A Syrian citizen who witnessed the arrest of Rajaa al-Nasser in Barameka-Damascus wrote to me: “At about half past eleven in the morning, in front of the maternity hospital in the centre of Barameka, security agents arrested a man aged about 60 years who was wearing a suit and had a black moustache. I recognised from the internet and photos that he was the lawyer, Rajaa al-Nasser. They beat him severely and humiliated him because he refused to put his hands in the handcuffs, and then they took him and a young man who accompanied him – I couldn’t recognise him – to the checkpoint car located there, and it seemed that they took them in two cars to one of the security branches”.
I contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry immediately after the arrest. The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov replied to me, “Everything will be fine, the arrest occurred by mistake”. The same answer came from the United Nations, and even the International and Arab envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi wrote to ask me, “Has Mr. Rajaa returned home as we were told he would be?”
Then the Syrian official media repeated their broken record by saying that an armed group kidnapped Rajaa al-Nasser. Despite our fears of this Syrian media, we recognise that not only had the Syrian security services arrested Rajaa al-Nasser, but also they had arrested Abdul Aziz al-Khayer, Eyas Ayash and Maher Tahan , who were all victims of a similar process at the Air Force checkpoint at Damascus Airport on 20 September 2012.
Bogdanov asked me in our meeting in Geneva one Tuesday, “What will they benefit from this arrest, which is bad for the Syrian authorities at all levels”. I said to him “You asked a logical question about those who relinquished their mind and logic a long time ago”.
In Syrian regime jails, we have Abdul Aziz al-Khayer and Rajaa al-Nasser, and there are those who cannot travel such as Mounther Khaddam, yet still the “Khawagat” and the “Coalition” of Istanbul put a veto on the presence of Haytham Manna and Saleh Muslim. This means that the Coalition and “Khawagat” of the Syrian desk will intersect with the regime about the necessity to absent the key members of the delegation of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change from the “Geneva II” Conference! At the same time Ambassador Robert Ford speaks to “Annahar” newspaper of the need for the attendance of “Tawheed Brigade” and “Ahrar al-Sham” (Both member of the Islamic Front), who rejected the Geneva Conference and the idea of a civil and democratic State, and who work in the field and directly coordinate with “Jabhat al-Nusra” and the “Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham” (ISIS) as is known to everyone.
We are entitled, because there is a lot of additional data, to frankly ask the question: are they working to thwart the Geneva Conference since the announcement that it will be held in the last ten days of the coming January?
Not in my memory and my experience has one successful conference been held after World War II that has been prepared for in the way that we see in front of our eyes up to now. The first condition for holding any conference is to provide necessary climates for success. These climates depend on the Syrian parties, regional and international participants in the conference. As a one of the Qaramitians said many centuries ago, “Do not sow your seed in the swamp land” (i.e. salty).
Syrian parties begin with what was known, before the phantoms, and the known trenchant feature is the Syrian regime. Members of the Syrian regime’s delegation will be chosen by their names and their mission by the highest authority in the regime, which means that “the President” Bashar al-Assad is the decision-maker. This is known to the Americans and Russians as will the Syrians. Wisdom requires that this delegation contains all the components of political participation in the government of Wael al-Halaqi. From here we see that the process of some parties jumping into the opposition delegation is a detrimental process to the reputation of the Government, and to each of who pushes to that direction at the same time. We have said clearly to the international officials, “When you enter the headquarters of the United Nations carrying a badge written on it “Governmental”, and when I enter holding a badge written on it “non-Governmental”, how do you want to convince the world that the delegation or delegations of the opposition have got Ministers”?
The second issue is the field. There are still those who are convinced that those who have the balance of power determine the agenda in Geneva, not Geneva Communiqué. Here too is an essential point: the name of the conference is “Geneva II” – that means that this is the continuation of a process that has begun, and is not starting from scratch. The United Nations book is composed of two parts: the first part is named “Geneva Communiqué”, and the second part is that this Communiqué must be fully implemented by the Syrians and the regional and international participants.
The third issue is psycho-social rather than political: the Geneva Conference cannot succeed without providing safe ground for its incubation within a real majority of Syrian society, which means not only a sense of internalizing for every citizen that Geneva II holds the prospects of a solution, but also that by virtue of promise of the Geneva Conference women and children would be released; the abducted and kidnapped would be released; the international sanctions that affect the nutritional and health needs would be lifted; there would be the construction of temporary housing to compensate nearly two million families with shelter after returning from refuge outside or from internal displacement; and there will be parallel permission by the regime for the delivery of these basic materials to all areas of Syria without discrimination.
Finally comes the problem of the detainees without description (i.e. non-political or armed prisoners), anyone who was arrested in the wrong place at the wrong time, relatives of kin or neighbors or neighborhoods. One of the National Coordination Body’s youths upon release told me, “I was in a dormitory in which nearly 400 people from this group from rural Damascus and Idlib were held. When they knew I was from the Coordination Body they had one question on their tongues: Will the Geneva Conference be held and when?” These detainees, who are just some of the estimated tens of thousands of detainees are awaiting the Geneva Conference to open the door to lift the oppression and injustice inflicted upon them.
