Ammar Abduhamid is a liberal Syrian pro-democracy activist whose anti-regime activities led to his exile in September, 2005. He currently lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife, Khawla Yusuf, and their two children, Oula (b.1986) and Mouhanad (b. 1990). He is the founder of the Tharwa Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting democracy, and is currently a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. His personal blog is the Syrian Revolution Digest.
The following is RadicalIslam.org National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro’s interview with Abdulhamid:
Ryan Mauro: What type of intervention by the U.S. and other countries are you and your allies in the opposition seeking?
Ammar Abdulhamid: Not too long ago, a group of us representing different coalitions came up with our own six-point plan, which still represents what we think the U.S. and its allies should be doing. The plan can be found here. But in short, we want the U.S. to work directly with the opposition on the ground to provide training and arms. We also want air strikes against positions of heavy artillery and roving tank columns pounding the different cities. A combination of military operations by the local resistance with aerial cover from the U.S. and allies will shortly provide a separation of forces between the few real areas that are still loyal to the regime and the majority of the country which has joined the revolution. It’s at this stage that talks over transition can truly begin.
Mauro: Let’s discuss some of the reasons why there is opposition to the U.S. getting involved. The U.S. and Europe are suffering economically. What makes it worthwhile for the U.S. to get involved when the country is so heavily in debt?
Abdulhamid: There is no immediate economic reward for intervention, but should we let the situation deteriorate any further, we could have a larger regional meltdown, and that would surely have serious economic consequences. And we don’t have long to wait before we begin to see such a development. We are not talking about unlikely scenarios for the distant future here, but about developments that can take place within months, if not weeks. In geopolitical terms, of course, the collapse of the Syrian regime and a transition towards a more democratic system of governance will constitute a blow to Iran and its interests in the region, and that’s always good news for the U.S.
Mauro: The most common argument against intervention is that the opposition includes elements of Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic extremists. The Muslim Brotherhood just won the Egyptian presidential election. How do we know that the alternative to Assad would be any better?
Abdulhamid: There are Islamists elements for sure. Islamists are a fact of life on the ground in our part of the world and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Al-Qaeda is not represented within the ranks of the opposition, but Al-Qaeda and similar groups can always benefit from power vacuuAl-ms and prolonged conflict situations. That’s why we are pushing for immediate U.S. involvement in the situation.
The demographics in Syria are such that Sunni Arab Muslims represent less than 60% of the population. Moreover, Sunni Arabs are also divided along regional and ideological lines. That puts natural constraints on the ability of the Islamists in Syria to replicate the victories scored by their colleagues in Tunisia and Egypt. Still, Islamists have superior organizational structures which will give them more clout and weight than their numbers would suggest in the early phases of transition in Syria. That’s why opposition groups need to agree on suitable electoral laws, and why the international community, including the U.S., should be involved in charting the transitional process.
Mauro: What about the security of Syria’s massive amount of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) and conventional weapons? As the country destabilizes, isn’t there a good chance that either the regime will utilize them or that terrorists and rogue states will acquire them?
Abdulhamid: Since no country wants to put boots on the ground in Syria, it is important for the U.S. and its allies to establish a proper working relationship with the local resistance in order to secure WMD sites. Local resistance groups have always said that they are willing to work with Western powers on this matter as part of an overall package to support the opposition and the processes of democratic transition in the country.
Mauro: Look at what’s happened to the Iraqi Christians since Saddam has fallen and the Coptic Christians in Egypt. What do you say to those that worry that the Christian minority of Syria will be similarly persecuted if Assad falls?
Abdulhamid: That’s another reason why the international community and the U.S. should be involved more closely in charting the transition process in Syria. The good news is that local resistance groups remain infused and run by moderate elements including representatives of the Christian communities in Syria. The bad news is that moderation does not last forever under heavy shelling and an increasing sense of abandonment.
Christians have already come under fire by pro-regime militias. Churches in Homs City were destroyed, and Christian inhabitants were forced to evacuate just as their Sunni neighbors did. Regime propagandists tried to blame the opposition for that. But videos furnished by activists on the ground forces show churches being shelled by pro-regime militias. Local resistance simply doesn’t have access to heavy artillery.
The U.S. must act now while there are still enough moderate leaders around to help guide and facilitate the transition process and protect the well-being of all minorities.