Interview by Lilia Weslaty, translated by Kacem Jlidi.
INTERVIEW WITH AHMED MANAÏ, ARAB LEAGUE OBSERVER IN SYRIA.
As one of 166 observers from the Arab League in Syria, we interviewed Ahmed Manaï, former UN international expert, militant for a democratic Tunisia and author of “Tunisian torture - The Secret Garden General Ben Ali.”
Nawaat: What was your reaction, as a Tunisian member of the observers sent by the Arab League, facing the Sino-Russian veto on the draft resolution of the UN Security Council on Syria?
AM: A great satisfaction for the Syrian people and Syria, their present and future. The Sino-Russian veto saved a country, the cradle of human and Arab civilization, from total destruction to which destined him and other Arab powers of the war were about to make him suffer. With this veto Syria will not know, I hope the fate of Iraq so close with its million deaths, its 3 million orphans, its two million widows, its four million refugees and his unstructured society. It will not know the uncertain fate of Libya, unstructured and disjointed.
Nawaat: You wrote on your Facebook page that the decision that “to return the Syrian ambassador” of Tunisia emanates not from the President Marzouki but from Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist party Ennahdha and Qatar, where from you hold this information?
AM: I’d like to remind you first that there is no Syrian ambassador in Tunis since more than a year, but just a vice affairs handler.
We don’t need to draw this kind of information to any other source than Mr. Ghannouchi himself. All is needed is to just go back to his statements and recall, for example, the one he made in November 2011, I believe, in which he “decided” that Tunisia would return the Syrian ambassador. He declared later, “He would render the embassies each of Yemen and Syria to the opponents of the two countries” probably unaware of the Geneva Convention governing diplomatic and consular relations.
He was only the leader of a political party that won elections.
Fortunately, the government at that time had tempered his zeal. Now he is everything and decides everything, still in no other quality than that of chairman of a party leader of the majority in the National Constituent Assembly.
Why Qatar? Because this country, a subcontractor of dirty work, which drives the “Arab initiative” had ordered all countries under its supervision, to accompany the meeting of the Security Council on 04/02, with a concerted action to break with Syria. They thought of everything except the double veto. He also gave instructions to some Medias to heat up the atmosphere a little more. The Syrian CNT has recommended to his followers to occupy the Syrian embassies around the world and its militants and armed groups to distinguish themselves by large scale action. However, I must admit that I have friends in the league who have confirmed to me certain things, including the unconditional alignment of the Tunisian delegation to the Arab League in Qatar.
On the other hand, it is all in line with the approach between the “brothers” and their Arab allies, Turkish and Western.
Nawaat: What do you think of the decision itself to « return the ambassador » ?
AM: I recall that Tunisia has sent an official delegation that participated in drafting the report of the Arab mission in Syria. If the Tunisian decision-makers had consulted the members of this delegation on the situation in Syria, they surely would have advised them otherwise. I also do not know if these decision-makers were aware of this mission that includes ambassadors, senior officials and officers.
So what do I think? This is a hasty decision, taken by diplomacy and international relations amateurs, unaware of the harm they do to the interests and image of a country that has long been distinguished for its wise and balanced diplomacy, or so, a decision dictated by someone stronger than them!
Curiously none of the powers which were about a few weeks ago to launch their planes over Syria has used the severance of relations with it.
Nawaat: Who are the different agents (There has been talk of Iran, Hizb Allah, Iraqis …) involved in the events taking place in Syria since March 2011? Can you please clarify more on these actors?
AM: Iran and Hezbollah are strategic allies of the Syrians. The Iraqis, on the contrary, were in bad terms with them, though now we witness their reconciliation.
Would they be involved in the events in Syria? I do not think the Syrians would need anyone’s help to manage the situation within their country. Many Medias spoke of Hezbollah fighters and Iranian Pasdaran who would get involved in the repression of demonstrators. It’s just propaganda. But it is certain that they cooperate full in intelligence, for example.
There are other countries fully involved in the Syrian crisis: what are the Gulf countries headed by Qatar, Turkey and all NATO countries. Among these, there are those who welcome the armed groups on their soil, others do the funding, others train them and others provide them with media coverage.
There are other big players, such as Russians and Chinese, but as we saw in the last Security Council’s vote, their role is primarily supportive.
But there are also, in addition to these states, few highly influential political movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis.
Nawaat: What do you think of media coverage in Syria? What about the censorship?
