The National Salvation Front Folds

The following articles by Phil Sands and Bahiya Mardini, copied below, explain how the National Salvation Front – Syria’s largest exile opposition party that sprung up in the wake of the Hariri murder and Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon – disintegrated. The Front was formed in March 2006 (See my coverage) when ex-Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam joined with Ali Bayanouni, the head of the Muslim brothers. I wrote the following paragraphs to conclude a recent article written with Joe pace on “The Syrian Opposition: The struggle for Unity and Relevance, 2003–2008,” that has recently appeared in Fred Lawson, ed., Demystifying Syria, Saqi Books (August 1, 2009)

The combination of international engagement and regime crack downs has ended all significant opposition activity inside Syria. Ayman Abdul Nour, who produces the web-based newsletter “All4syria” and who now lives in exile, explains that Syria’s improved relations with the West provided the regime “shelter to use force against its militant enemies, and even against civil society, without generating a global outcry.” (Abdel Nour 2008).

Yasin Hajj Salih, perhaps the government’s most articulate leftist critic who has not been jailed, wrote in al-Hayat in October 2008 lamenting the complete fragmentation and debasement of the opposition by the government. He argued that “the opposition must change itself first in order to be an example of change to society.” He continued, “neither communism nor Arab nationalism can solve the problem. The democratic opposition … needs new ideas about Syrian patriotism and about the current economic and social transformation taking place in Syria…. It must be independent from the outside.” Salih concludes, “The only way to exit this crisis of failure is to focus on rebuilding the self and developing knowledge of Syrian society which the opposition in all its different branches lacks completely.” (Hajj Salih 2008) Such scathing self criticism is prevalent within the ranks of Syria’s opposition. The opposition is busy trying to explain why the ordinary Syria citizen did not rally to its call and to devise a plan for rebuilding itself.

Hassan Abdul Azeem, the leader of the Democratic Arab Socialist Union Party. Phil Sands / The National

Hassan Abdul Azeem, the leader of the Democratic Arab Socialist Union Party. Phil Sands / The National

Syrian opposition group collapses
Phil Sands, Foreign Correspondent
April 22. 2009

DAMASCUS // The birth of the National Salvation Front (NSF) in the spring of 2006 prompted intense speculation that the Syrian opposition, for so long weak and divided, had unified and would launch a serious challenge to the leadership of Bashar Assad, the president.

Syria had just been forced to withdraw its army from Lebanon, a major setback for the regime, and was under intense pressure from the international community for reform. Abdelhalim Khaddam, the former vice president, had defected to Brussels and vowed to reveal many regime secrets and a political storm was brewing over Damascus.

In this turbulent atmosphere came the unlikely union between Mr Khaddam, a one-time regime stalwart, and Ali Sadreddin Bayanouni, the leader of the banned Syrian Muslim Brotherhood who lives in London, and a flurry of media reports on the newly formed government-in-exile that for the first time could really vie for power with the regime.

But when the NSF alliance collapsed this month, it caused hardly a murmur in Syrian circles.

According to opposition figures inside Syria, the NSF had long been irrelevant and was from the very start a fragile alliance.

Up until his resignation, Mr Khaddam was a senior figure in Mr Assad’s administration and had been a loyalist of the former president, Hafez al Assad, the same man who led a bloody operation against the Brotherhood during the 1980s. “It was always about opportunism and the National Salvation Front was always an illusion,” said Hassan Abdul Azeem, the head of the Democratic Arab Socialist Union and one of the founding members of the Damascus Declaration, a domestic opposition alliance from which it has now split.

The NSF and the Damascus Declaration never saw eye to eye because of Mr Khaddam’s involvement in the former. No domestic political opposition group could afford to associate with him for fear of censure, but more than that there was little interest among the opposition in aligning with a character they felt had no credibility.

“Khaddam believed the Syrian regime would be finished after pulling out of Lebanon and he thought that the NSF would form the new government. He and the Muslim Brotherhood were betting that foreign pressure and foreign forces were going to be about regime change in Syria as they had done in Iraq. They were wrong.”

One of the major criticisms of the NSF was that its main leaders were living overseas – Mr Bayanouni in London and Mr Khaddam in Brussels.

“We were always concerned that any Syrian opposition groups should be built from inside the country,” Mr Azeem said. “They need to be legitimate and close to the real situation, they need to understand conditions on the ground and they need to be independent of foreign interference.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is banned in Syria and membership is technically punishable by death. Nevertheless, it is thought to have some grassroots popularity and a natural constituency among Syria’s Sunni Arab majority. In teaming up with the former regime insider, the Brotherhood hoped to widen its appeal, both to Baath Party members inside Syria and foreign powers wary of Islamist politics but keen to see a new regime in Damascus.

