Riyad Hijab’s return paints roles in the future of Syria

Former Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab (riadhijab.com)

Former Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab (riadhijab.com)


Enab Baladi – Saleh Malas

In the recent few weeks, more than one international body, which has an effective role in determining the shape of the political and military future in Syria, have met with Syrian opposition figures, who are not officially affiliated with political parties or bodies. Thus, their names have been circulated in the late news bulletins again after a three-year absence from the front of events. 

First, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Mikhail Bogdanov met with the leader of the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, Sheikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, on 26 June, during Bogdanov’s visit to the Qatari capital, Doha.

According to a statement published by the Russian Foreign Ministery, the meeting included “a detailed exchange of views on the current situation in Syria, with a focus on the prospects of a political settlement to the crisis in the country, in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254.

The second meeting was held between the U.S. State Department Special Envoy for Syria, Joel Rayburn, and the former Prime Minister of Syria and General Coordinator of the High Negotiations Committee, Riyad Hijab on 3 August. 

Rayburn had a discussion with Hijab, “on how best to implement Caesar’s sanctions and end the suffering of the Syrian people at the hands of the Syrian regime,” according to what the U.S. embassy in Syria said, on its Twitter account.

After a three-year absence from the Syrian political scene, Hijab participated in a webinar at the US-based Center for Global Policy on 30 July  about “The mechanisms to deal with the latest political and field developments in the Syrian scene.” Hijab argued that the arrangements and work of opposition institutions need to be reconfigured and restructured, nine years after the start of the 2011 revolution, in order to strengthen these institutions and expand their political representations while maintaining their current existence. 

In that webinar, Hijab concluded that “New security and the military equation is being formed in Syria, and its features must be understood and dealt with.”

Hijab, the former Syrian Prime Minister, who defected from the Syrian regime, added that “Bashar al-Assad has become too much of burden on Syria (…) Bashar al-Assad is not the next stage.”

He believes that the mediation role of the United Nations must be reinforced in order to make real achievements at the level of constitutional reform in Syria.

These statements and meetings took their toll on the media through several readings about the role of these opposition figures, especially Hijab, in the future of resolving the Syrian file, or in making any change of political conditions in Syria, as the date for the Syrian presidential elections in 2021 approaches.

Opposition figures with only “moral and ethical considerations”

Syrian political analyst Hassan al-Nifi said, in an interview with Enab Baladi, that the negative response to resolving the Syrian file by the international community for nine years has made many Syrians believe that the recent meetings between international actors in Syria and opposition figures are a sign of an initiative to enter a new phase.

Hijab’s call has further reinforced this interpretation; he highlighted the necessity of restructuring the institutions of the Syrian opposition, and not to subordinate them to political agendas, according to al-Nifi. 

This matter is nothing more than an effort to figure out the Syrian public opinion towards all opposition political parties. However, the nature of this “effort” took another turn as Washington and Moscow compete to find out which opposition figures are more popular than others in the Syrian street. 

Most of the international parties are convinced that the political solution in Syria will be an outcome of international consensus between the influential parties in the Syrian affairs over a Syrian personality determined by the common interests between those parties, in line with their vision, according to al-Nifi.

Al-Nifi does not count on the role that can be played by some figures who returned to the scene again from the gates of Moscow and Washington. These figures “do not belong to political parties of great popularity on the ground. These parties do not have substantial extensions inside Syria or any form of influence, as he put it. 

He believes that all these Syrian opposition figures can have is only a moral value whose effectiveness or influence on the current balance of power on the ground is unknown.

The reason that led the U.S. government in Washington to meet with Hijab, from al-Nifi’s viewpoint, is just its negative stance on “the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces” that supports military operations launched by Turkey that contradict the U.S. authorities’ vision for a solution in Syria.

Yahya al-Aridi, the spokesman of the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC), suggested that Hijab’s aim to re-launch a new structure for the opposition and raise the standards of political action is almost impossible in this period in which Syria is experiencing the failure of the political process.

Al-Aridi thanked on Twitter, Hijab for his initiative to reactivate the opposition, and raised a question about whether he was able to obtain a new international resolution that the opposition needed to activate its role in Syria “against an internal and external criminal occupation regime.”

Former statesman

At the same time, the Syrian opposition figure Salah Qirata considered that Riad Hijab is seen as “a patriotic figure, and his departure from Syria was not an ordinary dissent movement, but rather an advanced plan.”

In a post on Facebook, on 30 June, Qirata added, “We must engage in a political process based on Security Council Resolution 2254, which explicitly states that there is no role for Bashar al-Assad in the transitional phase.”

Qirata thinks that Hijab will play an essential role in the transitional phase, and he can convince the majority of Syrians; they trust him to be a leader in the next transitional period, which will draft a constitution within Syria, with national skills and experience, without any external dictation. 

This reading of Hijab’s initiative was, in general, favorable and supportive by Qirata due to the fact that Hijab was a former statesman who can be used in the next transitional phase.

 Hijab between lines

Riyad Farid Hijab was born in the governorate of Deir Ezzor in 1966. He holds a doctorate degree in agricultural engineering.

Hijab was appointed governor of Quneitra in 2008 until February 2011. He was assigned as the governor of Latakia in February 2011, then assigned to the post of Minister of Agriculture in Adel Safar’s government in April 2011. 

Riad Hijab defected from the regime on 6 August 2012 and left Syria with his family for Jordan.

On 6 August 2012, Hijab defected from the Syrian regime and left with his family for Jordan, where “the Free Syrian Army” secured his release from Daraa along with his family.

He founded the “Free National Assembly” of the Employees of Syrian state Institutions between 2012 and 2015.

Hijab was elected president of the “Syrian High Negotiations Commission” in 2015, to resign from it without explaining the reasons in 2017.

He did not hold any positions after this resignation.


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