Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Dissent Within the NSF?

Let me take some time to clarify this issue of alleged schisms within the NSF:

There were, in fact, two participants in the foundational conference who opted at the last minute not to join the Front. That’s about it really. Now, I leave it up to you to decide whether the two figures opted out because they were not selected as members of the 11-member General Secretariat, or whether they had some lofty moral principle that was somehow violated in the process. Albeit, I have to admit that the other guy who opted out, Abdulhamid Haj Khodr, is actually a very decent fellow armed with an explosive temperament.

Now as for the whole idea of elections that many have already griped about, frankly, they were not even on the table at this stage: we are still in the preparatory phase, we are still developing our programs, our vision and our message that we want to take to the Syrian people and the international community, and the very ideological diversity within the Front means that we cannot agree on these issues within a day or two. We have a lot of work ahead of us yet, and we are now working to form the various committees that will be in charge of addressing all contentious issues. This might sound too dull and boring, but hey, there is no way we can sidestep these intermediary phases, they are part and parcel of the political process, especially when coalitions are involved. The best we can do is to try to speed things up and we are.

Let’s not forget here that we are achieving all this on our own. We have not been endorsed or supported by any external power or agency, or state or government, neither in the region nor elsewhere.

Moreover, and no matter what we do, we cannot be all-inclusive. There will always be people who will be left out, because either they think too highly of themselves in comparison to what others think of them, or because they have nothing to offer, or because they expect too much out of the process at this stage.

But we, as liberals, have joined the NSF to struggle for democracy and transparency within it, not because it is going to be democratic and transparent by itself. We did so, because Khaddam and Bayanouni had a certain clout and certain “credibility” as a potential organized threat to the regime and have, therefore, managed with their coalition to attract the attention of governments everywhere and most other opposition forces and figures out there. We deemed it unwise to be left out of something that might indeed produce Syria’s new leaders in the not-so-distant future.

For what sort of leaders are those going to be if they are all going to come from Baathist and Islamist backgrounds? And what sort of programs and constitution will these people produce if left to their own devices? No, we need to be there in the thick of it, pushing a different line of thought and challenging people from within. We may not have as much popular backing in Syria, but we do have some desperately needed skills and experiences and we can use them to leverage ourselves in and to implant some of our ideas into the fabric of the NSF programs and vision. Elections at the Front today won’t get us in, but smart backdoor politics will.

We need time to prepare for elections, as they are indeed a must. But the Front is fast becoming a sort of microcosm or Syria, the real liberal and democratic forces will not be the ultimate winners at this stage, but, we might, might mind you, be able to exert a greater influence on things here than is the case with our colleagues who opted to join the Assads regime in the hope of achieving the same goal.

Because they are not in power yet, and because they need us to get there, we seem to be better positioned to get a better deal for the liberal current in the country if we worked from within the NSF.

Indeed, this is not about democracy at this stage, it’s about survival – the survival of a liberal flame through the rough times that lie ahead. Because without this flame, democracy does not stand a chance.

On the other hand, and back to this idea of dissent within the ranks. What can I say? You should really hear some of my Polish friends speak about the internal wrangling and mutual vilifications that used to take place within the Polish Solidarity Movement even as they struggled to challenge the Soviet regime in their country. Listening to them you wouldn’t have thought the Movement would last two days, not to mention actually triumph at the end. For internal wrangling is part and parcel of coalition politics and, because the NSF is admittedly comprised of a higher proportion of shady characters who are much less democratically inclined, we are going to get more than our fair share of such wrangling. Alea Jacta Est and all that.