Exiled Syrian opposition leaders announced the creation of a united front on Friday aimed at forming a transitional government to bring about "regime change" from President Bashar al-Assad to democracy.
Former Vice-President Abdel-Halim Khaddam, who broke with Assad last year after serving under his late father Hafez al-Assad, told a news conference: "All factions of the Syrian opposition and activists have come to the conclusion that the regime in Syria has to be changed."
He spoke after a two-day meeting in Brussels of Syrian opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, liberals, communists and Kurds, at which they drew up a joint declaration on a six-month transition period for a post-Assad era.
"This is the first time in history that all the opposition movements inside and outside Syria have sat down at one table and agreed on a common plan," Husam al-Dairi, Washington-based leader of the Syrian Liberal National Democratic Party, said.
The conference declared the establishment of a "National Salvation Front," and adopted a document, "The Document of the National Project for Change," which called for the establishment in Syria of a modern civil state whose political system would be based on a social compact arising from a democratic constitution that respects pluralism -- religious, ethnic, political, and intellectual -- and based on the peaceful rotation of power. It also called on the need to remove all causes of injsutice towards the Syrian Kurds, whom it referred to as "partners in the homeland," in the framework of national unity, and to afford them the ability to practice their political and cultural rights like the other constitutents of the Syrian people. (For a summary of the main points in the document, see here. Arabic. Elaph, 3/17/06. The document itself [Arabic] was posted on the pro-Khaddam "Free Syria" website, which has naturally covered the event in depth.)
The above-mentioned Reuters report and others carried quotes from former VP Abdel Halim Khaddam and the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni. Elaph managed to speak with both on the sidelines of the conference (Arabic. 3/18/06).
Bayanouni confirmed the Brotherhood's agreement to the formation of a pluralist civil government in Syria, and that the MB would not push for an Islamic state. "We do not claim to have a monopoly on truth," he said, "nor do we have a monopoly on the understanding of Islam." He added, "we will not impose our views on anyone."
Khaddam stated that the Armed Forces would not be used to bring down the regime. He also asserted that the conference represented both the internal and the exiled opposition, as the participants in Brussels have their following inside Syria.
Nevertheless, it was notable that there weren't any women or anyone from the internal
opposition in attendance, which, according to Elaph, raised some questions inside the
conference and among the participants themselves.
The participants' press conference was covered in a report (Arabic. 3/18/06) in the Kuwaiti al-Qabas and another one in "Levant News" (Arabic. 3/17/06). The participants declared that they would meet again in 45 days, probably in Brussels, to continue with the consultations in order to eventually declare a temporary transitional government in exile.