Ali Sadruddin Bayanouni’s Interview with Ikhwanweb
The National Salvation Front”s conference, held in German capital Berlin weeks ago, raised an escalating controversy among observers of the current critical Syrian situation. The coalitions in exile and the schisms at home make researchers and observers of the Syrian political situation enquire about the point of change for the Syrian regime.
Ikhwanweb”s correspondent to London , Arwa Walid met Ali Bayanouni, the leader of the Muslim Brothehood in Syria . He responded to questions around the Syrian opposition at home and in exile and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood”s attitudes towards current issues in the Middle East and all over the world.
Ikhwanweb: Weeks ago, you ended the conference of the National Salvation Front. What are its results?. Is there any thing new that the national salvation front has offered. What”s the front expected to do?.
Bayanouni: First: The National Salvation front is a coalition of a group of political powers in the Syrian arena. We- the Muslim Brotherhood group in Syria- adopt the policy of coalitions in order to gather national powers on common understandings. The National Salvation Front has been taking this shape in the past 1 1/2 years. The front”s conference held weeks ago was the second ordinary general conference. This conference is the broadest framework in the front. It was tasked with reviewing the front”s performance and course during the past year and review the performance of the General Secretariat which was elected by the general conference in order to assess this course on the one hand, and to put a future action plan on the other hand. I think that the conference has achieved many of its targets. The work of the front and the performance of the General Secretariat during past year have been reviewed and action plan for the coming stage has been drawn. The concluding statement gave its view about the future of Syria . I believe that the conference has achieved the required target. The most important achievements was that this conference hosted more powers that have recently joined the front and they participated in the general conference, and had seats in the General Secretariat elected in this conference.
Ikhwanweb: In a statement in the Quds Press newspaper, you said that two opposition groups at home joined the General Secretariat?
Bayanouni: This is right. During this round of the conference, two political figures from inside Syria and they represent political blocs or parties inside the country attended it. This is the first time in which political figures from inside country join us after consultations and discussions with them. We have declared their pseudonyms, but their real identities are known only to a very few number of people to protect them inside the country.
Ikhwanweb: Is this a beginning for a new agreement or phase of cooperation between the Syrian opposition inside and outside?
Bayanouni: In fact, we do not distinguish between the opposition inside and outside the country. The opposition in exile is actually an extension of the opposition at home, but tough conditions facing people inside the country do not allow them to give vent to their views. The regime sees a National Salvation Front affiliates inside the country as a red line. It also sees the Muslim Brotherhood as a red line. The ordinary citizen can not declare their support or sympathy to the front or the group, except for some citizens who decide to bear the responsibility and pay the price. Therefore, we are keen to keep identities of these leaders from inside the country not declared. We must admit that both figures” joining the front with their weight and powers inside the country can be considered an important key development in the work of the National Salvation Front.
Ikhwanweb: Observers say that the Muslim Brotherhood Movement has lost so mush of its credibility due to its coalition with Abdel Halim Khaddam, the former Syrian vice-president. Many people currently see the Muslim Brotherhood and Abdel Halim Khaddam as identical. What is your comment?
Bayanouni: In such coalitions, we are not forming one single party. It is only a coalition between different figures and parties which don”t necessarily have the same ideology. They only agree on common targets. This is on the one hand. On the other hand, it is important to form a coalition with Abdel Halim Khaddam because he has got powers inside the regime. These insider powers are ready to work and participate in the process of moving towards democracy in Syria . It is true that most people did not understand our coalition with one of the pillars of the regime. However, the effect of such a coalition is on the regime, and its effect inside the regime, may give it more positive dimensions. We believe that this coalition will help in accelerating the process of national democratic change in Syria . It isn”t important that this may have a negative effect on the group”s popular support in a way or another, as long as this coalition serves the drive towards democratic change.
Ikhwanweb: Some say that the Syrian opposition is isolated from the Syrian public opinion and people. Is there any credited information about the real public opinion in Syria or it mainly depends on guessing.
