The beliefs and leadership style of Mouaz al-Khateeb are likely to resonate with major segments of the population in Syria, including key figures in the country’s minority communities. Moreover, and as a respected cleric, he has a certain moral authority to occasionally challenge certain popular stands on issues and to advocate more pragmatic policies. But, without major backing from the international community to the Coalition, and through the Coalition to the rebels, Mouaz’s appeal and legitimacy will prove ephemeral. The priority for the Coalition at this stage should be to identify key defectors and rebel leaders that can be supported and to take control of all border checkpoints to ensure that distribution networks are not coopted by extremist elements. The sooner this is done the sooner members of the international community will be able to make a decision on backing the Coalition.
While many are hailing new opposition leader, Mouaz Al-Khateeb’s moderate credentials, some are already questioning them. This is indeed a legitimate thing to do. But for a culture steeped in confessional prejudice, moderation does not mean complete lack of prejudice, but the ability to rise above it and advocate policies that can work for all communities. Mouaz might have made, at one point or another in the course of his public career, or even recently, statements that smack of anti-Semitism or confessional bias, but his entire public career so far has been a constant attempt to try to rise above prejudice and reach out to the other sides of the equation, while maintaining influence and relevance in his own camp. It is people like Mouaz who represent our hope for a better future at this particular juncture in our history. On account of his lingering prejudices, he still retains relevance in his own camp (Islamist and pragmatic Sunnis), and because of his sincere attempts to rise above these prejudices, he managed to gain respect and relevance in other camps as well (minority communities, especially Christians and Kurds). That’s what makes him a potentially unifying figure. Trying to fault Mouaz for making statements that reveals some of the prejudices that we all grew up with, while neglecting a long career of trying to reach out to the other sides, with some success as one can judge from the reaction of many minority figures to his election, is to engage in a zero-sum game. There is simply no strong and organized constituency for the unbiased leader at this stage, there is only the potential thereof. Transforming this potential into a reality will take decades. People like Mouaz will have to play a critical role in the transition process, if it is to be successful.
(For those interested in historical comparisons and literature, Mouaz’s position is comparable to that of the Roman Prefect in Rudyard Kipling’s story The Church at Antioch. Since his main interest is to bring back order, his personal prejudices seem irrelevant).
Indeed, people like me, that is, people who, in some circles in the West, are often hailed as “moderates,” are actually far from it within the context of our prevailing social and political culture. We are indeed radicals. We have long made a radical departure from most if not all prevailing norms in our societies, to the point that we are now, and for the most part, politically irrelevant and unpopular. But, while our break from the prevailing culture did not stop us from understanding and explaining it, or even from contributing to the making of the revolution itself, we are not in a position to benefit politically from that, as evidenced by the ability of Islamist and leftist elements to completely marginalize us from all ongoing political processes at this stage, despite our stronger connections with western governments and international organizations. Nor will we be given credit anytime soon for our contributions to the revolutionary upheavals, and they are numerous despite the small size of our popular base. That’s why our activities at the Tharwa Foundation, for instance, were meant more to inspire imitation than acquire followers. That was the only way we could influence the processes on the ground.
And although some of us might make better technocrats than our political rivals, it’s highly unlikely that any of us will be entrusted with such positions. Ideology will continue to trump national interest in the political calculations of opposition groups for a long while to come. We are not going to get beyond ideology unless people like Mouaz are successful. Their task is a daunting one, and liberal democracy activists can only support from a distance. Personally, I have long become accustomed to this kind of arrangements.
Of note in this regard as well, are the observations made by my friend, Amr Al-Azm: “The Formation of Syria’s National Coalition: An Assessment and Analysis.”
The pounding of Damascene suburbs continues: Saqba http://youtu.be/iuy21Qz80x8 MiGs and Sukhoys take part in the action http://youtu.be/J_Idg8nPtMA , http://youtu.be/ouGYqOw6lkI Yalda was also targeted http://youtu.be/MKOys_M5HO0 , http://youtu.be/7rGXlsmSdvc And Kafar Batna (where the cameraman was almost killed when the bomb dropped next to his position) http://youtu.be/C8YOZ6zBQaM
These tanks seeing entering into the Tadamon neighborhood in Damascus City are believed to be recent imports from Russia. They are quite different from tanks that have been deployed before http://youtu.be/ayfLHFSr4_w And the pounding begins http://youtu.be/74J3E9Ku3gU
Sounds of clashes in Qaboun Neighborhood in Damascus City http://youtu.be/ltlZfja5qVQ
MiGs also targeted the suburbs of Moadamia http://youtu.be/m52VtwriBOQ and Daraya http://youtu.be/Qoi4JPc4Vew , http://youtu.be/K1JIxolln5I in the western parts of Damascus. In Daraya, the bombardment kills the members of an entire family http://youtu.be/7aQi_eAkKk8
The Kurdish-majority town of Ras-Al-Ain (Seri Kanye) on the borders with Turkey and which has recently been taken over by Islamist rebels have also been targeted by MiGs for the second straight day http://youtu.be/JyL4FZgr4dY , http://youtu.be/UYU2kUw0wT8 , http://youtu.be/vt5czEUWecI Locals are sent scurrying in all directions http://youtu.be/sRVnSPnOsI0 Locals collect the body parts of the victims http://youtu.be/L1Od6yAZNn4 Impact of the pounding http://youtu.be/IGpG0uA6138
MiGs also targeted the town of Alboukamal, on the border with Iraq http://youtu.be/O7WoxHFrOlA , http://youtu.be/I4BwoM5xNno , http://youtu.be/MKMld8M9fBU