Haytham Manna is the Paris-based foreign spokesman for the National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change in Syria. The NCB was formed in June 2011 by 15 opposition groups and several independent figures who were leading anti-government protests in Syria. They have consistently agreed on three basic principles: non-violence, non-sectarianism and opposition to foreign intervention.
A review of the 15 parties that make up the NCB helps to explain why Western capitalist governments and their monarchist Arab allies have tried to marginalize it. It is chaired by Hassan Abdul Azim, the leader of the Democratic Arab Socialist Union, and it includes the Arab Revolutionary Workers' Party; the Communist Labor Party; the Democratic People's Party; Together for a Free Democratic Syria; the Arab Socialist Movement; and the Syrian Union Party; along with four Kurdish parties and several regional parties.
On Tuesday, August 27th, Haytham Manna spoke to Francois Janne d'Othee of Le Vif, Belgium's largest weekly French language news magazine, about the current crisis surrounding Syria. If you can read French, here's the original: http://www.levif.be/info/actualite/international/syrie-les-attaques-chimiques-sont-un-coup-monte/article-4000384171801.htm
If you can't read French, here's my translation:
Le Vif: The use of chemical weapons in Syria could lead the West to "punish" the regime. What do you think about that?
Manna: I am totally against it, as is the coordinating body I run. That will only strengthen the regime. What's more, an intervention risks stirring up even more violence, piling destruction on top of destruction and further demolishing the capacity for political dialogue. The regime is mainly responsible because it chose the military-security option. But how can anyone talk about a war on terrorism and at the same time give a helping hand to extremists affiliated with Al Qaeda?
Le Vif: So is the West choosing the worst option, in your opinion?
Manna: From the beginning, it's been a succession of political errors. The United States, France and the United Kingdom have pushed the parties to radicalize. They didn't prevent jihadis from traveling to Syria and waited a very long time before even acknowledging that phenomenon. Where is democracy in this whole project that aims to destroy Syria? And do you think that it's morality that guides them? At the time of the massacre in Halabja (in Iraq in 1988), they closed their eyes. I'm also surprised to see that the victims of chemical weapons are given so much more consideration than the 100,000 dead we have already counted since the beginning of the conflict.
Le Vif: Who is responsible for the latest massacre with chemical weapons?
Manna: I'm still not certain, but our information doesn't match that of President Hollande. People speak of thousands of victims, but we have a list of less than 500. So we are into propaganda, psychological warfare, and certainly not the truth. What's more, the chemical weapons were improvised. Do you really think that the super-militarized loyalist army needs that? In fact videos and photos were put out on the Internet before the attacks began. Now this material serves as proof for the Americans!
Le Vif: Do you think one party to the conflict wanted to provoke the West to intervene?
Manna: It's a staged operation. We know that chemical weapons have already been used by Al Qaeda. Now the Free Syrian Army and the groups linked to Al Qaeda conduct 80% of their operations jointly in the North. A month ago, Ahmad Jarba (armed opposition leader) claimed he was going to change the balance of forces on the ground. Now it's the opposite that's happened, the loyalist army has regained ground. Only a direct intervention could help the rebels to get out of this… So, let's wait. If Al Qaeda is responsible, we should say so loud and clear. If it's the regime, we'll need a UN resolution. And we mustn't let two or three countries organize an alliance of their otherwise not so reputable friends.
Le Vif: Between the West and the Russians, which position seems the most coherent to you?
Manna: The Russians are the most coherent because they are working seriously on the Geneva II negotiations. The Americans have cheated. Two or three times they have withdrawn at the very moment that an agreement was in the works.
Le Vif: Is a political solution still possible?
Manna: Everything is possible but that will depend mainly on the Americans. The French are content to follow. A political solution is the only one that could save Syria. But the armed opposition can't agree on a delegation.
Le Vif: What will become of Bashar al Assad?
Manna: He's not going to stay. If negotiations succeed, they will lead to a de facto parliamentary regime. If one at least accepts the basic text of Geneva 2, which is the best text, backed up by an international compromise. But let me say this: when we talk about massacres of minorities, and that the president is from a minority, how do we ask him to withdraw or not withdraw? Today Western politics has strengthened his position as the defender of Syrian unity and minorities. Having said that, nobody will be able to claim victory: the violence has become so blind that it will take a broadened front of the opposition and the regime to reach that goal.