Bayanouni: The conditions in Syria do not allow holding polls like democratic states that may allow spaces for a freedom of expression. Knowing the Syrian conditions and the day-to-day suffering facing Syrian citizens in economic social and political levels makes the one be sure that such a citizen is opposing the regime. It is true that the political life in Syria has been blocked throughout more than 40 years, but this actually doesn”t prevent most Syrian citizens from opposing this regime because of the daily all-out suffering.
I think that saying that the opposition is isolated is inaccurate. It is true that it hasn”t managed- until now- to organize all popular opposition powers due to the pressing security situations, but the one can say most Syrian citizens are opposing the regime. As for how the opposition can make use of efforts of these anti-regime, there are difficulties due to the absence of the political life and as a result of the state of fear and intimidation that Syrian citizens experience due to the continuously increasing repressions which further increase whenever the regime”s isolation increases on domestic and foreign levels. It is true that we face difficulties in organizing these opposition powers but they are certainly on the ground and are on the increase.
Ikhwanweb: What is the future of the Syrian opposition inside the country?. Does it have a space to move under rule of Bashar Al-Asad. There are some reports that the Syrian opposition in exile has given nothing to the opposition inside the country. Is there any possible future cooperation with international organizations supporting democracy?
Bayanouni: First: I confirm that the opposition can”t be divided. The opposition in exile is an extension of the opposition inside the country. For example, we are a part of the declaration of Damascus inside the country and we have also participated in the National Salvation Front in exile. Second: The opposition”s ability to express itself inside the country is related- to a great extent- to the barbaric repressions committed by the regime against the freedom of expression. The opposition inside the country needs an Arab and international support to protect it from the tyranny of regime. We think that in a later stage when the grip is tightened on the regime, it won”t be able to carry out any repression or genocide like those it committed in the past. I believe that opposition work is going on and it will one day work and move without any fear of any mass repression like what”s happening nowadays.
As for our cooperation with international organizations, we are actually open to all democratic powers and civil society institutions inside and outside Syria . We try to explain to these powers the status quo in Syria because we think that change is to the benefit of Syria and the Arab world, and it will contribute to stability in the region.
Ikhwanweb: What about the future of the declaration of Damascus as political activists are continuously detained from the Syrian opposition like Anwar Al Bunni and Michael Kilou?.
Bayanouni: The most important feature in the declaration of Damascus was that all powers along the political spectrum joined it. It was expected since the beginning that the ceiling of the movement of the declaration of Damascus will be limited because of the current security situation. However, and despite this rising repression detentions against dozens tens of activists inside Syria , but the declaration of Damascus gained ground and is still issuing statements within these limits. As the declaration of Damascus continues, the Salvation Front continues also and in the near future all these coalitions will close ranks on common targets, and there is a suitable ground for this unity.
Ikhwanweb: Some say that the idea of establishing an interim government as a government in exile is impossible under the current critical situations. What are the hopes pinned on this idea?
Bayanouni: Some peoples thought that the interim government is exile government. The interim government that the National Front referred to is an interim government that fills the vacuum if the regime falls. There should be preparations and consultations with all parties to form it in the coming stage. It isn”t government in exile. It is a government for filling vacuum in case regime is toppled.
Ikhwanweb: Is it possible that change will occur in Syria ?. Will the change take place peacefully or will it be marred by violence?. Or is it still blurred?.
Bayanouni: The strategy of the Syrian opposition in general, and particularly the Salvation Front and the Declaration of Damascus and the Muslim Brotherhood group, is based on a peaceful method of change. We dismiss violence and exert our efforts to rescue the country from any possible chaos. However, in front of the regime”s inflexibility, maintaining same policies, and aggravating repressions, all options are on the table. We don”t want Syria to be Iraqized into a state of chaos. We think that the Syrian people can achieve the process of peaceful change and can end this ordeal and face all obstacles.
Ikhwanweb: Farouk Al-Sharaa described the Saudi role in the region as “paralyzed” while he backs Iran . How do you expect the balance of power in the region will be if a change happens and an interim government takes power in Syria ? What about the Iran-Syria coalition? will the interim government maintain this coalition or will it seek a coalition with neighbouring Arab countries?
