An afternoon with the Syrian opposition

An afternoon with the Syrian opposition

On Monday, I had a chance to have an exclusive meeting with Sheikh Mouaz al-Khatib, the President of the National Coalition for Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution. He struck me as a very modest man, and gave me more hope about the future o Syria.

The meeting was held in an Istanbul hotel, with me and three other Turkish journalists. Al-Khatib first gave an overview of the situation in Syria and answered all our questions. One of my queries was about the much-discussed issue of extremists within the anti-regime forces. He said that this matter was being exploited by the al-Assad regime and their allies. “90 percent of the revolutionary forces are under our command,” he noted. “The rest include some foreign fighters with extremist views, but most of them can be persuaded around.”

For me, it was only normal that a revolutionary force such as the Syrian opposition, which has been fighting a brutal tyranny, makes use of any force that helps its cause. But it was also important that extremists do not turn Syria’s war for freedom into a sectarian war between Sunnis and Alawites. Sheikh al-Khatib was also cautious about this matter, saying, “we do not have a sectarian war, but it might unfortunately head toward that direction if the war is prolonged.”

The Sheikh emphasized that they believed in a free and pluralistic Syria where every group was respected. “Syria is a garden of God on earth,” he said, “with many flowers, all of which are precious.”

To his right sat Mounzer Makhous, Syria’s ambassador to France, who is living proof that the Syrian opposition is not simply Sunni. “I am a member of the Alawite community,” said Mr. Makhous, who has been a prominent figure within the opposition. “There are many other Alawites who resent the regime. Others support it unwillingly, because they know that the regime’s wrath is most brutal on those Alawites that it considers traitors.”

One of Mr. Makhous’s observations was notable. He argued that while Iran supported the al-Assad regime out of sectarian bigotry, Russia’s support was more pragmatic. Besides its longtime ties with the al-Assad regime, Moscow also resents the whole “Arab Spring,” for it symbolizes the people’s power against authoritarian states. “If this idea spreads to the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Russia itself,” he reasoned, “then Moscow will be in big trouble.”

No wonder, I said to myself, that the friends of the Syrian regime are also a fine selection of the world’s prominent dictatorships: Russia, China, Iran, and even North Korea.

On the issue of dialogue with the regime, Sheikh al-Khatib reminded of the fact that he had announced his readiness to dialogue before, but no genuine response came from the regime. He also added that the regime had a history of using such measures only to buy time. Mr. Makhaus said the regime wanted the disarmament of the Free Syrian Army first, in order to begin talks, but added that this was of course unacceptable. “That is why we have to fight until victory,” he concluded.

I, too, hope that the Syrian opposition will have victory against the al-Assad regime – that cruel, ruthless, lying, cheating, murdering, torturing, raping entity that deserves to be overthrown and brought to justice. I also think that the “international community,” which does almost nothing to help this rightful cause, will go down in history as feeble, if not immoral. Sheikh al-Khatib and his comrades, on the other hand, will be remembered as heroes.