Ten days ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with a delegation of party leaders and politicians from Arab countries. He said unequivocally: The battle will continue as long as Saudi Arabia continues to “back terrorism,” and the flow of extremist fighters, money, and arms into Syria continues.
“If this is what they want, then let them come to Syria so we can hand over power to them,” Assad sarcastically added. Tunisia – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has proclaimed that Saudi and other countries’ support for terrorist groups will delay any solution to the crisis. He also said that the Syrian government was advancing on more than one front against terror and the war against Syria, stressing that the government would not go to Geneva if it is expected to hand over power.
Assad’s remarks on the situation in Syria came during a meeting on the sidelines of the Arab Parties Conference held in Syria 10 days ago. Al-Akhbar interviewed a party leader from the Maghreb who took part in the meeting.
In response to a question on what is happening in Syria, Assad said, “We have been subjected to a major war. In the first phase, we had to focus on standing our ground, which is what we did in the first year. Then we moved into the stage of triumphing over the enemies. There are experiences in recent history, including what happened with the Resistance in Lebanon, which stood its ground for many long years, and then achieved major victories in 2000 and 2006. We have known from the outset that the battle targeted our independent decision, but this independent decision was a major factor in our steadfastness and our victory, although we appreciate the support Syria has received from its allies, and some allies have had a pivotal role, such as Russia, which stands on our side because its interests, too, are threatened. I heard directly from the Russian leadership that they stand alongside Syria to defend Moscow and not just Damascus.”
Assad continued, “The time required to end the crisis in Syria depends to a large extent on the ongoing support and funding to armed groups provided by the actors in the region.”
He added, “Saudi Arabia and other countries are strong backers of terrorism. They have dispatched tens of thousands of takfiris to the country, and Saudi Arabia is paying up to $2,000 as a monthly salary to all those who take up arms on their side.”
Assad said, “There is another problem, related to al-Qaeda’s infiltration through the border with Iraq. This is something that the authorities in Baghdad are cracking down on but not entirely with success. Consequently, stopping Saudi support would have a decisive impact, especially since the militants and those behind them have been caught by surprise by our army’s capacity to confront them. Now, we know, and the whole world knows that al-Qaeda does not pose a threat to Syria alone. We hope for rational solutions in the coming months, but the issue is also contingent upon our ability to confront those, and we are determined to fight them until the end.”
The [Saudis] gave cover to the Camp David agreement, supported the war on Lebanon in 1982, and today, they are engaged in an open-ended war against Syria. We are now openly saying that we are at war with them. The Syrian president then told his audience, “In light of the situation on the ground, we do not believe that it is possible to reach a settlement soon. As long as fighters, weapons, and funds continue to be sent across the border into Syria, we will not stop pursuing them. No one in the world can stop us exercising our right to defend our country. Moreover, today, we find little that can be agreed upon in Geneva, especially since some wrongly believe that we are going there to hand over power to them.”
“If this is what they want, then let them come to Syria so we can hand over power to them,” Assad sarcastically added. “If they decide to appoint [leader of the opposition National Coalition Ahmad] al-Jarba as president, do they think he would be able to come to Syria?”
Assad explained that Saudi Arabia “is leading the most extensive operation of direct sabotage against all the Arab world,” adding, “Saudi Arabia led the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council in the battle against all nations and parties that stand in the face of Israel. The [Saudis] gave cover to the Camp David agreement, supported the war on Lebanon in 1982, and today, they are engaged in an open-ended war against Syria. We are now openly saying that we are at war with them. True, we accommodated them previously, but they want everything to be according to their vision and interests.”
Regarding the position of the Western countries that back the armed Syrian opposition, Assad said, “The colonial West still acts in a vain mentality. They act like the past 20 years did not happen. They ignore the US defeat in Iraq, and they act as though the Soviet Union collapsed only yesterday.”
Concerning the current state of the Arab world and the Arab League, Assad said, “If the league shall remain under the influence and tutelage of backwards regimes like those of the Arab Gulf countries, it will have no role and no value. However, not all the Arab countries have had their independence taken from them.” He then added, “Today, there is a brave man making a stand in Iraq who is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He has important stances, even though his country is torn and many seek to destroy it. Even Algeria, one could consider its stance ahead of others. But most importantly, we must take heed of what is taking place in Egypt today. We see as the rest of the Arabs do that there is in Cairo today someone telling America frankly and sharply, ‘You have no business in Egypt’s internal affairs,’ and this is an important position that must be supported.”
The Syrian leader then spoke about the state of political parties in Syria and the Arab world, and said, “Vacuum is one of the reasons why extremist groups have spread. But another reason has to do with the fact that these parties did not rejuvenate themselves, and they are still weak. We as a state are keen on boosting their work, not as a party. We have also been observing the reflection of Syria’s steadfastness on Arab reality in general, and especially in the Maghreb, which we fear could be subjected to the rule of NATO.”
Assad then warned against the spread of Wahhabi ideology in the Arab world, and said, “This requires a new approach to religious institutions, but first and foremost, it requires supporting a civil state based on co-citizenship.”
Assad added, “Today’s generation has been subjected to a large-scale process of spreading ignorance. The generation that preceded us had more awareness, and this process of spreading ignorance is aimed at keeping the Arab world in a state of backwardness. I want to remind you that the West does not want us to ever evolve. I remember when the US Secretary of State Colin Powell visited us in 2003 and conveyed his country’s demands from Syria after the occupation of Iraq, he especially wanted us not to host any Iraqi scientists. We rejected his demand, so the US and Israeli intelligence liquidated quite a few of those scientists. Today, they want to eliminate scientists in Iran.”
But Assad noted that, by contrast, awareness among Arab peoples is reemerging, saying that raising the picture of the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdul-Nasser in many Arab demonstrations is a sign of this.
He said, “We are not against religion, but we are against invoking religion in all aspects of people’s daily lives. Even us, who are secular, gave religion a role in our constitution, which states explicitly that Sharia is a source of legislation. However, we refuse any politicization of religion in the sense that leads to negative results. As an example that our stance is not against religion, consider Hezbollah’s case in Lebanon. This is an ideological party that derives its ideas from religion. But we do not disagree with Hezbollah politically. This is proof that we don’t have an absolute stance against religions, but we refuse any religious force that operates in accordance with takfiri or Wahhabi ideology.
“For this reason, we say that we do not deal with the Muslim Brotherhood in this way. I believe that Syria cannot tolerate this faction. They did not give us a positive model in all stages. They operate on the basis of a sectarian position; otherwise, how can one explain their stance opposed to Hezbollah? They accept politicization in all issues, and use sectarian discourse to inflame Sunni-Shia strife.”
He then said, “Syria, like Iran and Hezbollah, tolerate many things to prevent sedition. Even the approach in dealing with the situation in Bahrain is very cautious for this reason.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.