Bayanouni: First: Farouk Al-Sharaa”s statements reflect the regime”s confusion and isolation from its Arab context. It has become an instrument in the hand of the Iranian politics. The Iranian-Syrian coalition is not a coalition of peers. It is a coalition between a strong country that has its own project in the region with a weak regime that lacks legitimacy, does not have a popular basis and it doesn”t have any national project. Therefore, we warn against the ongoing policy of being controlled by the Iranian politics. As for our future outlook, we aren”t against forging coalitions with Islamic states, including Iran and others, as long as it is based on common interests, not like the current state. The coalition with Iran in Hafez Asad”s era had to a great extent kind of balance between Iran and Syria because of Hafez Asad”s personality and his political capabilities. At present, with Bashar Al-Asad”s weakness and lack of any political project, the Syrian political stance is unfortunately a part of the Iranian stance. In the future, a priority should be given to cooperation and coalitions with Islamic and Arab countries, coalitions which should be based on mutual interests, and not to be a part of strategies others.
The International Court
Ikhwanweb: Some say that if the regime succumbed to foreign pressures and held a deal with America and initiated the peace process with Israel, the first victims will be the International Court and Hezbollah. Given that the Salvation Front relies on the results of the International Court , what will be the front”s fate if the regime held a deal with America and Israel ?
Bayanouni: First: Our opposition in the Muslim Brotherhood group, the Salvation Front and the Syrian opposition in general is emanating from the Syrian people”s suffering and need for change. We do not rely on foreign powers or the International Court . We have been opposing this regime throughout more than thirty years. We opposed it before assassinating Rafik Al-Hariri and before the International Court is formed. The crimes committed by the regime in Lebanon and its wrong policies will certainly help the national opposition because it put the regime in a mess and will add to its Arab and international isolation. We will definitely benefit from the international atmosphere and from the isolation of Arab and international nations when it is convicted in the case of assassinating Al Hariri and in other crimes that it committed. However, our opposition to the regime is not based on these variables. It has started before them. Thus, it will continue till it attains its targets.
Second: It is unlikely that the regime holds a deal at the expense of justice and at the expense of the blood it shed, specially that the investigation into Al Hariri”s assassination has reached an advanced stage with a contribution of a big number of international judges, and that any violation to the results of the investigation or the course of justice will be an international scandal. I do not think that the regime will manage to hold such a deal although it wants to.
Ikhwanweb: Is there any hope that the state of emergency may be canceled under Bashar”s rule?
Bayanouni: I do not think so. All indications show that the more popular and foreign pressures that Bashar Al-Asad is facing, the more he aggravates repressions and tortures based on the state of emergency and he activates law number 49 of the year 1980 stipulating that any one affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood group must be executed. At the beginning of of his era, Bashar spoke in his oath swearing speech about democracy, freedom of speech and respecting views of the other, people got deceived. However, it became later clear to all that his speechs are merely hollow promises and that Bashar Al-Asad”s regime is an extension of his father”s regime and that he can”t be reformed and isn”t qualified for reform. Therefore, all political powers have been calling for change after expecting no near reform or any breakthrough in the Syrian scene under rule of this regime.
Ikhwanweb: What is your opinion about the success of the Justice and Development Party in Turkish elections? Can Syria “s Muslim Brotherhood benefit from this experience?
Bayanouni: The experience of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey deserves attention to draw lessons from it. Through solving people”s problems and easing their suffering, this party managed to top all parties by the votes of the Turkish people. This party benefited also from the freedom that Turkish people enjoy under a democratic political regime, based on free and fair elections. This is the key point in the Turkish case, that there are real freedoms and elections. We did not hear that any Turkish party failed in the elections and accused others of election fraud. The issue of rigging elections doesn”t take place in these democratic states. Therefore, the case of Turkey has kind of difference. It has been proved that in case fair and real elections are held in any Muslim country, the Islamic movement will top the political scene. This happened in Turkey , Morocco , and Palestine and in Egypt . This happens in every place that allows even a little space of freedom. Despite its difference, the Turkish experience proves that Islamists- when they try to solve citizens” problems and ease their concerns, can claim deserved positions in elections held in fair and free atmosphere.
Ikhwanweb: There is a reported defecting of more Syrian officials after Abdel Halim Khaddam. However, nothing of this happened since the latter defected. How do you expect the internal structure of the Syrian regime nowadays and under foreign pressures?
