On Eve Of Geneva Talks, Criticism Within Syrian Opposition Over Consent To Negotiating With Syrian Regime

February 3, 2016Special Dispatch No.6290

Peace talks in Geneva between the Syrian opposition and the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, originally slated to begin on January 29, 2016, finally did start on February 1. On the eve of the talks, several unaffiliated pro-opposition Syrian pundits published articles harshly criticizing the Syrian High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which was chosen at the December 2015 opposition conference in Riyadh to lead the negotiations. Besides criticizing the international community’s failure to press the Assad regime and its allies on implementing the humanitarian measures decided by the UNSC, the writers claimed that the HNC had backed down from the principles that the opposition has, for the past five years, insisted on as preconditions for negotiations – first and foremost the Assad regime’s removal. Instead, the HNC had yielded to U.S. and international pressure to negotiate with the regime as it continues to bomb and starve the Syrian people. They also expressed doubts regarding the committee’s ability to actualize the Syrian people’s demands.

In light of the pressure that the committee has faced, one writer even urged it to trick the world and use the talks as an opportunity to transform the negotiations into a moral indictment of the Assad regime. This, he said, could happen if the committee abandoned its narcissism and allowed “real Syrians” who had suffered at the hands of the Assad regime to confront “their hangmen.” This would cause the collapse of the entire peace process, he said, thus clearing the ground for restarting it on a more just basis that would allow real progress in resolving the crisis.

This report will include excerpts from several of the articles: 

Turn Geneva Negotiations Into Moral Indictment Of The Regime

Syrian oppositionist writer and pundit ‘Abd Al-Nasser Al-‘Ayed wrote in the London daily Al-Hayat: “The international community and its interests have forced us to sit at the negotiating table with our chief executioner [Bashar Al-Assad] according to a prior decision that practically states [explicitly] that we have no choice but to accept that the regime and its head will remain in power. Therefore, the political opposition must upgrade its capabilities, so that it will be able to deceive the world, and convene the Assad regime [officials] in the place they deserve – that is, the courtroom. This wouldn’t be difficult if those who are conducting the negotiations would display a minimal level of self-sacrifice, responsibility, and political acumen.

“The [Syrian High Negotiations] Committee , which was tasked with staffing the [opposition] delegation for the talks, can choose, as delegation leader, the doctor from Daraa who lost his seven children to Assad’s barrel [bombs]; it can select as his deputy a certain educated lady from among those who lost loved ones in [Assad’s] chemical attacks – and there are many such ladies; as second deputy, it can choose a man who lost his children to torture in the regime’s detention camps. It can include more victims who maybe had their limbs amputated, or their faces burned, in the war waged by the criminal [Assad] against the Syrian people. Nothing would be easier than finding hundreds of such people [already] possessing educational, cultural, and political skills, who could devote their talents to the negotiations and, before the eyes of the world, transform the Geneva [talks] into a symbolic tribunal for the regime and its supporters and for those who remained silent [about its crimes], and set the moral red line that must not be crossed by either the opposition or the global superpowers. [That red line] is the horrific crimes against humanity carried out by the Assad regime, that have been ignored by those who drafted [UN Security Council] Resolution 2254, in a way reminiscent of the silence of the fiends.

“On the day that the [Geneva] conference [convenes]… they can issue a communique presenting the leader and members of the delegation, distribute it to all relevant parties, and insist that they are [there] not because they are victims whose tragedies are being exploited to achieve political goals, but rather because they are negotiators with full authority as well as the most legitimate and reliable representatives of the Syrian people and its problem.

“Thus, the [Syrian High] Negotiations Committee can achieve a moral and human victory that the superpowers are trying to deny us with a false political solution that actually provides no chance for a permanent and just peace in our land…

“The [political] opposition, by abandoning its narcissism, can take a step back and, for once, allow the spotlight to shine on real Syrians – the unfortunate Syrians in [Syria] – thus earning many points among the people… [because the Syrian people] itself has long accused this opposition, largely justifiably, that it represents no one but itself and the regimes that operate it…

“Ultimately, [Syrian] victims confronting their hangmen will transform negotiating sessions into a grand moral tribunal, will lead to a retreat by the regime and its allies and to a collapse of the negotiations – and it exactly this to which the [Syrian High] Negotiations Committee should aspire in the current round. This is because a collapse of the entire process, its systematic halting by methods that do not exceed diplomatic conventions, and its restarting based on more equitable foundations is the only way to move forward in the [political] process, if that is what we desire. Otherwise, Syrians should loudly proclaim its collapse – and the moral collapse of the nations of the world.”[1]
‘Abd Al-Nasser Al-‘Ayed

The Syrian High Negotiations Committee Lacks Authority To Conduct Negotiations That Will Legitimize The Assad Regime In Accordance With UNSCR 2254

Syrian oppositionist political analyst and pundit Khalil Al-Miqdad wrote on the oppositionist website Zamanalwsl.net: “The negotiators will sit in Geneva while the Assad regime’s military machine pounds Syrian cities from Deir Al-Zor to Busra Al-Sham via Duma and Dariya. The negotiators will speak amongst themselves and enjoy their large meals, as the residents of Madaya and Al-Zabadani lack the food they need to exist and are dying of starvation as the result of an arbitrary and cruel siege imposed by the sectarian Assad regime and Hizbullah on Wadi Barada. The negotiators will enjoy saunas, massages, and Jacuzzis while the residents of Duma cannot even bathe, except in their own blood. And why not? This is the strategic option taken by the opposition.

