Saving Syria’s revolution

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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All eyes are on the Syrians who will decide next week on a leader for the Syrian National Coalition. This ordeal started two months ago when members of the oppositional bloc disagreed over Ghassan Hitto, who was not popular among Syrians.

During the period that followed his “election,” he was not able to form a satisfactory government.

The most likely new candidate for this post is Ahmad Tohme; he differs from Hitto since he is a well-known face, an Islamist and is based in Syria. He is known within the opposition’s circle since he participated in the “Damascus Declaration,” a statement of unity by Syrian opposition figures issued in October 2005, alongside opposition figures such as Fayez Sarah.

For the last eight years, the opposition has been calling for gradual change in Syria. Unlike Hitto, who lived in the United States and is opposed by some members because he spent most of his life abroad, Tohme was born in Deir ez-Zour. He said: “I lived most of my life in Syria except for the five years I spent in the [southwestern] Bisha province in Saudi Arabia, where my father was a teacher from 1974 till 1979.”

Who is Tohme?

Like the resigned coalition president, Moaz al-Khatib, Ahmad Tohme worked as a preacher in a mosque, specialized in Islamic sciences and called for change. He says that he is interested in “reconsidering our Muslim intellectual heritage and correcting a number of wrong understandings that resulted in our civilization’s backwardness.” Tohme is a supporter of pacifism and peaceful fights for rights.

Those who know Tohme say that he is a moderate person and represents the needed element of a post-Assad Syria, which requires someone to believe in co-existence between religions, sects and ideologies.

Although these requirements are idealistic, the chosen head of government will have to fulfill many requirements. He will be asked to save the revolution and its leaders who are tormented by internal chaos between the regime and revolutionaries.

Tohme will have to visit the world’s cities to convince people about the seriousness of the opposition, its unity and the fact that it represents all of the Syrian people. Despite its importance, the lack of weapons is not the main issue, nor is the intervention of regional powers in favor of Assad’s regime.

The real danger to the Syrian revolution comes from the revolutionaries themselves, the leaders of the opposition and their internal strife; it is the absence of a united leadership to convince the Syrian people first, and then the world, that the alternative option to the Syrian regime exists, and that it is active, responsible and has a real popular base.

Will he be able to handle the situation at a time when internal and external forces fight against the Syrian people and their revolution? We believe that he should not accept to preside over the government if he cannot handle it; the national duty is dangerous, difficult and will be put down in history.

Meanwhile, the peace conference is a Russian-Iranian initiative that aims to convince the world to accept Bashar al-Assad as president till next year, and then for life. Those who support “Geneva 2” conference claim that the opposition has no leaders, the revolutionaries do not have a united body, and that the revolution is not better than the regime they want to overthrow.

This image is being propagated by the Assad regime through individual abuses and forged videos, like the one showing one of the revolutionaries eating the heart of one of the soldiers after killing him. The Bolivian ambassador stated that this video prompted him to oppose a U.N. General Assembly resolution against the Assad regime a few days ago.

It is crucial that the opposition forms a government, choose its leader, and maintain the openness of a coalition that rises above differences and unreasonable devotions; these duties are as important as carrying weapons and self-sacrificing.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 18, 2013.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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