In reality the alliance appears only to have stained the Muslim Brotherhood’s reputation; Mr Khaddam, long viewed inside Syria as a highly corrupt member of the old guard, is now widely regarded as a traitor after fleeing abroad and trying to overthrow the president.

Already cool relations between Mr Khaddam and Mr Bayanouni deteriorated rapidly after the January war in Gaza, during which the Brotherhood suspended its activities against the Syrian regime, which was supporting Hamas, effectively its arm in Palestine.

By that stage, the cracks had become impossible to avoid. There was already speculation the Brotherhood had entered into mediated talks with the Syrian authorities about lifting capital punishment for membership in the group and allowing exiles to return, though neither step has been taken.

“There is always speculation around such talks,” said Ammar Qurabi, the head of the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria. “In reality the NSF was always weak and it has done nothing. The Muslim Brotherhood thought Khaddam would bring international contacts and regimists but that amounted to nothing.”

The dissolving of the NSF alliance, in which at least some opponents to the Syrian regime had placed their faith, has, however, given others a slim reason for hope. “This opens the door,” said Mr Azeem of the Arab Socialist Party.

“In the past some people were gambling on the Americans to come here and change the regime. The collapse of the NSF will encourage the domestic opposition to focus and to unify their efforts on bringing about change from the inside.”

He also said that the withdrawal of the Muslim Brotherhood from the NSF made it possible for the Islamic group to improve its ties with the domestic opposition. Although the Muslim Brotherhood endorsed the Damascus Declaration, a number of other signatories regarded its membership in the NSF as a de facto resignation.

“The Muslim Brotherhood had a history in the opposition and they have given their blood for that,” Mr Azeem said. “If Bayanouni asked to co-operate with my party I would welcome that, I would welcome co-ordination and dialogue.”

Herven Oce of the Kurdish Future Movement – which is outside of the Damascus Declaration – also saw possibilities in the NSF’s failure. “Maybe in [the] future this will help with the restructuring of the opposition,” she said. “There will be more clarity in the coming period.”

With the advent of the Obama administration and re-engagement between the United States, Europe and Syria, there are hopes that the tough stand on pro-democracy campaigners would be eased and political prisoners released. So far there have been no concrete steps in that direction, according to Mr Qurabi, who said the opposition’s weakness remained its principal characteristic.

“We can talk of the NSF split, but the Damascus Declaration is the same,” he said. “Some groups have split from it, the other leaders are in prison.

“At the moment, none of the opposition groups has any real influence … both inside and outside of Syria. At the moment the strongest thing [is] the security [services], the strongest thing is the regime.”

“Bashmann” resigns from Khaddam’s National Salvation Front (NSF)

Bashman, who served as the program manager of Khaddam’s NSF satellite TV station, believes that change in Syria will not come from the outside – not from opposition members working in hotels, cafes, or on internet sites. He also stated that there are red lines that any opposition member should not cross, such as being backed by countries which have goals that are not consistent with Syria’s interests.

Bishar al-Sibai بشار السبيعي.