AM: There is foreign media coverage on Syria and another in Syria.
One of the questions included in the protocol to which the observers’ mission should meet, concerns the media and their working conditions. The final report including the following response:
“Checking the granted approvals by the Syrian government to Arab and international medias, and investigates the possibilities for these medias to move freely in all parts of Syria ..
41 - The Syrian government, speaking through his minister of information, confirmed that he had granted approval to 147 different Arab and foreign medias since the beginning of December 2011 and until 15.01.2012. 112 various foreign medias have visited the new Syrian territory joining more than 90 medias already on Syrian territory who have permanent correspondents.
42 - The Mission has followed this issue and noted the presence of36 Arab and foreign medias and a certain number of journalists in a number of Syrian cities. She has received some complaints indicating that the Syrian government has granted permits for certain medias to operate in Syria for a period not exceeding four days, considered insufficient duration of their views, in addition to not allow their movement inside the country unless they indicate their destination beforehand and request another certification to get to certain sensitive areas. The Syrian government is willing to provide the media with renewable mandates of 10 days.
43 - Reports and statements by some sectors of the Mission show the existence of governmental restrictions on the Medias’ movement of media in the opposition sectors, prompting the journalists to move, in many cases, behind the movement of the mission to perform their duties.
44 - The city of Homs witnessed the murder of a French journalist working for France 2, and the injury of a journalist from Belgium. On both cases, the government and opposition have traded accusations over the responsibility each of these incidents and they have published statements each condemning the opposing party. The Syrian government has set up an investigative governmental commission to determine the causes of the incidents. It should be noted that the Mission reports of the Arab League in Homs indicate that the French journalist was killed after mortar fire from the opposition.
About the role of international Medias, to answer, there is about sixty television channels, throughout the country, which discharge continuously and in all languages a flood of lies and shameless propaganda on the situation in Syria.
Nawaat: Back to “veto”: It had been almost a year when Russia and China along with Germany, Brazil, and India abstained regarding the 1973 resolution authorizing the use of force against the Gaddafi regime in Libya. How do you explain the use of this veto, this time, in the case of Syria?
AM: The 1973 resolution on Libya passed to ensure the protection of civilian populations has been hijacked by the NATO countries. The result of the NATO war against Libya, still little known to the public, has been catastrophic. Russia and China, had not exercised their right of veto, believing perhaps that the resolution would be enforced to the letter. There is also that Libya, even with its oil production by almost 4% of world production, has not the same strategic weight as Syria, whose oil production is almost negligible.
The Sino-Russian double veto has prevented the lock Syria from breaking, and also both countries from becoming the next targets of the West. It is above all the affirmation of the end of a world dominated by the United States and return to a binary world. There is another reason that was explained by the head of Russian diplomacy that there was a secret clause in this resolution authorizing the use of armed intervention.
Nawaat: Russia and China have an interest in maintaining Bashar Al Assad on the head of the Syrian regime, for purely economic reasons that would be hampered in case of an embargo on the arms: According to the Russian think tank Cast, Syria bought $700 million of arms from Russia in 2010, up to 7% of the Russian sales sector… Why the international community and international media seem offended by the Sino-Russian veto already announced by the Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin on October 4th, 2011 and then this Thursday, February 2nd, 2012?
A.M: States do not have feelings but interests. Certainly the Russians and Chinese have many economic, commercial and strategic interests with Syria. Arms sales constitute only a tiny part.
Nawaat: The massacre in Homs, killing more than 200 lives, the deadliest since the events started, does it seem suspicious to you?
A.M: This massacre is signed and its authors are making fun of our intelligence. Is it possible to believe for a moment, a government, whatever it is, could commit such a massacre on the day his case is brought before the Security Council?
In fact, this is a stunt as part of a comprehensive and concerted intervened where the “Syrian activists” abroad to fill the Syrian embassies and consulates, “referring to the call of Syrian ambassadors in Arab countries and of course the massacre of Homs.
While this massacre: those who followed the TV that day have seen pictures of many victims. Most of these victims had their hands tied behind their backs and some had their faces to the ground.
The directors told us that they were the victims of the bombing of buildings and houses by tanks and even by the Syrian Air Force. Curiously these victims were not wearing injuries nor any sign of the collapse of their houses and dwellings. Each can draw the conclusions he wants. In any case throughout the 4th of February, Syrian citizens testified that they recognized among the victims, relatives and neighbors removed for a week and even months.
