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Syria: Blog Interview with Opposition Activist Ammar Abdulhamid

This post is part of our special coverage Syria Protests 2011.

American blogger and Syria expert, Joshua Landis, conducted a video interview with exiled leading opposition activist Ammar Abdulhamid on the Syrian unrest.

Speaking on Landis’ blog, Syria Comment, Abdulhamid was questioned on a variety of topics concerning the Syrian revolution, from the dangers of a sectarian breakdown, to the regional implications of a potential collapse in regime.

It is a must-see interview that not only airs an opposition perspective into the protests, but also challenges the faceless opposition to provide answers to the questions many Syrians are asking.

One important question is that of sectarianism, and whether the opposition can safeguard Syria from descending into Lebanon and Iraq-like sectarian conflicts.

Abdulhamid appeared to brush off the threat of sectarianism, not entirely reassuring for concerned viewers on Syria Comment.

Mina:

Sorry Ammar, you are a little bit naive by tryig to explain that sectarianism is not an issue, the MB are not an issue, things won’t go as in Iraq. You say: the regime has been manipulating the people into sectarianism, this is their line, though you admit that there are corrupt elites from all grounds: Alawites, Sunnites, Christian and Druzes. My first point is corruption is a world problem.

To come back to sectarianism. Didn’t you know that it’s after victory that problems start, with the fight for power? Do you think everybody is as young and politically naive as you are? Why don’t you try to learn from what is going on in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya?

why-discuss:

Ammar Abdulhamid talks about ‘reconciliation’ a la Mandela but who is the Syrian Mandela? and ‘no revenge’, he expects that the army will ‘hopefully’ adhere to the revolution and turn their back to their previous leaders.
He talks like this is going happen in a click of the finger, the transitional period will be short…then after everything will be slow but great. It sound like Syria will become Brigadoon

“We are not naive…” Really?

norman:

any violent transfer of power is going to lead to sectarian violence and war, Ammar knows that and that is why he is trying hard to say that it will be different , (( IT WIL BE NOT)), civil war is at the door, The only chance is for the Baath party and the regime is to offer passage to free multiparty elections while the army maintaining civil order and preventing ethnic and religious war.

What i fear is that the opposition goal has changed to getting rid of the regime not free election to See who can win,

Farouk qaddour:

The so-called secular opposition in Syria will be the first victim of any swift regime change and those people will find themselves in the streets with no friends except a hypocritical west that is too busy fighting more important wars or trying to solve their own domestic,mostly economic problems.the vacuum in Syria following 50 years of albaath domination left the country with no organized leadership and that opens the door to fundamental groups which will claim to be the only viable solution to Syria’s problem. The regime is directly responsible for this horrible situation that can only benefit organized religion.

One commenter questioned Abdulhamid's commitment to regaining the occupied Golan Heights from Israel, captured in the 1967 Six Day War:

Sophia:

Golan back but no war with Israel. 12000 druzes and 4 villages dismissed. Let’s do business with Israel.

No visible emotions on his face during the whole interview but the only time his eyes get animated was around the question about Iran and Israel (around minute 46). No comment on this because I cannot read his mind but one explanation could be his personal ideological commitment to this as all people in Arab countries who identify with the west, they usually don’t want to embrace the what has been a classical Arab cause (Palestine and occupied Arab land by Israel). Or his opinion on this is determined by his sponsorship and he doesn’t want to lose his financing. it could also be both.

Lebanese blogger and political analyst, Qifa Nabki, criticised Abdulhamid's claim of a “Syrian exceptionalism” in preventing the country from lapsing into civil sectarian conflict, as opposed to its neighbours:

(1) Joshua Landis & Ammar Abdulhamid at Blogging Heads: This interview is highly worth watching in its entirety. Landis asks all the relevant questions, and Abdulhamid — a Syrian dissident exiled in Washington and a leading opposition activist –provides a very interesting take on several issues, including: (1) the origins of the protests; (2) the multi-faceted character of the opposition; (3) what happens the day after the regime falls; (4) the future of Syria’s relationship with Iran and Israel.

On the question of Syrian sectarianism, Landis challenges Abdulhamid to respond to those who fear that Syria could disintegrate into a sectarian civil war, like Lebanon during the 70′s and 80′s, or Iraq after the US invasion. Abdulhamid’s response, to my mind, is not particularly convincing. He argues that Syria is exceptional; it is unlike Lebanon and Iraq, and will find a way to withstand a sectarian conflagration because it is “a country of minorities”. Furthermore, this exceptionalism is something that the regime itself has always touted.

The logic is easy to pick apart. Lebanon is even more diverse, minority-wise, than Syria and this did not prevent a sectarian civil war. Furthermore, it strikes me as problematic to use regime propaganda to bolster a claim of Syrian exceptionalism. Note that I am not arguing that Syria is actually a sectarian powder-keg; I just don’t think that Abdulhamid’s argument is very convincing.

As the violence in Syria continues to spread, many uneasy questions remain unanswered. One point that brings all parties in accordance is that Syria has most certainly passed the threshold of no return. The road ahead, however, remains obscure.

This post is part of our special coverage Syria Protests 2011.

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