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Exclusive Interview with Vice President of the Syrian National Coalition Hisham Marwah

A “roadmap” for Syria drafted by the Syrian National Coalition, Syria’s main political opposition body based in Istanbul, and the National Coordination Committee, an opposition group based in Damascus, was approved last Friday.

According to the Coalition, the initial draft of the agreement was developed to address “the urgent need to unite the visions of opposition forces.” The document calls for the establishment of a transitional government that can bring resolution to Syria and an end to the current conflict. The agreement states that it is based on the terms of Geneva Communiqué‘s political settlement, which was issued by the UN-backed Action Group for Syria in June 2012.

Given the history of weak coordination between the Syrian National Coalition and the National Coordination Committee, the agreement on a roadmap for Syria is considered unusual and unexpected by the Syrian public. The Damascus-based National Coordination Committee, known as the “internal” opposition, has been viewed with skepticism in the past, believed to be operating under the control of the government regime.

“We are keeping the door open to all oppositions,” said Hisham Marwah, the vice president of the Syrian National Coalition, in an exclusive interview with MEMO. He explained that the Coalition is working to establish common ground with all parties within Syria in order to forge a political solution.

Marwah commented on the rebel rejection of the UN envoy de Mistura’s plan, explaining that proposed plan was not comprehensive and did not provide solution to the crisis. “The purpose of de Mistura was to identify a solution and not to present suggestions,” he added.

“De Mistura’s plan was empty of a solution plan.”

*The interview conducted in Arabic and translated to English, and edited for length and clarity.

MEMO: The Syrian National Coalition has recently agreed on a “roadmap” draft for a political solution with the National Coordination Committee. Why Now? What might be the outcome?

Marwah: A meeting was held to discuss a roadmap and a draft for a political solution, not to sign a formal document. The document will be signed after further consideration by authorities for each side, which are the executive bureau of the National Committee and the political authority of the National Coalition.

In regard to the timing of the agreement, the Syrian-Syrian dialogue has of course never stopped, and the Coalition has maintained consistent dialogue with all Syrians. The National Coordination Committee had problems in the past. We understand their limitations [as they operate from Damascus], some of its members are now outside [Syria] and perhaps their ability to engage in dialogue has enhanced. At present, we have entitlements and we are looking forward, so all parties can be present. We are keeping the door open to all oppositions under the condition of adopting a certain charter; therefore, the discussions are about the principles of the solution.

The Coalition sees political solution as the basis of its work; the Coalition must prepare the public ground to accept the political solution, whether on the level of the opposition factions or the revolutionary factions.

MEMO: Many Syrians consider the National Coordination Committee as a “tool in the hands of the regime.” Do you think that they have any public support inside Syria which can be used for the Coalition to unite the opposition forces?

Marwah: The political opposition in Syria is definitively for the revolutionary opposition; therefore, any stance that accepts Assad remaining [in rule] is considered as a deviation from the revolution stance. It [the National Committee] has previously been considered as an opposition party, but not unified with the revolution. They have a [different] stance on the Free Army, Assad’s departure, international intervention, and on having a no-fly zone.

There were many points for conflict reflected in their political viewpoints. We have discussed these [issues] with them, and focused on shared perspectives, which address concerns that Syrians have now: creating a consensual transitional authority from which Assad, and all regime figures, are excluded.

MEMO: Regarding the UN de Mistura plan to freeze the fight in Aleppo, the Coalition agreed with the rejection of this plan by the rebels in Aleppo. What are the reasons behind rejecting this plan? And what suggestion would the Coalition make to modify it?

Marwah: De Mistura’s plan did not propose a solution. In our opinion, the purpose of de Mistura was to identify a solution and not to present suggestions. We would have agreed to the plan if it included a comprehensive plan to establish a ceasefire and implement the six-points of Kofi Annan’s [peace] plan.

The more important issue is that the proposed plan was rejected by the regime; the regime refused to establish a ceasefire. While an end to shelling was approved, the siege, sniper attacks, and arrests would continue. It was clear that the plan did not present a solution. The rebels rejected the plan for this reason, and then the Coalition did the same.

Hisham Marwah, the vice president of the Syrian National Coalition. Photo courtesy of Syrian National Coalition.

MEMO: Moving towards another political issue, a delegation from the Coalition visited Saudi Arabia last week and met with the new leadership in Saudi, and Saudi Arabia has now increased its aid to the opposition. Does this suggest that the political decision of the Coalition will be influenced by Saudi Arabia?

Marwah: Not at all. The Coalition administration and the Syrian revolution will not allow its decisions to be subjected to any power, whether regional or international. The aid from Saudi Arabia is [part of] the Saudi policy, which understands and supports the revolution stances. This is a very natural decision [from Saudi].

There are many regional developments emerging, for instance the events taking place in Sanaa [Yemen] and in Bahrain. These [developments] all prove that the Syrian revolution is not only facing a threat of Bashar al-Assad and his regime, but also larger, regional threats. Such concerns put the whole region under danger, and we see Iranian and Shiite militants coming from all over the world. It is not surprising to see this reaction from the Saudi leadership and all Arab countries as well.

The Syrians now are fighting on an advanced front for all Arabs to face Iran and its militants.

MEMO: The United States and Turkey finally came to an agreement on training the moderate Syrian opposition. Will this program be implemented in coordination with the Coalition? Also, what do you think are the possible outcomes? We are talking about training 3,000 fighters only; what could they do in front of almost 15,000 fighters from ISIS, for example?

Marwah: As you said, 3,000 fighters are not capable of facing the regime nor ISIS. However, 3,000 well-trained fighters will be a very valuable addition to the Free Syrian Army forces. The [trained force] will be a good contribution for the Syrian revolution in general and for the Free Army in particular. It will help to increase skills and capacity. This force also has another benefit; the fighters are not only trained to fight ISIS, but also to protect the Syrian people, whether from the Assad regime, ISIS, or terrorism.

This training program is going to be conducted in coordination with the Defense Ministry [of the Coalition’s Interim Government], which has a role in supporting the military competencies and capabilities.

MEMO: In recent days, it has been clear that countries supporting the opposition are worried about providing support to different armed groups, instead of a central command. We saw recently Hazm Movement [a US-backed rebel group] defeated by al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front. Are we going to see aid going through organized system to a central, united command?

Marwah: This issue of creating an organized army is what the Defense Ministry of the Interim Government is working on now. The Free Syrian Army is made up of two forces: a force comprised of army defectors, a well-trained professional force, and the second a revolutionary force, with [members] who plan to go back to normal life at the end of the revolution. We are working on coordinate with all who are able to be within the Free Syrian Army, the National Army.

Creating a central force or a central command for the revolutionary forces under the Defense Ministry is the plan under process now, in coordination with the supporters of Syrian people.

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