The fourth anniversary of the Syrian revolution, which took off in the city of Daraa, was marked on 15 March. Syria has gradually become a home for multiple Al-Qaeda-affiliated insurgents, such as the Al-Nusra Front and “Islamic State” (IS). What started as a revolution, has majorly devolved in one of the deadliest conflicts of the past decade, leaving thousands of people dead, including children, and more than 3 million refugees across border countries.
Egypt’s foreign ministry has held several meetings in 2015 with a group of Syrian oppositional bodies with the aim of creating a common opposition front according to the Geneva I communiqué.
Daily News Egypt spoke to Hisham Marwah, Vice-head of the Syrian Coalition, a leading opposition entity in Syria which earlier expressed its deep regrets towards the decision of the Arab League not to invite it to attend the Arab summit, the fifth summit since the start of the Syrian revolution.
To start with, can you introduce the coalition’s role and its members?
The Syrian Coalition was formed on 12 November 2012 in Doha, Qatar, by the National Syrian Council and other national forces. It began with 60 members then expanded to about 100 members in June 2013 to include a wider segment of activists and representatives of the revolutionary power. There were some internal changes and resignations and now we have from 100 to 110 members.
This power represents the majority of revolutionary power in Syria, a group of peaceful activists and entities, back-dropped by the uprising in 2011.
What is coalition’s main role in the Syrian conflict as an opposition body?
We represent the revolution on the political level, and we consider ourselves representatives of the Syrian people’s struggle. We formed a transitional government, led by Ahmed Tama, which has defence, interior, education, culture, transportation, and health ministries that provide help to Syrians in the released cities and the cities for refugees.
The defence ministry in particular plays a very important role in gathering and uniting most of the revolutionary powers, including the Free Syrian Army.
What were the most significant changes on the 4th anniversary of the Syrian revolution?
We have changes on different levels – the security level, the political level and the humane level.
The humane side is miserable as you know; we have about 10 million refugees in total displaced inside and outside Syria. We have in Turkey the largest number of refugees, as well as in Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan. Everywhere in the world: in Europe, America and East Asia.
More children were killed from the camps’ dire conditions in their tents. Some families tried to flee to Europe by boats and died on their way.
Additionally, Syrians suffer the siege on a huge number of cities by the regime. More cities are under their control now, such as the Yarmouk camp which also has Palestinian refugees. There are international calls for lifting this siege because there is no access to electricity, water, food or anything in such cities.
There has been lack of services in general for months and months across many Syrian cities. We have parts in Damascus, and its surrounding areas, Eastern Ghouta and part of Western Ghouta, Al-Hasaka, Muadamiyat Al-Sham, and many other surrounding towns. Homs, however, was released in May 2014 after one year of siege.
What about the political and security level?
Politically, there is an international move to do negotiations between major parties, Bashar Al-Assad and the opposition, in Geneva conferences. The opposition delegation pledged to implement the political resolution, and create a transitional body according to the Geneva II communiqué, but the regime is still holding its grip on ruling Syria, so unfortunately those negotiations were not successful.
The security level is unstable. Sometimes the opposition fighters make progress in releasing some cities, while some other times they step back. It’s worth mentioning that the regime is largely supported by Russia and Iran, while the opposition forces get limited support. They cannot defend themselves equally, but they managed to resist in the face of an army that’s supported by the world’s largest powers, and the Syrian people are struggling to survive the terrorist organisations such as Islamic State (IS).
So do you prefer the military resolution or the political resolution?
The two parties must accept the political resolution to form a transitional body, it’s the only way out and the revolution is holding on to it to the end. But the regime is sticking with the military resolution and using war-banned weapons, such as chemical weapons, against children. So the political resolution is a must, but the regime is hindering that resolution.
Did the coalition attend the latest Egyptian government meetings with the opposition delegation?
The coalition did not participate in the meeting held in Cairo because we were not invited to it as a coalition, but some former members and individuals from the coalition were there.
We were supposed to attend along with the Syrian Coordination Committee, but our delegation could not make it through to Cairo; we were then surprised that the meeting was held anyway.
Is the opposition’s main struggle now with Al-Assad only or with extremists too?
Our main battle is against the oppression. Both parties are oppressive in some ways different than the other, and Syrian citizens are the vulnerable ones who lose, and they are our main priority in order to settle the dispute. We believe Syria will never retain its security as long as those oppressive forces are present. Syria needs support for the revolutionary powers including the Free Syrian Army.
How can Syria safely get rid of those extreme troops?
Those troops emerged from the regime mistakes of dealing with the uprising in 2011. The post-Assad stage will be getting rid of those troops by disarming them, rebuilding Syria and giving more freedom to the Syrian people.
What do you think should be discussed in the Arab League Summit about Syria?
The summit is a very important meeting and we’re always keen to attend it. What should be discussed is pushing for peaceful negotiations, respecting the right of not interfering in other countries’ affairs; we should not have the Iranian Guard troops fighting in Syria and many other nationalities. The common Arab defence treaty could be developed to include more supportive countries in order to face the common challenges. We also call on Al-Assad to activate the Arabian initiative to stop the bloodshed, which was discussed in the previous Arab ministerial meeting. More importantly are the rights of Syrian refugees, solving their identity problems, education, and basic human needs.