Burhan Ghalioun: “Dialogue with the current Syrian regime is impossible” – by Pierre Barbancey
Translated to English by SouriaHouria
The President of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, denounced the bloody spiral into which the regime has shut itself and announced the forthcoming publication of a charter of the opposition with a view to create a democratic, pluralist and secular republic. Meeting.
Sociologist, professor at the Sorbonne, Burhan Ghalioun is now President of the Syrian National Council (SNC). A few months ago, with the publisher Farouk Mardam-Bey and the writer Subhi Hadidi, he published a text entitled Bernard Henri-Lévy, spare Syrians your support! He explains to l’Humanité the strategy of the CNS and reveals the forthcoming initiatives of the Syrian opposition that he leads.
What is the Syrian National Council (SNC), of which you are the president?
Burhan Ghalioun. The SNC is a coalition between different forces of the Syrian opposition. Both secular forces and Islamist forces, like the Muslim Brotherhood and independent Islamists, and representatives of the youths of the revolution – most important component -, what we call the revolution coordination committees. The SNC was created to give to this political movement, to this revolution, a single address – or almost, since there are still forces that are outside of it. It is also to coordinate regional and international relations and to think about the future of the revolution, about the future Syria in some way. The democratic Syria of which everyone is dreaming.
You say that not all the opposition is there. Indeed, we note that a historic opponent, Michel Kilo is not a member of the SNC…
Burhan Ghalioun. Indeed, he is not part of it. There is still the National Democratic Rally which brings together some left-wing parties and is led by Hassan Abdel-Azim. They are not integrated into the National Council but they have taken positive position and can, at any point, join us. However the fact that they reside in Syria accentuates the difficulties and it is difficult for them to take the same positions as us. We will have coordination relations with them more than anything else. There’s no competition, no rivalry. Michel Kilo is a friend, as are many independent activists who support the Syrian National Council.
What is the strategy of the Syrian National Council?
Burhan Ghalioun. Our strategy is to preserve the peaceful and popular nature of this revolution. We want to bring together and mobilise all the forces of democracy in the country behind the youths of the revolution and encourage them to take even stronger positions against the familial regime of Bashar al-Assad. It’s also about mobilising international public opinion to bring at least international protection to citizens who are suffering daily massacres. It’s like a sacrifice ritual. Every day, we have between twenty and thirty victims who fall to the bullets of the Syrian security forces. The most urgent thing for us today is to bring about this international protection as a first stage, before the departure of this family and the fall of the regime.
A few days before the death of Muammar Gaddafi, a member of the Syrian National Council was in Tripoli and spoke about a possible Libya-style scenario regarding Syria. What do you mean by international protection?
Burhan Ghalioun. We think that the Syrian situation is very different to the Libyan situation. Anyhow, the great powers and the international community are of the same mind: what has been done in Libya cannot be reproduced in Syria. Until now, everyone is opposed to a military intervention organised with the aim of toppling the regime. But the responsibility of the protection of civilians, who are victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, is mentioned in an article in the UN human rights charter. Its application requires that observers are sent on the ground to report what is happening. For the moment, we think that sending Arab and foreign observers can bring a certain level of protection to Syrian civilians.
So, clearly, you do not have a Libya-style scenario that would consist of, for example, “liberating” a part of the Syrian territory as a stepping stone to taking power?
Burhan Ghalioun. To think in that way is to reverse things. In reality, in Libya, a part of the country was liberated by Libyans, who demanded some sort of protection, of support so that Gaddafi’s troops could not retake this part of the country. The situation is very different in Syria. There are not really liberated zones that are under the control of a free or revolutionary army. We are requesting protection for the whole population in a country that is still controlled by the security forces of the current regime.
Is there not a risk that your peaceful strategy will be overwhelmed as there are more and more armed clashes with regular troops? We speak about deserters but also Salafist groups. Do you not scared of seeing Syrians dispossessed of their revolt by armed groups who seem to be gaining the upper hand?
Burhan Ghalioun. It’s a risk we must avoid. That’s why we are calling for international and Arab mobilisation to bring about a rapid solution to this issue of daily and collective massacres. In order to avoid this risk, we need to go ahead and act quickly. If we can really get to, with the Arab countries, the international community and in coordination with the youths of the revolution, finding this political solution, that is to say, to protect in one way or another the people and stop the massacres, then I think that the risk of the call to arms will decrease substantially. But there is a risk.
Who do these armed groups follow?
