'No one should be excluded from national dialogue'


RECONCILIATION:Ali Haidar, whose son was killed in the war, has been given the job of promoting reconciliation

ALI HAIDAR, a member of Syria’s domestic opposition, has been given the impossible task of promoting national reconciliation while Syrians are killing one another, displacing thousands and devastating the country.

As chairman of the pan-Arab Syrian Social Nationalist party founded 70 years ago and a former political prisoner, he tells The Irish Times he had agreed to join the government formed in June as long as he could continue approaching the Syrian crisis “from the point of view of the opposition”.

His party accepted the ministry once the government had agreed that the “only exit [from the crisis] is a political solution which leads to [the creation of] a new political structure. The government agreed to our vision . . . and on the basis of that agreement the new ministry was established.

Other ministries will co-operate and support our work. “There is a new political will in the country.”

To achieve a political solution, he says there must be national dialogue based on rejection of foreign military intervention and of trying to resolve the crisis by the use of arms.

“No one should be excluded from national dialogue and all participants should respect the views of each other. No one should speak of traitors and betrayal.”

His job is to “rectify the situation on the ground”. On the local level, this means putting in place mechanisms to deal with the issues of detainees who either have to be tried or released, displaced people who must be resettled and Syrian citizens who have taken up arms against the government.

“We differentiate between Syrians and non-Syrians, jihadis and Salafis. This group should be dealt with by the security services. They are not only a threat to Syria but to the whole world.”

Although still in the process of establishing his ministry, Haidar has begun promoting social reconciliation at the local level and has visited half a dozen communities in Latakia, Homs, Zabadani and elsewhere to urge them to establish independent committees with the aim of dealing with the three key issues.

His party has been facilitating the political process and building relations with the domestic opposition towards a transition.

His pilot project is the return of 5,000 displaced families to the village of Hafa in the Latakia region.

“A main obstacle is foreign intervention” by countries that are promoting their own national interests. “We cannot do much about this,” he says.

There are also “problems” with the opposition-in-exile.

“Many of them don’t represent anyone in the country, quite a few fled due to [their involvement in] corruption and some have been away for 30 to 40 years and don’t know what is going on. Some are driven by foreign agendas, others by revenge. But we still consider [other expatriates] responsible people and we are in contact with them.”

He took part in consultations that led to a meeting of 10 opposition groups organised by the Sant’Egidio community in Rome. This gathering issued a document calling for an end to violence, and for dialogue and transition to democracy.

Although his party was not invited because he had joined the government, “we agree 100 per cent with Sant’Egidio”.

But he says the “regime must be included [in the political process] as it represents part of the Syrian people”.

He makes the point that Syria’s welfare is important to the region and the wider world. Europe should “see Syria differently than the US”.

One of the obstacles he has to deal with is lack of trust.

“The government should work to gain the trust of the Syrian people, not the other way around.”

He admits people had doubts about his work but adds: “We should be judged by what we deliver.”

Haidar has paid a high price for his stand against militarisation and external intervention. His son was slain by anti-regime gunmen in May.