“The six months of talks will beget a transitional government that includes both the Assad regime and opposition. This is because there is no way to discuss Assad’s withdrawal prior to March and even [prior] to August 2017 – during which time, it is estimated, a new, detailed constitution in line with Assad’s specifications will be drafted. The characteristics [of this constitution] are predetermined by the statements of the superpowers and the recent Security Council resolution 2254, which states that the voting on [the constitution] will take place in late 2017, and that its ratification will follow.

“No one today is happier than Assad. How could he not be? The winds bring what his ships yearn for. His throne is guaranteed for the next two years, with the option of presenting his candidacy in the future [presidential] elections, and even winning them. Are we not in a democratic country with a constitution specially designed to ensure the right of every Syrian to present his candidacy and have it approved by the government?

“The opposition, which is represented by the [Syrian High] Negotiations Committee, does not miss a single opportunity to stress the foundations of the political process, which are: the removal of Assad and his regime, and a reorganization of all security and military institutions, and that it will not negotiate except on this basis. But at the same time, it follows the path of negotiations until it can share power with the regime, whose ouster it is demanding from morning to night…

“The opposition delegates have no authority to speak for the Syrian people and share power with the Assad regime, which should be tried before the international war crimes tribunal…

“The political arrangement in its current format in accordance with the recent Security Council resolution, and even reliance on the [2012] ‘Geneva I’ decisions as a source of authority for a solution, will not help end the Syrian people’s tragedy, since it aims to cement the Assad regime’s presence and to legitimize its war against us under the guise of a war on terror – in this way transforming all military conflict from fighting against the Assad regime to fighting in its ranks. The political arrangement will turn the Syrian into fuel for a war [against the opposition] that is not his own.

“The talk of a new constitution and democratic elections is mere illusion and images. This is because any constitution drafted at this stage by the Assad regime and the current opposition will be flawed and illegitimate, as it will be tailored to suit certain groups and will abandon the just demands of the vast majority of the people, who have sacrificed all they have for liberty and honor…

“We predict that the political arrangement will progress towards the end desired by both participating sides, since the decision on the matter has already been made and the only thing that remains is to legitimize it with the presence of Syrians whose entire role is to act as paid false witnesses. This is why the participants in this farce are stripped of the popular and revolutionary legitimacy that they achieved by fighting or opposing the Assad regime. Therefore, we can say that imposing any arrangement on some Syrian parties is one thing, while spreading it throughout Syria is another.

“How can an opposition that is powerless to send food into areas whose residents are besieged under the slogan ‘starve or surrender’ impose conditions and solutions on a regime that is supported by all the world’s evil forces? How can [such an opposition] actualize the Syrian people’s demand for a free country with justice and equality, free of Assad and his lackeys?

“Congratulations to us and to you for a five-year revolution that managed to produce the same [ruling] gang, albeit slightly polished.”[2]

Khalil Al-Miqdad

The Opposition Has Relinquished Principles To Which It Has Adhered For Five Years

Nasser Al-Rabbat, a Syrian oppositionist pundit and history professor who lectures on Islamic architecture at MIT, wrote in the London daily Al-Hayat: “The revolution has become military, Islamic, and international. Moreover, the rug may have been pulled out from under the Syrian rebels, and stolen by cruel medieval foreigners that wander across Syria and have come there from around the world, and are funded by a network of murky interests.

“As for the regime, it carries on as usual – fighting as though it was in a war of survival against a foreign enemy rather than against the majority of its own people. It has increased its use of internationally banned weapons of mass destruction, and opened Syria to sectarian allies who rival takfiri jihadis in cruelty, rhetoric, racism, sectarianism, and narrow-mindedness. Additionally, Russia has aligned with the regime in order to test its new weapons on the flesh of Syrians under the guise of combating terrorism. The revolution has become orphaned, the land is destroyed, the people are expelled, and those that remain have wearied of the situation and are so desperate that most curse the moment that this revolution began, not out of hostility towards it or opposition to its intentions, but rather out of frustration with its outcomes.

“From this stems the political realism that we are witnessing today among opposition movements, even the armed and Islamic ones, which have agreed to the principle of dialogue with the regime without the conditions on which they had insisted for the past five years – including the ouster of the tyrant Bashar Al-Assad, who has led the violent and savage oppression since day one.

“This realism is necessary and even logical in light of the power balances dominating the world and the region, and in light of the immense suffering of poor Syrians in the regions where there is shelling, siege, and starvation, as well as in light of the [creeping] ISIS [control in those areas]. However, realist thinking should be backed up by a number of principles and a strong strategy, accompanied by flexible tactics that take into account the sum of variables in both the near and distant future. It seems to me that the statement by the supervisor of talks in the National Coalition of [Syrian Revolutionary and] Opposition Forces… made several days ago, that ‘negotiations are our strategic choice,’[3] is the core of this equation. It presents a flexible strategy [accompanied by] a rigid tactic: talks and only talks…

“I fear that if the national coalition uses this strategy, it will also lose in the negotiations before they even start. The coalition’s strategic choice should stem from the founding principles that represent the demands of the Syrians who carried out a true revolution five years ago – meaning that they liberated themselves from a tyrannical regime. Is this the basis for the framework of any political action by the opposition when it enters into talks with its rival – i.e. the Syrian regime that insists not only on its president remaining in power until the end of his current term, but also on his right to present his candidacy for another term ‘after the peace?’

“Political realism means coming to the negotiations armed with principles that define your goal in the talks and with data over which you can negotiate. Then you enter into talks in order to examine what you can agree on with the other side, and what advantages on our side can be exchanged for advantages on the opponent’s side, which can advance your cause while leaving all other options on the table.”[4]

Nasser Al-Rabbat


[1] Al-Hayat (London), December 26, 2015.

[2] Zamanalwsl.net, January 15, 2016.

[3] HNC head Riyad Hijab said this on January 6, 2016.

[4] Al-Hayat (London), January 13, 2016.