Syrian Opposition Cynical of Proposal for Broad-Based Government

Syrian citizens residing in Morocco demonstrate against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Rabat 14 January 2012. The banner reads, “Bashar leave”. (Photo: REUTERS – Stringer)

By: Tarek Abd al-Hayy

Bashar Assad’s proposal to form a broad-based government as a first step toward resolving the crisis in Syria has been largely rejected by the opposition.
– In his speech last Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced that the new broad-based government will bring together Syria’s different groups and communities, but did not refer to it as a national unity government.
Prior to Assad’s speech, the pro-regime Damascus News Network had leaked news that prominent opposition figures including Michel Kilo, Hassan Abdul Azim, and Aref Dalila would be invited to participate in the new government. Other leaks referred to a Russian initiative to name opposition leader Haytham al-Manna as prime minister.
After the speech, some opposition and independent figures announced their support for such a proposal, while others ignored or rejected it. Coordinator of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB) Hassan Abdul Azim told Al-Akhbar that his organization is not interested in participating in the proposed government. Instead, his group is focusing on the implementation of the Arab initiative and the support of the Arab League by increasing the number of observers to “more than 1,000” and providing UN technical expertise, as well as logistical support to allow the media to enter the most tense areas.
According to Abdul Azim, “the priority should be protecting demonstrators, stopping the violence, and releasing the prisoners.” While he is open to a political solution, possibly mediated by the Arab League, he says that any cooperation with the government will be impossible so long as demonstrators remain subject to acts of violence and the regime refuses to acknowledge the crisis.

Abdul Azim also emphasizes the importance of unity among the opposition, but says that many do not support unity and oppose the NCB and its goals. He calls upon other groups to develop a unified vision that supports demands within Syria and abroad to “strengthen the unity of the forces of the non-violent uprising.”

He says that the NCB will begin discussing the matter of requesting the support of Arab deterrent forces from countries that are “friends of the Syrian people” over the next two days, and stresses the need to find an “Arab solution” while placing the safety of the protesters above all other considerations.

Al-Manna shares the view of the NCB regarding the new government. He has strongly denied any involvement with the government under the current regime, saying “if [Assad] asked me tomorrow to form a government, I would demand that he first step down from his position as president.”

Head of the opposition movement, Building the Syrian State, Louay Hussein tells Al-Akhbar that “this talk of a broad government is meaningless, and such a government will play no role in solving this crisis.” He called the plan a ploy to undermine the Syrian uprising and prevent it from reaching its goals, adding that “the government is merely an administrative structure and has no bearing upon political decisions and political life in the country. These ideas were circulated months ago by some countries allied with the regime as an attempt to settle the conflict and keep it without a real solution.”

Hussein adds, “We refuse to participate in such a government and in fact we will fight any proposition intended to [thwart] the uprising or prevent it from achieving its objectives.”

He also notes that his group would be open to the idea of a coalition authority made up of Syria’s different political and social groups standing as a replacement for the Assad regime during a transitional phase leading to elections.

However, he says that this must first be proposed by the regime, at which point it may well be too late. He thinks that if the regime had reacted sooner, the country could have avoided many of the problems it is currently facing. To this end he asks, “Wasn’t amending the constitution at the beginning of the crisis meant to spare the country from these risks?”

In Syria, the government is formed by a decree issued by the president following the approval of the Baath Party leadership. Will the president himself choose an opposition figure as prime minister? What figure could be acceptable to the regime, while also representing the voice of the opposition? Will the Baath Party simply keep the position for itself without proposing an opposition leader?

Most media leaks point to Communist Party leader Qadri Jamil as a possible candidate for prime minister of the new government. Al-Akhbar was unable to reach Jamil for comment, but in statements following President Assad’s call for an inclusive government, Jamil had stressed the importance of agreeing upon the powers and tasks of the new government as well as the deadlines for accomplishing them. His statements said that the new government should have exceptional and expansive political authority, given that the solution to the crisis should be political. He also demanded an end to violence in order “create an atmosphere of dialogue.”

As to whether these government powers would include overseeing the work of the security services, he said, “these institutions belong to the state, and one of the tasks of any government is to work together and coordinate with all of the state’s structures and institutions.”

Jamil offered his thoughts on his own expectations regarding the preparedness of the authorities to grant the government these powers as well. Jamil said that he anticipates they will arrive at some kind of agreement with the regime, adding “we have not touched on this matter as of yet, but we will not participate in any national unity government that does not have these powers.”

When asked if the authorities had contacted his party to get his opinion on regarding the formation of the new government, he said, “no official communications have been carried out,” but he referred to semi-official and personal meetings wherein his party and the government exchanged their ideas about the situation.

He said that some within the opposition have given up the goal of toppling the regime, which he considers impractical and unrealistic “since foreign military intervention has become very unlikely, and it has been confirmed that the regime is strong and the army is loyal.”

President of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) Ali Haidar said that the broad-based government would be a good opportunity for all to participate in determining Syria’s future. Haidar demands that this government be granted extensive powers to formulate urgent and immediate solutions to the crisis and work on the strategic level to change previous economic policies. He says that the new government should also be given “the power to open dialogue with all of the other opposition forces to include them in political life, and it must have a political role, unlike the current government.”

Regarding dialogue between his party and the regime, he said “we have met most of the political and security leadership and most of the decision-makers in the country. We have supported the idea of a broad government that they proposed to us, especially since we were the first to demand such a thing.”

President for the National Initiative of Syrian Kurds Omar Ousi said that the new government must include Kurdish ministers that represent the Kurdish public in Syria to be considered truly inclusive. Ousi added in a statement yesterday, “We will no longer tolerate the exclusion and marginalization of Kurds from political life of Syria. They have the natural right to be represented in the government, the parliament, and all state institutions.”

Ousi thinks that “leaving the Kurdish component out of the coming government as has happened before with successive governments in Syria will produce a crippled government that does not represent all segments of Syrian society.”

While some political opposition leaders may be open to the “broad-based government,” it does not seem that protesters and activists working on the ground are ready to accept such a proposition. Blogger and activist Hussein Gharir calls the proposal “a political farce that is doomed to fail, because its purpose is not to bring about a fundamental change in the regime’s definition of politics. In fact, it is a true embodiment of what politics means to [the regime], since it is merely masking the reality without working to change it.”

Gharir also notes that the would-be front runner for prime minister of the new government, Jamil, “has not been known to oppose the regime before or at present. Therefore, this government [a government under Jamil] would be a coalition of different political groups that are competing to woo the regime and its security services.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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