The National Salvation Front (NSF), led by former VP Abdel Halim Khaddam and the head of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni, held its first conference in London on June 4 and 5 at the Dorchester hotel in London. The conference, which had invited around 50 opposition figures in exile, especially Kurds, Communists, and independents, and none from inside Syria (Arabic. AKI, 6/2/06), was attended by around 80 people according to al-Hayat (Arabic. 6/5/06), 75 according to The Times.
The purpose of the conference was for the NSF to declare its organizational structure (the general congress, the central committee, and the secretariat general), and to set its future policy and plan of action for regime change in Syria. The secretariat general is comprised of ten members: Khaddam, Bayanouni, Jean Abdallah, Bashar al-Aysami, Salah Badreddine, Zuheir Salem, Salah Ayyash, Najib Ghadban, Obeida Nahas, and Hussam al-Dairi. The NSF also launched a bilingual website (the English site is still under construction).
The opening session was broadcast live on Radio Sawa and covered by several Arab and international media (Arabic. "Free Syria," 6/4/06). Khaddam and Bayanouni both gave opening speeches. In his opening remarks, Khaddam said that Syrians have before them "a path that we must take to break authoritarianism and its regime so that the people could regain their right to self-determination and to choose their leaders," stressing that "there is but one choice and that is for Syrians to choose the path of change and democracy." (Arabic. "Free Syria," 6/4/06).
Acknowledging the difficulties that lay ahead, Khaddam said that these difficulties must be properly understood and then "we must work to overcome them." He emphasized the need to "break all the walls between us," and the need to "come out of these meetings with a clear picture and clear programs to convince the Syrian people that we are up to the task." He added, "The homeland has become a large prison and the people prisoners," and saluted all the political prisoners in Syria.
For his part, Bayanouni outlined three elements that the regime is using to buttress its position (Arabic. "Free Syria," 6/4/06). First is the manipulation of popular Syrian sentiment through the exploitation of jingoistic nationalism and the notion of an external foe threatening Syria. Second is the manipulation of Arab public opinion with the regime presenting itself as Arab nationalism's last line of defense against foreign designs in the region. Finally, there is the message that the regime is trying to market regionally and internationally, which holds that the only choice is between the regime or chaos and civil war, and therefore the only option is to cut a deal with the regime.
Bayanouni said that the NSF aims to counter all these points with its plan of action. The NSF's efforts would focus on putting the message out in the media in order to reach the masses and to provide them with information in order to mobilize them out of the state of passivity through better communication between the opposition and the people. The media discourse would counter the regime's propaganda to the Arab public opinion by focusing on its tyranny, corruption, and its willingness to cut deals with foreign powers in order to remain in power. And finally, the opposition would intensify its contacts and relations in the region. It would also work to undermine the regime's claim that it is the only guarantor against chaos and civil war, and correct the stereotypical picture the regime is trying to present about the alternatives to its rule.
"We must work diligently to isolate the ruling gang on an official, popular, Arab, and international level, according to a carefully studied plan of action," Bayanouni said. He concluded by reiterating the NSF's commitment to working with the opposition forces, especially those under the banner of the Damascus Declaration.
At the end of the conference, the NSF issued a concluding statement which said that the NSF's "strategic choice is changing this regime which has lost all justification to continue and has incited conflicts in its Arab neighborhood." It called on the Syrians to "break the walls of fear that [the regime] has been building for decades," and called on the armed forces to "take on its national and historic responsibility to be the army of the people," asking them to "protect the homeland and the people, not the corrupt." It also addressed the security forces, "especially its officers who are being used by the regime to oppress citizens," and called on them "to stop the excessive execution of orders by a corrupt group," so that when the regime falls, they won't have to face accountability for their actions. Finally, the statement addressed members of the Baath party and invited them to "join the ranks of the people in order to rid Syria of a corrupt and tyrannical regime." (Arabic. "Free Syria," 6/5/06).