Fifteen months ago, I spoke with Jamal Suleiman. He had detonated a bomb when he announced that he would run for President in the coming elections, based on the new constitution. During these fifteen months, a lot has changed. The Constitutional Committee is in stalemate; the opposition is getting weaker and more fragmented; there is a new administration in the White House; and the Assad regime is running the presidential elections in pure defiance of the UN Security Council Resolution 2254. I spoke to Suleiman last week over the phone. It is always a pleasure to speak with an old friend, but it is equally rewarding to speak to a well-informed man who is willing to share his knowledge with us.
Below is the Q&A.
The Syrian government announced that the presidential elections will be held on time and in accordance with the current constitution, approved in 2012. Do you think that the elections will be legitimate while half of Syria’s population is displaced across the world?
The regime’s decision to hold presidential elections amid these tragic conditions that Syria and the Syrian people are going through, regardless of their penchants and positions, is yet another blatant move to recognize UN Security Council Resolution 2254 of 2015. This is a policy of denial that ignores the exorbitant price Syria pays on a daily basis. Therefore, any elections of this kind and under these circumstances will not enjoy any national legitimacy.
Do you think that the major powers will agree to holding the elections and acknowledge its outcome?
Nine years of ambiguity and complexity in international policies towards Syria, in addition to the ambiguous roles of the active states, have made us lose any certainty with regards to the optics. I do not think that the international community will recognize the elections. It may consider it a fait accompli, but it will not recognize it, and it will not contribute to the establishment of a comprehensive and sustainable peace solution, nor will it participate in any reconstruction, which means Syria will plunge into further suffering and its unity will remain compromised.
The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) announced a while ago that it would form a High Elections Commission, to later go back on its word. What do you think about that?
It was a shocking move and the motives behind it are still unclear. SNC did well to retract the decision.
More than a year ago, you announced your intention to run for president. I had an interview with you at the time, in which you explained your opinion on the matter. Has your opinion changed? Do you not plan on running anymore?
No, I did not go back on my word. Most importantly, my invitation to all Syrians (both male and female) who find themselves competent to come forward and express their desire and willingness to become president still stands. However, I would like to re-emphasize what I said in my interview with you and in others, too, that there is no place or legitimacy for any elections except under the safe and neutral conditions mentioned in the Geneva Document and United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254. Safe and neutral conditions mean a transitional phase in which the candidate and the voter can also express their opinions. In a phase where freedom and equality reign supreme, neither the state nor its institutions should be biased towards any party, and the process is carried out under the supervision of the United Nations in order to ensure standards the level of credibility are met.
Let’s talk about another pressing issue. Many Syrians were suspicious about the position swap that Anas al-Abdah and Naser al-Hariri did last year. What are your thoughts on that?
I do not think that this swap of positions strengthens the image of the Syrian opposition as a national force seeking effective democratic change in Syria. Perhaps the reaction of the people outside the political circle, activists, and others following the matter was a clear rejection of the move. It is clear that some opposition figures have become addicted to sitting in the front row and it has become difficult for them to do otherwise. In any case, I think that the opposition should be open to enter into talks with a wider spectrum of Syrians who believe in the Syrian national democratic project and have much to offer in this regard. It is imperative that the opposition does not turn into a monopoly and we should be able to consider ourselves as part of the diverse and rich factions of Syria.
You were not present in the last round of negotiations in Geneva or the previous one, for that matter. Why is that? Will you be taking part in future rounds?
The main reasons were my professional engagements, which I had to neglect a lot in the past, but I find myself unable to do that now, especially since no substantial progress is being made at the level of the Constitutional Committee, which could have been a gateway to the political transition in Syria, without which there is no viable solution.
Who do you think is responsible?
The reason for this is the regime’s procrastination and its policy of buying time in order to consecrate the current reality and make the presidential elections happen according to the 2012 constitution, with the control it possesses over state institutions.
A few days ago, you were in Moscow with Qadri Jamil and Khaled al-Mahamid, and you met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Is the fact that the meeting coincides with the start of the Constitutional Committee’s work of any significance?
It might carry significance for the Russian Foreign Ministry, but not for us.
Did you attend the meeting, representing the Cairo conference?
Not at all. I attended as Jamal Suleiman.
You were heavily criticized because of your visit to Moscow.
That is true, and I got in touch with some of those who criticized me. On the other hand, there are those who support such activity and consider it important, and they are concerned with its results more than they are concerned with sharp polarization to the right or the left. For me personally, and to be clear, when I got became a proponent of the patriotic agenda, it was my duty to understand that I was not just a social media activist (noting that I appreciate and respect the role of activists and their views), I started expressing my genuine views as without any political bias. When I entered the field of national political work, which has been the same since then, it was to make sure that the voice of every Syrian who rejects war, destruction and killing, rejects extremism and terrorism, and also rejects the survival of this tyrannical regime that brought Syria to where it is today, is heard. I wanted to make sure the voice of every Syrian who dreams of a strong and democratic country, in every sense of the word, is heard. I am one of the Syrians who seek to fight the image that has been established over the past nine years, an image that what is happening in Syria is only a war between an authoritarian regime and extremist groups that are more tyrannical than it. Making sure that the voice of the Syrians is heard is our bridge to the United Nations and the international community. We will meet with Russian, American, European, and Arab diplomats and anyone whom we feel would be useful to meet and talk with about the Syrian issue.
Tell us a bit about what happened in Moscow.
In our meeting with the Russian Foreign Ministry, we emphasized three points: that the upcoming presidential elections cannot have any national legitimacy, as it is not in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and it will increase the risks that Syria faces; the regime’s handling of the Constitutional Committee will lead to its demise; there must be a transitional phase in Syria that opens up future prospects.
How did the Russian side receive those points of view ?
The Russian Federation is a very influential country in Syria and can influence its future. Russia should support the position of the moderate opposition, as they call us. Personally, I see that as part of the national duty, regardless of any criticism.