Bayanouni: We have some information confirming that a number of the men of the regime are poised to declare their opposition to the corrupt and tyrant regime. However, the atmosphere in Syria does not allow such declarations, especially after the measures that the regime took against Khaddam after he declared his stance We have relations with a number of these figures of those expected to declare their stances in an advanced stage on the way towards change.
Ikhwanweb: Hamas” win in the elections caused an international uproar: that Islamists can succeed and assume power even under a critical situation like that in Palestine . Do you think that the Syrian experience if you mange to assume power, any similarity with Hamas?
Bayanouni: Although Hamas represents the Islamic movement in Palestine , but the Palestinian situation is also different dur to issues of occupation, resistance, Oslo and corruption. There may be some similarity but there are still many differences. In Syria there is no political life. There is a real Islamic movement in Syria . The one can feel the Islamic awakening but there is no organized political movement inside Syria . Therefore, the situation differs somehow, but the Islamic movement is leading the Syrian opposition and it is leading most political powers in the Arab world. If there is freedom of speech for the voters to express their views, the Islamic political movement will have its normal place in political scene. By the way, we do not seek rule in Syria . We actually want to cooperate with all national sections of the Syrian society to achieve change. We will work after that for a national unity government that includes all political powers to bear the responsibility of reforming the piles of corruption and tyranny.
Ikhwanweb: Don”t you agree that the Syrian opposition in exile didn”t manage to get the required momentum inside hosting countries, like Britain and it not drawing the attention to spreading democracy in Syria?.
Bayanouni: This is right. The activities of the Syrian opposition in exile is still weak. Most of those in exile are in Arab countries whose regimes do not allow opposition activities in their soil. There are limited opposition activities in Europe . This may be due to the fact that few numbers of opposition members return to Syria and have relations with Syria . Therefore, they take into consideration the security concerns.
Ikhwanweb: How far the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood cares for the human rights situation. What is your view about it under Bashar”s rule?
Bayanouni: The MB gives a priority to the human rights and humanitarian situation. Therefore, we insist on underlining the human case and that we can”t initiate a dialogue with the regime unless it first tackles the human rights files. We mean by the human rights files, four files:
1-The file of the political detainees who must be released
2-the second file is of the missing citizens (up to about twenty thousand missing persons who were thrown into Syrian prisons and haven”t been released from them)
3-the third file is of the displaced. They are up to tens of thousands of Syrians who are denied the right to return to their country except through security blackmailing. They must be allowed to return without any blackmail
4-the fourth file is of law number 49 of the year 1980 that stipulates executing any person only for his intellectual or political affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood group.
These files must be solved ahead of holding any dialogue. We have cooperated with several organizations like Amnesty International, the Syrian Commission for Human Rights in order to exercise pressures on the regime to stop the violations.
Ikhwanweb: Bashar Al Asad gave a political space of freedom at the beginning of his era but he closed this space several months later after opposition inside the country gained a political momentum. Why has Bashar done this?
Bayanouni: I think that Bashar Al-Asad who inherited rule did not have any national project for reform or even any clear reformist directions. He has seemingly uttered some promises after he was sworn in as president. Some people thought that these romises are a prelude for a real reform. These promises were proved to be vacuum after the several months spring of Damascus prompted opposition leaders to stage an open and civilian and peaceful rally, after which they were detained, appeared before a military tribunal that sentenced the to 5-10 years. Dr. Aref Dalila- still serving 10 year sentence- is in prison because he gave a lecture about the economic situation and the prevalent corruption in Syria .
Ikhwanweb: Isn”t it paradoxical that the Muslim Brotherhood is inside and is not inside Syria . How do you work for changing the Syrian regime while you are not inside it? Do you depend on foreign support?.
Bayanouni: Actually, we do not have a typical organizational entity inside Syria so that MB members avoid any possible barbaric repression under a law that sentences to death any one proved to be belonging to our group. We don”t want to burden people with what they can”t endure. There are many MB sympathizers who belong to the Islamic movement at large. The notorious law no. 49 of the year 1980 also prevents people from joining our group inside Syria . We are present inside Syria with our moderate thought as a part of the Islamic movement spreading in villages and cities.