Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Who’s next?

Omayma Abdel-Latif writes on the story behind the resignation of Moez Al-Khatib, the former head of the Syrian opposition

Al-Ahram Weekly

A day before Moez Al-Khatib, former head of the National Coalition of the Syrian Opposition in exile, announced his resignation from the post, he made a statement to the Saudi-financed Al-Hayat newspaper suggesting that the Syrian armed opposition could give up arms if it could achieve its objectives without them.

Al-Khatib made similar statement some two months ago, when he proposed an initiative to open a dialogue with the Syrian regime in order to outline the political transition period. Such conciliatory remarks marked his vision of how to settle the Syrian crisis, but they also apparently cost him his post.

When Al-Khatib took over the position last November, he knew that it was a tough challenge. Yet, the former imam of the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus accepted the post anyway, perhaps naively thinking he could do something that his predecessors had failed to do. The rest is history.

There are a number of theories circulating as to why Al-Khatib resigned, or possibly was made to resign, as one theory goes. One such theory is that he was not hawkish enough for the countries sponsoring the Syrian opposition, among them Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Al-Khatib’s mandate was due to end in a couple of months, and it was not clear until a few days ago whether or not he intended to run again for the post. In an interview with the London based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on 21 March, Al-Khatib downplayed speculation about his resignation in protest against the appointment of an interim government.

At the time of the interview, he saw no reason to raise the issue of his resignation since he “had still not decided whether or not to run for the post again or to serve Syria in another post”. Such a statement gives weight to the theory that Al-Khatib was made to resign.

According to one Doha-based Syrian activist, Al-Khatib represents a current inside the opposition in exile known as “the shami current” that approaches politics from the mentality of a Damascene trader who would like to win at any cost. It was as a result of this mentality, for example, that Al-Khatib had suggested dialogue with the regime.

This pragmatic approach is in conflict with that of the political Islam current led by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood that is obsessed with controlling the political process and taking all the levers of power into its hands. Al-Khatib did not want to see an interim government before a US-Russian deal had been made, while the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to impose its candidate, Ghassan Hetto, by force.

Al-Khatib’s resignation might be viewed as a victory for the Islamists, but in the eyes of many Syrian activists it represents a loss for the Syrian Revolution. In his resignation speech, Al-Khatib implicitly referred to “the forces that besiege the Syrian people and its Revolution and seek to control it”.

Al-Khatib also went further and talked about “plans which transcend all red lines”. Though he did not elaborate on such schemes, Ibrahim Al-Amin, editor of the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, has put the resignation within the larger context of regional schemes sponsored by the Gulf countries to expedite efforts aiming at bringing down the Syrian regime.

The Arab Summit held in Doha on Tuesday, Al-Amin explained, was meant to bestow political cover on new schemes in the war against Al-Assad’s Syria. “The military activity will further escalate to gain full control of Aleppo and the countryside and to declare a new Syrian state as a prelude to dividing Syria. The appointment of an interim government was a first move towards achieving such a scheme,” he said.

As a result, according to Al-Amin, Al-Khatib’s resignation had to be understood as just a small detail in a larger picture.

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