Few people have been so dramatically misrepresented in Syria as Haitham Manna. Manna is the Chairman Abroad of the opposition Syrian National Coordinating Commission (NCC) representing the opposition inside Syria.
He wasn’t attacked by the Syrian regime that imprisoned his father for 18 years and forced him into exile for 25 years for his struggle for freedom – but by the opposition itself, or, to be more accurate, the “exiled opposition”, the Syrian National Council and the Syrian National Coalition that replaced it. The Coalition is currently engaged in negotiations with the regime in Geneva. They have described him as a traitor and accused him of double crossing them with the regime for refusing, from the very beginning of the uprising, to deal with foreigners and to use them in the fight against the regime.
He opposed foreign intervention and any military solution to the Syrian crisis, saying these things will only destroy the country.
Manna has so far not found an alternative to the political solution, which includes discussions with the regime under defined and clear conditions.
Al-Ahram spoke to Manna in Paris by telephone about the tragic developments in Syria and his reasons for refusing the Geneva negotiations, despite the fact that it represents the solution that he has always suggested.
He also discussed recent statements from Haitham al-Maleh, a member of the Coalition’s delegation to Geneva, to al-Ahram, in which he revealed the remonstrance over including Manna in the delegation during a meeting between the Coalition and the NCC, describing the meeting as “a waste of time.”
“Mr Maleh, God help him, is in his last years. Why should I respond to him? You and many other channels and newspapers care about what he says, but I really don’t,” he laughed.
Regarding why negotiations between the NCC and the Coaltion failed, Manna said he would be “happy” if a representative delegation was formed.
“My brother I have no problem, so if there is a delegation formed by the Syrian people themselves for Syria, I would be so happy. But I don’t want to participate in it. If the delegation is formed by [former American Ambassador to Syria] Robert Ford, and he put Maleh and others in it, then Ford is telling him to put that in and leave that out. I think if Ford forced Maleh to put Haitham Manna in the delegation, just as he forced him to go to Geneva, and he will force them to include my name. My problem is not with people but with who is dictating the decisions. Maleh doesn’t make independent decisions.”
Asked whether there will soon be a conference in Cairo to bring the Syrian opposition groups closer, Manna said: “We are preparing for a consultative meeting, but the date isn’t set yet. We hope and want it to be in Egypt, which we love, but if not, then we have three other capitals.” Manna said the meeting will not be held under the sponsorship of the Arab League.
“No, not the Arab League. We have nothing to do with it. But if there is cooperation, it will be with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he said, adding that there was “no need to talk about” other possible locations right now.
Asked if he saw any positive results from sitting with the Coalition again, Manna said there “might be, with the presence of other democratic political forces, familiar nationalist figures, not of their type (namely the Coalition).
“There are serious people with clear positions from the beginning, who defended for the political solution and fought for it, and didn’t stick with it without outward orders,” he said of the Coalition.
“I’ve said since November, 2011, since the start of military operations and the arming of the opposition, that a military victory is impossible for any side. You are leading the country towards destruction when you insist on the potentiality of the military victory over this regime, and that’s what happened.”
“I said that arming the opposition will lead to radicalism, sectarianism, and to tearing the country apart, and now the country is destroyed and there’s nothing left to cry about. There are 26 victims in my family; I will go back to my country to find no father, no mother, no brother, nobody. After all that they still accuse me of being a regime sympathizer! How can we respect people who lie like that?”
“I was with the political solution and paid for it with my honor, reputation and everything. But I still insisted on this solution. We have had determined procedures to build trust before agreeing on any meeting with the regime delegation; we called them “levelers” not conditions. Now they’re going crawling to the political solution with no conditions, with nothing. They go without the regime releasing one man or woman from prison. Then comes Haytham Maleh to say that we want so and so within the delegation… no wonder we don’t want to go to Geneva."