Burhan Ghalioun. The youths of the revolution are members of the Syrian National Council. Therefore we have the possibility to work out a pacifist strategy with them. However if the world as a whole, international diplomacy remain immobile and do not manage to help us to open the prospect of a peaceful continuation of the revolution, of course things will get away from us, obviously. Currently, there are army deserters who are shot at by the security forces and who reply in the same way. That is not the responsibility of the SNC. These are youths who have deserted because they do not accept that the army, to which they belong, is used against their families. There are possibly also other elements that are starting to take up arms. But, in my opinion, the only way to sort out this situation is to promote rapidly a peaceful and political solution. To open up the possibilities of progress to stop the killing. We are trying to limit the influence of armed groups. However the dynamics in the field are relatively autonomous. Everyone should be aware of this danger.
A “Free Syrian Army” was created in July by an officer who had defected. It claims responsibility for the attack against loyalist forces. What do you think of these actions?
Burhan Ghalioun. This army was made up of deserters who refused to fire on the people. But it’s the first time I hear talk about such operations. As the Syrian National Council, we have no relations with this army, which is based in Turkey. We continue to think that our revolution must be peaceful. That said, we should make contact with the leaders of this army so that we can discuss together a strategy that does not push the revolution towards militarisation. That remains our principle.
Are there not forces present in the opposition but who want to turn this peaceful revolt into an armed one?
Burhan Ghalioun. Concerning the forces of the organised opposition, I do not know. Are there outside forces that could manipulate, why not? Whenever there is a flaw in security system of a country, there are many forces and regional or international powers that are going to exploit it and use it for strategic purposes. So there is a risk of manipulation from abroad, or even from internal forces. But for now, the coalition forces of the Syrian National Council are not at this line.
The Syrian government announced the intention to bring in reforms, a modification of the constitution, the organisation of early elections… What do you think about these propositions? Is there still the possible to talk with the government in place in Damascus?
Burhan Ghalioun. There is a total break with the regime, which has been using weapons and bullets for eight months. There are dead, there are wounded, arrests, rapes, acts of violence daily, youths dying under torture, the destruction of districts by the security forces. In these conditions, it is very difficult to convince people that the regime is still capable of dialogue with its people. Those who want dialogue do not commit as many crimes. Dialogue is impossible, but we can envisage steps in the direction of the transfer of power to a representative government, allowing the organization of elections, that is to say if the regime really accepts the democratic process. However dialogue with the present regime to look for a compromise, that’s in the realm of impossibility.
What would happen in the event of victory of the revolution? We see that in Tunisia Islamists have won the elections. In Libya the NTC announced the application of Sharia law; in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood are organising to win… Is there not a fear, even with the SNC that the Islamists will gain the upper hand, politically?
Burhan Ghalioun. There are really no risks. In Syria, the situation is very different. The organised Islamic forces are very much in the minority, not as in Tunisia, not like in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood has been excluded from Syria for practically 35 years. They have no organisation within the country. Syrian Islamist movements are divided. Some of them were with the regime, other are very moderate. There is not one Islamic force capable of diverting the revolution from its objectives. The “secular camp” – that brings together all those who aspire to a democratic, secular republic that respects all citizens independently of their ethnic background or religious affiliations – is very strong. It is the majority. Especially since there are minority communities that cannot be attracted to the Islamist ideology. This is already guaranteed. A national charter is going to be adopted and published by the Syrian National Council, to which all forces organised in the country would be able to adhere, and is going to affirm even more the irreversible nature of a secular, pluralist, democratic republic that will replace the current system.
From a diplomatic point of view, what are the activities of the SNC? Are you asking to be officially recognised, that’s to say to be considered the sole representative of the Syrian people, in place of the current regime?
Burhan Ghalioun. Absolutely. We are looking to be recognised by the Arab countries and in particular by the countries that have already carried out their revolutions, in Tunisia, in Egypt. The Libyan NTC has already recognised us. But we hope to also have this recognition in Europe. For that, it would be necessary to consult with European diplomacy.
Mediation of the Arab League. The Arab League has proposed a plan foreseeing an “immediate halt” to the violence and the “retreat of tanks” in order “to deliver a reassuring message to the Syrian street”. This plan also stipulates “the beginning in Cairo of a national dialogue among all members comprising the opposition and the regime”. After a lot of pussyfooting, Syria accepted this plan. An official announcement should be made today at the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo. During this time, in Damascus, a national committee started work on Monday “to draw up a project of a new constitution”. While the Syrian president warned on Sunday that any Western intervention against his country would provoke an “earthquake” in the Middle East, the head of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has assured that a military intervention by NATO was “totally out of the question”.