these powers are waiting for the deterioration of the situation on the ground and the consolidation of opposition forces.
This is why regional and international states, especially Turkey and those of the West, have actually pushed for the creation of the Syrian National Council (SNC) to unify the opposition in order for it to speak with one voice. But it would be more useful to create a coalition of opposition forces on the basis of common principles rather than insist on total unity. It is more important to unite all efforts in a common struggle on the ground to overthrow the dictatorship than to build new political alliances in addition to the countless conventions and other meetings seen on television and in the media.
The SNC’s lack of clarity surrounding the question of military intervention is the target of criticism and scrutiny by some opposition factions inside and outside of Syria. Despite the general and official position of the SNC and of its chair, Burhan Ghalioun, opposing foreign military intervention, other members have spoken favorably of various forms of foreign interference including the implementation of a no-fly zone or humanitarian intervention, without clarifying what that would mean.
Other criticism is targeted at the over-representation of the Muslim Brotherhood, and so-called independents affiliated to it, in the SNC. According to critics, Muslim Brotherhood members and their affiliates were granted up to 60 percent of council membership despite their secondary role in the protests and the fact that their real weight within the opposition is a fraction of that. Another shortcoming of the SNC is the lack or absence of coordination among its various arms, particularly the National Committee for Democratic Change (NCDC), which was not consulted and was offered only three representatives among the 71 seats designated to domestic-based opposition groups. The NCDC was formed on September 17. It brings together Arab nationalists, socialists, Marxists, members of the Kurdish minority and also contains known opposition figures such as Aref Dalila, Michel Kilo, Hassan Abdul-Atheem, Hussein al-‘Udaat and Hazem Nahar, and Hatem Mana. Most of these figures were home-based dissidents previously active in forums across the country.
The SNC’s lack of clarity on the question of foreign involvement coincides with calls for overthrowing the regime by military intervention by self-proclaimed opposition figures such as Mahmoud Homsy and Abdel Halim Khaddam. Homsy is linked to the pro-US March 14 movement, and Abdel Halim Khaddam is Syria’s former vice president and close companion of Hafez Assad for more than 20 years. Khaddam is currently in exile in Paris. He justified his position by citing the Libyan example to argue that foreign intervention does not equal occupation.
The majority of the Syrian opposition, locally and in exile, has nevertheless denounced these calls and adopted a clear position of refusing any foreign military intervention. The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) of Syria, which are part of the newly founded SNC, have declared their will to continue to resist peacefully against the criminal regime, while denouncing calls to arm the revolt or invite external assistance:
“We specifically reject this position as we find it unacceptable politically, nationally, and ethically. Militarizing the revolution would minimize popular support and participation in the revolution. Moreover, militarization would undermine the gravity of the humanitarian catastrophe involved in a confrontation with the regime. Militarization would put the Revolution in an arena where the regime has a distinct advantage, and would erode the moral superiority that has characterized the Revolution since its beginning.”
The statement goes on to explain how the objective of Syria’s revolution is not limited to overthrowing the regime, but also seeks to build a democratic system and national infrastructure that safeguards the freedom and dignity of the Syrian people. The method by which the regime is overthrown is an indication of what Syria will be like post-regime. They justify this position by saying that if the Syrian people maintain their peaceful demonstrations, the possibility of democracy in the country is much greater. They add that if an armed confrontation or international military intervention becomes a reality, it will be virtually impossible to establish a legitimate foundation for a proud future Syria. They finally call on the Syrian people to remain patient as they continue their national revolution. They hold the regime fully responsible and accountable for the current situation in the country, the blood of all martyrs – civilian and military, and any risks that may threaten Syria in the future, including the possibility of internal violence or foreign military intervention.
The Syrian Revolution General Commission, which now boasts nearly 120 local committees, also called for a peaceful revolution void of sectarianism and without the aid of foreign military intervention, in order to build a democratic, social, and equal Syria.
The NCDC, which has a central committee of 80 members – 25 percent of whom are young revolutionaries, is also an opposition group with a clear political program and clear position of refusal of foreign intervention. In mid September, the conference organized by the members of the NCDC in the outskirts of Damascus called for the overthrow of the regime while drawing three red lines: "No to violence, no to sectarianism, and no to foreign intervention.”
Two others key documents were discussed: a political program of struggle for the overthrow of the regime, and a pact of constitutional principles, drawing the contours of the future of Syria which guarantees the democratic and socio-economic rights of the people, also explicitly stating that the Syrian people have every right to recover, by any means possible, occupied territories – namely occupied Golan.
Another important aspect of the NCDC is that it does not view itself as leading or representing the uprising but attempting to embody its demands in an inclusive political and national project.
In a recent meeting with Robert Ford, the US ambassador to Syria, NCDC representative Hasan Abdul-Atheem declared his bloc’s refusal of any external or regional intervention, including attempts to fund or arm the uprising, which could lead to a civil war and fulfill the regime’s spurious claims of roaming armed gangs.
In sum, the Syrian opposition in its majority have until now understood the need to protect their revolution from being coopted by foreign imperialists’ actors and individuals serving them, as well as from the threat of a possible militarized war with the regime on a general scale. History has shown that going the way of foreign intervention has always been counterproductive, and in this matter, Syria will be no exception.
This text first appeared on the Al-Akhbar website.