Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007
Bette Dam, an enterprising German journalist sent the following article on the National Salvation Front meeting in Brussels. It took place on May 13. The NSF is the primary Syrian opposition organization outside of Syria. It was formed a year ago. She writes:
Hi Joshua, Although there might be a lot of news coming from Beirut right now, I send you one interesting (small) detail about the developments in the NSF of Khaddam. Last week they met in Brussels, and I was there too. The meeting was off the record and behind closed doors. Before and after the two meetings I met with members and talked with them about their plans.All the best, Bette
US Asks the NSF to elect a new leader to obtain credibility
BY Bette Dam
May 19, 2007, Brussels
The American delegation of the National Salvation Front (NSF) proposed that the organization carry out elections of its own in order to choose a new leader. The suggestion caused considerable controversy at the NDF's internal meeting in Brussels (May 13, 2007). According to sources who attended the meeting, Hussam al-Dairi – the representative of the NSF in the US and member of the General Secretariat of the NSF– explained that US-officials want the NSF to organize elections to try to obtain credibility. Al – Dairi joined the meeting via the telephone.
Abdul Halim Khaddam, the current leader, is too controversial, according to US policy makers, Dairi explained. He served for many years as Syria's vice-president under both Hafiz al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad. He also remains a Ba’athist. Because of Khaddam's background, the US administration is reluctant to work with the NSF, believes it lacks credibility. Around 50 NSF members gathered in a luxurious hotel in Brussels last week in order to plan for their organization's meeting in Berlin on the 4th and 5th of June, which will mark the one-year anniversary of the formation of the NSF.
The US suggestion that the NSF elect a new leader came as a big surprise to the members of the new party. The NSF was the brain-child of Abdel Halim Khaddam, who left Syria with his family in 2005 shortly after being relieved of the office of vice president. Khaddam combined forces with Ali Sadraddin Bayanouni, the exiled leader of the Muslim Brotherhood - Syria's oldest Islamic Party – in order to create a united opposition front that could combine Islamist and secular parties. Only last month, the NSF opened an office in Washington. Most members did not expect a proposal like this, said a number of participants in the meeting.
It seems that Khaddam had not contemplated giving up his position as chairman of the Front. He continues to see himself as the best chairman possible for the NSF. At the same time, Khaddam complained about the lack of international support for the NSF during the meeting, sources said.
He wants more interest from the both the US and the EU because the NSF is Syria's only credible opposition group, members explained. The increasing US and European dialogue with the current “Syrian mafia-regime’ is disappointing, Khaddam added.
The Kurdish members of the NSF approved of the of idea of elections if it would win increased international credibility for the opposition.
A number of independents and communists who belong to the Front rejected the notion of replacing Khaddam. “On the contrary," one communist insisted, "we need three of four Khaddams to make a fist against the dictator in Syria.” The participants in the leadership gathering spoke about ‘much more important topics’, added the communist, such as getting more media-attention for the NSF. “For me," he concluded, "the lack of media-attention is the problem, not Khaddam.”
The NSF will try to open a bank account in preparation for raising the one or two million dollars needed to start a satellite channel. “That will be a great revolution for the Syrians in Syria, because then we can reach them," explained one member.
Another way of getting attention is a demonstration by the NSF planned for next week. Although Khaddam did not speak about the demonstration himself, some members talked up the demonstration in the hope that the Syrian opposition will turn out in force on May 27 in front of the Syrian embassy in Brussels. The 27th is the date that the presidential referendum will be held in Syria.
Addendum: Tony, the leader of the NSF's Australian branch, added this perspective in the comment section. Tony asks why I didn't call up leaders of the NSF to get a fuller view of the Brussel's procedings before posting Bette Dam's article. The answer is because I received Bette Dam's interesting article at 2:00a.m. in the morning and posted it. I had to get up at 6:00 for work. Unfortunately I cannot be a full-time reporter. I do hope, at some point to carry out proper interviews with leaders of the NSF in the future. Here are Tony's remarks which give a fuller picture.