Then comes the role of the various opposition parties. I have said clearly in meetings this week to each one I met, “ There is no power in the world able to put pressure on the National Coordinating Body”. In the moment of truth today, it seems in front of the world that there is a civil, democratic, patriotic opposition that holds its will and independent decisions, which paid a heavy price for this independence in the political decision-making and in relation to financial dependence and self- struggle. There are those who have bound their decisions with political money and the foreign military.
Thankfully for Syria, since 3 July 2012 we supported the convening of the Geneva Conference II. This is a benefit for the success of the Conference, but it was not enough. We know very well that our world has patriotic independence and those who bound their loyalty and alliances with the external. This exists in Syria and elsewhere. It is devastating for the country and the people that the Syrian opposition enters the Geneva Conference under the umbrella of the “Coalition” because this clearly means that the decision of the opposition is in the hand of the head of Saudi intelligence – Bandar ben Sultan, Turkish intelligence chief – Hakan Fidan, and Robert Ford, etc. .. and not in the hands of the Syrian people.
From here it is the duty of those who possess loyalty to abandon the Ba’athist discourse which the regime gave up in the latest Constitution on the representation of the State and society, which repeats like a parrot the talk of representation of the people and the revolution, and we go to Geneva in the name of the “National Opposition Delegation” and not in the name of the various formations that everybody knows, and know well the height of the ceiling and the independence of each of them.
It is the duty of the opposition delegation to be characterised by charisma, efficiency and dignity in order to be convincing to the Syrians and the world. We have joint papers and essential points of intersection such as the “National Charter”, and Cairo decisions, working documents of the “National Council”, “the Coalition” and “Democratic Forum”, the “Kurdish Supreme Council” and the executive document of the “National Coordination Body”. We have to put this on the table in a consultative meeting urgently for all Syrian opposition parties known for their struggle, efficiency and credibility, away from personal sensitivities and trivial conflicts. Here it is necessary in such a meeting to have not only the large organisations, but also important prestigious figures such as Walid al-Bunni, Khalid al-Mahamed, Sheikh Maaz al-Khatib and Samir Aita and other well-known people. Regional topics come after Syrian representation.
The role of Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia in the ongoing war in Syria is not a secret to anyone, and so far the attendance of Iran and Saudi Arabia in the conference has not been decided. We, the “National Coordination Body” have demanded the presence of Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia in the “Geneva II” Conference since 3 July 2012. The “For Democratic Syria and Civilian State” Conference at the end of last January made a proposal for the attendance of the “BRICS” States – India, Brazil and South Africa – in addition Japan, because they can have a role in the rebuilding of Syria.
Today, we call for and hope that the Saudi – Iranian Summit be held to put an end to the sectarian Cold War which is harvesting both green and dry in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. History has shown the contemporary face of the exorbitant cost of the Gulf-Iran confrontation, both in the Iraq – Iran war which was funded by the Arab Gulf States and ended with occupation of Kuwait by the party supported by Gulf States. The U.S.- British occupation gave birth to sectarian algae, and put it in direct confrontation with the possibility of having a state of law and citizenship and safety in Iraq. It is not reasonable to continue to export “jihadist” from all the corners of the earth to the Fertile Crescent, confronting the face of the Iranian occupation, and that the Syrian authorities opened its borders to more than five thousand Shiite fighters ostensibly to protect Shia holy places!
Finally comes the international role. Here we see the necessity for the Geneva Conference to be accompanied by a clear resolution of the Security Council to place all non-Syrian fighters who are on Syrian territory outside international legitimacy, and that the resolution allows for the prosecution of all those who collude with the entry of non-Syrian parties into the conflict in the country. Responsibility for risk remains at the international level, for transactions and directives required and expected of the Syrian people and the Syrian State.
It is disgusting that some parties are from today proposing names to form a Government of thirty ministers, in triple configuration – one-third of the opposition, one-third of the regime and one-third of “neutral”. It is repulsive that a Western country says it is interested in having its loyal people in the government and the leadership of the military in exchange for the structure of the State security that exhausted and destroyed the country and people.
We say to these people and on behalf of all the victims and rebels against tyranny and corruption: the Syrian people alone decide who will govern, and the nature of the political system. They did not give what is dear and precious to satisfy this or that country, or to achieve the national interests of this or that country. Any attempt of this kind clearly means the creation of a definite case of schizophrenia among the Syrian people and the Geneva II Conference.
We will not compromise on the national republic that we aspire to be, a Republic in the meaning, word and deed, and will not give up democratic change as a supreme common denominator for Syrians.
The Geneva Conference cannot be successful without putting building blocks in place that create a strong hope, not adding to the nightmares that plague our people. This task is the most important test since the start of Deraa on March 18, 2011. The political defeat is more bitter and harsh than all military battles. It is a luxury that Syrian conditions do not allow, and which constitutes the largest case of demolition and rupture of a single country since the end of World War II.
Haytham Manna, Head of the Syrian National Coordination Body – Abroad
This article was published in Assafir newspaper on 28.11.2013