Domestic opposition seeks democracy inside Syria, but in which geography?
Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli
The National Democratic Front (NDF) platform stated four weeks ago that the Syrian regime had prevented its periodic conference from convening and that members of the political platform known as “the internal opposition” had been denied access to the center of their meeting in the capital, Damascus.
This ban is not the first of its kind. Regime forces have prevented the NDF’s Preparatory Committee from holding its founding conference to announce the formation of the political platform in February 2021.
Despite restrictions imposed upon it, NDF remained determined to have its headquarters in regime-held areas, a regime that is famous for repressing its opponents, according to UN reports that spoke of hundreds of thousands of Syrian detainees in its prisons. This is what NDF senses, as it has previously issued numerous statements calling on Syrians to organize peaceful protests to stop the regime’s restrictions on their political lives.
Gathering of democratic forces
On 27 March 2021, Syrian political forces known as “the internal opposition” or “the national opposition” began preparations for the first conference, in nearly nine years, in Damascus to establish the National Democratic Front (NDF).
At the time, the Russia Today (RT) TV network quoted the Secretary-General of the Arab Democratic Socialist Union, Ahmed al-Asrawi, as saying that NDF’s founding conference was a gathering of a group of democratic opposition forces that had opted from the beginning for a negotiated political solution leading to national democratic change and political transition.
Enab Baladi interviewed Mustafa al-Moallem, one of the independent members of NDF’s Constituent Committee. For his part, he tried to clarify NDF’s political components of several Syrian political parties and platforms.
During the interview with Enab Baladi in Istanbul, Aal-Moallem said that NDF had been formed from a range of political platforms. It is important to note that “it is not a political platform, but rather a political actor that is trying to gather opposition actors, such as platforms and parties, and does not substitute for any other political entity.”
The National Coordination Committee (NCC) is considered one of NDF’s pillars, according to al-Moallem. The National Democratic Front’s political principles are largely based on NCC’s political vision for the Syrian file.
Both NDF and NCC believe in peacefully opposing the Syrian regime and all forms of foreign interference in Syrian affairs, as well as opposing all forms of extremism that exist today on the Syrian scene, according to al-Moallem.
Does NDF have a presence in northern Syria?
Despite the ban and restrictions imposed by the Syrian regime upon NDF members, which limited its presence to regime-controlled areas, it calls itself the “internal opposition,” as it is the most prominent bloc of opposition to the regime within its areas of influence.
But what about other parts within Syria, which include the areas of influence of the Syrian opposition represented by the Salvation Govt in Idlib and part of the western countryside of Aleppo, and the Interim Govt, which holds areas of the northern countryside of Aleppo within the spheres of Turkish influence, or other areas controlled by the US-backed Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES)?
In the interview with Enab Baladi, Mustafa al-Moallem considered that establishing an internal opposition center in opposition-held areas was not part of NDF’s future plans, given that “these areas are dangerous for any democratic party that rejects foreign interventions and military activities.”
He considered that armed factions in northern Syria would inevitably oppose the presence of NDF offices in their areas of influence. It can pose a risk to people who may run these offices, given the ideology prevalent in these areas.
NDF did not attempt to initiate any kind of negotiations with the de facto authorities in the Syrian north, nor was it able to actually identify its apparent position on NDF’s positioning in its areas of influence.
Enab Baladi posed this question to the media office of the influential Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in areas of northwestern Syria several times in a row via email. The question was whether HTS would allow the presence of offices of democratic parties in its areas of influence, but the latter preferred not to answer.
Also, Enab Baladi did not receive a reply on the same issue from the Interim Govt that holds northern Aleppo.
It is different with “SDC”
Certain NDF parties do not take a position on the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) similar to that taken on other Syrian opposition factions and their political wings, although SDC has a military wing that opposes its principles, in addition to being fully supported by the US, which has many military bases in northeastern Syria.
The independent NDF member, Mustafa al-Moallem, said that many negotiations were held by the NCC, one of NDF’s pillars along with the SDC, since last year until today, as the SDC is considered to be somewhat “receptive to democratic thought.”
However, this cannot be fully disseminated to NDF, as its rules of procedure guarantee the freedom of political practice for all its member bodies and parties, according to al-Moallem.
The National Democratic Front also includes Kurdish political parties and forces such as the Afrin Platform, which announced through its official website the hosting of a meeting that included NDF officials, in addition to its own officials.
This was part of the Platform’s “plans to enhance communication with the Syrian national parties with a view to supporting and enhancing the independence of the opposition’s decision and serving Syria, as a land and people, and clarifying the on-goings in the Syrian region of Afrin.”
What are NDF’s objectives?
Opposition groups based within Syria have set up initiatives to unite political ranks to confront the Syrian regime.
In March last year, Syrian political forces known as “the internal opposition” or “the national opposition” began preparations for a conference, considered the first of its kind in nine years, to establish the National Democratic Front (NDF).
Since September 2012, Syria has not seen a conference attended by representatives of opposition forces, as happened in 2011, which witnessed the formation of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), which was the largest gathering of internal opposition forces after it announced its founding statement in June of 2011.
According to its rules of procedure and political vision, about which Enab Baladi was briefed, NDF aims at establishing an “administratively decentralized” state that preserves the integrity of Syrian territory and on the basis of a civil state that is neutral towards religions and creeds.
It also considers that the only solution to the “Syrian crisis” is a political solution that would be distant from arms and military action that Mustafa al-Moallem said has proved to be a failure over the past years.
Today, NDF considers armed action in Syria an activity imposed by the supporting countries, which has pushed the chaos of arms to the Syrian scene, causing today’s suffering.
Opposition actors inside Syria
NDF is not the only opposition party that is based in regime-held areas. In August 2021, a conference was held in As-Suwayda, which included political bodies composed of the people of the governorate, under the title “The Syrian South and the Vision of the Next Political Solution for Syria” to examine the reality of the future of the political process. The participants demanded the departure of the Syrian regime and the implementation of Security Council Resolution No. 2254.
Participants considered that the conference held within Syrian territory was aimed at working with the rest of Syria’s governorates and national components to “lift Syria out of the great collapse that it is currently experiencing.”
The local Suwayda ANS Facebook page posted the terms and outputs of the agreement, which focused on the deteriorating living conditions in the governorate, the security chaos, in addition to the ongoing battles and security tensions in Daraa.
Participants held the Syrian regime fully responsible for the Syrian governorates’ deteriorating living and service conditions. They also affirmed that Syria has become an “easy grab” for other countries, with the Syrian authority owning only 17 percent of the coast, while the rest was sold to Russia and Iran, according to the page.
The conference was convened at the invitation of the Syrian Liwa Party in partnership with “national political elites” from As-Suwayda governorate. It was considered the first of its kind in the context of plans to expand work towards other conferences and initiate political action from within Syria.
This was followed last February by a statement issued by the Syrian National Conference for the Restoration of Sovereignty and Decision (SNC), the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC) (which split from the National Democratic Front NDF), and the National Initiative in Jabal al-Arab (As-Suwayda region).
The statement noted that all contentious issues must be neutralized, and consensus on common national and democratic principles must be recognized by creating an appropriate atmosphere for dialogue and making understandings that do not address organizational issues and the political status of the various parties.
The three parties then expressed the hope that this call would create the broadest national democratic consensus capable of playing an influential and effective role at domestic and international levels in order to reach a political solution leading to a radical and comprehensive democratic transition in Syria.
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