Each can draw the conclusions he wants.
Nawaat: In response to this veto and following the massacre of Homs who had many echoes in the international arena, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said the Russian and Chinese leaders will have on their hands any further bloodshed. What do you think of this upsurge of tension and sets of interests between China and Russia on one side facing the United States, France and the UK on the other side, all permanent members of the Security Council?
AM: The best response made to Susan Rice, came from the UN Syrian ambassador, which reminded her of the 60 vetoes of the United States to derail the resolutions condemning Israel. But there is a thinly veiled threat in Rice’s statement, because blood may leak in Syria. The anti-Syrian coalition will continue its campaign to destabilize Syria and is considering running soon to the UN Assembly to provide a right to intervene militarily.
Overall we are experiencing a return of a cold war this time with a more powerful Russia and China, ensured the support from a number of emerging countries, with a west facing declining crisis.
Nawaat: On January 8, the Russian warships have docked at the Russian naval base located at the Port of Tartous in Syria, something already planned since August 2010… With this veto, would we be in a disastrous phase of a war preparation whose allies seem increasingly defined?
A.M : After the occupation war on Iraq and the shameful withdrawal of U.S. troops, it is difficult to believe that Americans can re-engage in a war involving the presence of their troops on the ground. Thus they chose, in the case of Libya, to involve the NATO aviation and support them in the end.
This scenario is not valid in the Syrian case because Syria is a relatively large power and has very powerful allies. Therefore, the anti-Syrian coalition has chosen to implode from within the country by creating, funding, arming and leading outbreaks of rebellion.
Are we on the eve of a war? If there is a war, it will not be confined to the borders of the Middle East, everyone is convinced even the wildest and those who make the plans!
Après la guerre d’occupation de l’Irak, puis le retrait honteux des troupes américaines, il est difficile de croire que les américains puissent s’engager de nouveau dans une guerre impliquant une présence de leurs troupes au sol. C’est ainsi qu’ils ont choisi, dans le cas libyen, de faire intervenir l’aviation de l’OTAN et de leur apporter un soutien au final.
Nawaat: By continuing to work with the Syrian regime and the devided Syrian opposition, the Arab League seems to believe in a possible ‘political solution’ to the Syrian crisis, in a way President Bashar Al-Assad delegates his powers to Vice President to form, within two months, a government of national unity that would lead the country to free elections.
The Sino-Russian veto blocks the resolution, what kind of pressure you feel is preparing to kneel Bashar Al Assad?
AM: The Arab League is entirely discredited by burying the report of its own observers’ mission and its appeal to the Security Council. It missed the opportunity to participate in the settlement of the Syrian affair. All it can offer in the future will be worthless.
Now it’s Russia’s turn to play the lead role but also to the Syrian leadership required to accelerate and implement the reforms.
Nawaat: In your opinion, what is the true weight of the CNS (pro military intervention) and the National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change (against intervention and which is rarely we hear from it in the international media)?
AM: The CNS does not have a good reputation in Syria precisely because it calls for armed intervention. The Syrians have a long tradition of patriotism and a high history of resistance to foreign domination. By cons, abroad, it is a media darling and favorite partner of politicians, who support and finance.
Besides the CNS does not have representatives inside the country and one of its components, the Kurds, has just left it.
It’s different in the case of the Coordination Committee, because its representatives are almost all activists within the country, and have no spokesman abroad, Haytham Manna. It is quite normal that we do not speak of this Committee in the propaganda and disinformation’s Medias that support the intervention.
Nawaat: How do you assess the actions taken by deserters from the Syrian army? Do you have evidence to prove that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) commits acts of barbarism?
AM: The report of on the Arab observers’ mission reported the existence of FSA and other armed groups who attack governmental forces, carry out the abduction of civilians who are released only against payment of ransom, murder, sabotage oil facilities, civil buildings, trains and railways…
Nawaat: Dernière question : peut-on être pour ou contre le régime de Bashar Al Assad et du Président syrien en lui-même ?
Nawaat: Last question: can we be for or against the regime of Bashar Al Assad and the Syrian president himself?
AM: Those who believe that the departure of a president would solve all the problems of the country, are simply idiots. We were unable to learn from the examples of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen and agree that the aftermath of dictatorship are often harder to manage than the dictatorship itself because oppositions have not yet learned to govern!