Bashar Elsbihi بشار السبيعي

خلاف جديد في جبهة الخلاص الوطني المعارضة في سوريا
طباعة أرسل لصديق
بهية مارديني – ايلاف
22/ 04/ 2009
اعتبر مراقبون سوريون إن” استقالة مدير مكتب جبهة الخلاص السورية المعارضة في واشنطن دق مسمارا جديدا في نعش المعارضة خارج سوريا ، كما خلافات حزب الاتحاد الاشتراكي وإعلان دمشق التي أثرت بشكل سلبي على المعارضة في الداخل “.
وأكد الكاتب والمحلل السياسي السوري لؤي حسين في تصريح خاص لإيلاف” برأيي انه منذ فترة طويلة المعارضة السورية بحكم المنتهية نتيجة أنها لم تلعب دور المعارض، ولكن كان هناك جماعات سياسية وتنظيمات صغيرة احتلت مكان المعارضة دون أن تلعب الدور المناط بها كمعارضة ، وبالتالي كان المآل الطبيعي لهذه التجمعات أن تتفسخ وتتفكك” .
وشدد حسين “إن المعارضة السورية بشكل عام لم تلعب دور المعارضة ، وبالتالي لم يكن لديها حافز وأدوات المعارضة لذلك كانت لابد أن تتصادم على أمور صغيرة داخلية “.
وأشار الى “انه طالما ان المعارضة لم تستطع ان تتحمل مسؤوليتها كمعارضة تجاه المجتمع السوري بالتالي كان اشتغالها دوما في الحقل الأمني وليس في الحقل السياسي بمعنى ان كل نشاطاتها تقيسها على رد الفعل الامني للسلطة وليس على الجدوى السياسية التي يمكن ان تعود على البلد والمثال على ذلك عدم اقدام اغلب جهات المعارضة على المشاركة في انتخابات مجالس الإدارة المحلية “.
من جانبه قال الدكتور عمار قربي رئيس المنظمة الوطنية لحقوق الإنسان في سوريا في تصريح خاص لايلاف” أصلا لم يكن هناك معارضة منظمة قبل جبهة الخلاص وقبل اعلان دمشق بل كان هناك اشخاص معارضين داخل وخارج سوريا ” ، وأضاف” المعارضة المنظمة انتهت اثر صدور القانون 49 الذي حظر عمل الإخوان المسلمين في الداخل واثر اعتقال المئات من كوارد حزب العمل الشيوعي والمكتب السياسي أما تسميات أحزاب المعارضة داخل سوريا فلا تختلف عن تسميات أحزاب الجبهة فهي أسماء فقط دون كوادر ودون أعداد ودون نشاط ودون جذور ” ، واعتبر” انه سيبقى هناك أشخاص معارضين ومعارضين مستقلين وهم أكبر من الأحزاب وأكبر من الايديولوجيا هذا ناهيك عن وجود المعارضة الصامتة “.
وكان بشار السبيعي أعلن استقالته من منصب مدير مكتب جبهة الخلاص السورية المعارضة في واشنطن وانسحابه من عضوية المجلس الوطني فيها ، واعتبر السبيعي في بيان “إن التغيير والإصلاح السياسي في سورية لن يأتي على أيد خارجية أو أحزاب وجماعات معارضة تعمل في مقاهي وفنادق عواصم غربية وإقليمية وعبر مواقع إخبارية الكترونية”.

وكانت جماعة جماعة الاخوان المسلمين في سورية اعلنت انسحابها من جبهة الخلاص التي شاركت نائب الرئيس السوري السابق المنشق عبد الحليم خدام في تأسيسها مع شخصيات وحركات معارضة سورية العام 2006، وقالت إنها اتخذت هذه الخطوة “بعدما انفرط عقد الجبهة عملياً وأصبحت عاجزة عن النهوض بمتطلبات المشروع الوطني والوفاء بمستلزماته” ، كما أعلن .

وأضاف “أن أي تعامل مع أي جهة أجنبية قد تكون هي نفسها لها مآرب وأطماع استعمارية وانتهازية في سورية هو خط أحمر لكل وطني سوري شريف، وأن مثل هذا العمل نهايته نتيجة واحدة فقط تأتي بالدمار والخراب على كل سوري”.لاح بدر الدين ومحمد رشيد انسحابهما من جبهة الخلاص كممثلين للمكون الكردي

Read Bashar Elsbihi’s announcement of his withdrawal from the NSF on his blog: Damascus Spring

بيان إنسحاب من جبهة الخلاص الوطني في سوريا وحزب الإنفتاح

Comments (1)


1. norman said:

It looks like Syria is going to be one of the winners in Iraq , This story is important to me as I grew up in one of these pumping stations between Kirkuk and Banias,

BAGHDAD, April 23 (UPI) — Syria and Iraq moved a step closer to normalizing relations during meetings in Baghdad by moving on plans to repair an oil pipeline between the two countries.

U.S. forces bombed the pipeline to Syria shortly after the 2003 invasion. Plans to repair the route have moved along in various stages since then.

Syrian Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Otari arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday, leading a ministerial delegation of economic, energy and security officials.

In the wake of the visit, Iraqi oil officials opened invitations for bids to examine the pipeline and necessary repairs, The National newspaper in the United Arab Emirates reports.

The Kirkuk-Banias oil pipeline extends 500 miles from oil fields in northern Iraq to the Syrian port of Banias. At its peak, the line carried around 300,000 barrels per day.

Repairs to the line would give Iraq a vital avenue for oil exports to Europe while providing much-needed economic incentives to Syria.

Iran and Syria had signed a memorandum of understanding earlier in the month for the construction of the 2,100-mile Persian Pipeline that would bring gas to European markets along a route through Turkey, Iraq and Syria.

Next Story: Vote planned for Burgas-Alexandroupolis

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April 24th, 2009, 2:30 am

 

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