«Haytham Manna is a Syrian writer [in exile]; he spent three decades as a human rights activist who helped create and became spokesperson for the Arab Commission for Human Rights (ACHR). In 2011, during the early stages of the Syrian civil war, he resigned as spokesperson of the ACHR and helped create and become spokesperson of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), one of the two main opposition groups active in the uprising that became a civil war. Manna lives in Paris. »
This is the translation of an interview he gave a Belgian newspaper last week…
The use of chemical weapons in Syria could lead the West to punishing the regime. What do you think about that ?
HAYTHAM MANNA : « I am totally against it, as is the coordination I’m leading. It will only reinforce the regime. Furthermore, any intervention is likely to stir up violence even more, to add destruction to the destruction and to further dismantle the possibility of a political dialogue. The regime is the prime responsible for it has chosen the [drastic] military option. But how can one speak of a war against terror and at the same time give a hand to Al Qaeda affiliated extremists ? »
Are the Western powers choosing the wrong option, according to you ?
« It has been a succession of political mistakes from the start. The US, France and the UK have pushed the parties to radicalize. They haven’t prevented jihadists from going to Syria, and have waited a very long time before mentioning this phenomenon. Where is democracy in this whole project aiming at destroying Syria ? And do you think they are guided by morality ? During the Halabja massacre [perpetrated by Saddam Hussein’s forces in 1988], they closed their eyes. I am also surprised to see that the victims of chemical weapons are far more taken into account than the 100,000 people who died since the beginning of the conflict. »
Who is responsible for the latest chemical weapons related massacre ?
« I don’t have any certainty yet, but our data doesn’t match president Hollande’s. There would be thousands of casualties, while we have a list of less than 500 names at our disposal. Thus, this is propaganda, psychological warfare, and certainly not the truth. Furthermore, the chemical weapons used were basic. Do you really think the overpowered loyalist army needs this ? Last but not least, videos and pictures were posted on the internet before the beginning of the strikes. And this is the material the US is using as evidence ! »
Do you think one of the conflicting parties wanted to provoke the West into intervening ?
« It’s a set-up. We know the chemical weapons were used by Al Qaeda. Now the Free Syrian Army and groups linked to Al Qaeda are joining forces for 80 % of their operations in the northern part of the country. One month ago, Ahmad Jarba [who is coordinating the armed opposition] pretended he was going to change the balance of forces on the ground. Yet, the opposite happened : the loyalist army has been progressing. Therefore, only a direct intervention could help out the rebels… So, let’s wait. If Al Qaeda is responsible, it’ll have to be said loud and clear. If it’s the regime, a UN resolution will be required. As opposed to letting two or three countries unite their friends [for a military intervention], not all of whom are commendable, by the way. »
Which, from the Western and the Russian position, do you think is the most coherent one ?
« The Russians are the most coherent because they are seriously striving for Geneva 2. The [US] cheated. Two or three times, they withdrew [from the negotiations] when the parties were coming together. »
Is a political solution still possible ?
« Anything is possible, but it will depend on the US. The French are merely following. A political solution is the only option to save Syria. But the armed opposition can’t agree on a delegation.»
What will become of Bachar al-Assad ?
« He won’t stay. If the negotiations succeed, they will de facto lead to a parliamentary regime. That is if we accept to respect the draft for Geneva 2, which is the best document, sanctioned by an international agreement. But let me say this : when you talk about massacres of minorities, the president being part of one, how can you ask him to remove himself or not ? Today, the West has strengthened his position of defender of the Syrian unity and the minorities. This said, no one will be able to claim victory : violence has become so blind only a [national union] comprised of the opposition and the regime can put an end to it. »