His name is Ali Haidar, and he is the Minister for National Reconciliation Affairs. Appointed by the president Bachar Al-Assad in the middle of 2012, his story is an example of the desire for reconciliation.
Pablo Sapag M.
Damascus. – A medical ophthalmologist like the president, Haidar led one of the branches of the opposition, which historically opposes the Baath party of Al-Assad, among other things because of their different interpretations of nationalism.
While the SNSP is pan-Syrian, the Baath Party is pan-Arab. Despite that, Haidar didn’t hesitate in accepting the president’s offer. This is what he explained to the members of the European Parliament, who visited Damascus, led by the Spanish Left Unity MEP Javier Couso.
“I am doing it”, he explains, “for the future of the country, because although we have a different view from president Assad’s party, national reconciliation is in the interests of everyone and of Syria. When this emergency is over, I will again raise the political differences that I have with the president and his party, in various contexts”.
What is most impressive, however, is the dignity with which he speaks about the most tragic episode in his life.
Some months before being appointed Minister, his son Ismail was murdered by local rebels or foreign Jihadis, in an incident similar to the one which took the life of the highest authority of the Sunnis, Grand Mufti Ahmed Hassun.
Attacks on key figures in Syrian society, who, despite maintaining differences with the government since day one of the crisis, have worked for understanding between Syrians.
Despite what happened, Haidar does cast himself as a victim, recalling that almost all Syrians have lost a family member or a friend during the last six years of crisis.
With the desire to reduce so much suffering, and with the president’s full support, Haidar has supported a hundred national reconciliation projects in villages, neighbourhoods and cities, throughout Syria, that have been captured by armed groups, many of them Jihadis. To do this he works with the mediators chosen by them.
It could be a religious or tribal leader, an intellectual, or whoever, inside or outside of Syria. Once the contact is established, the militants are offered an amnesty if they put down their arms. As well as the regularisation of their military situation, in the case of deserters or those who did not do their military service.
What most impressed the MEPs is that those who want to continue fighting the State, can leave with their arms and go to the province of Idlib, or another area beyond State control.
The MEP Couso confirmed that he has experienced several peace processes, such as in El Salvador or Colombia, but has never seen anything like what is happening in Syria. “It is something absolutely unknown, which we should support, because it is a form of reconciliation whose functioning has been recognised by the UN”.
So far, about 80,000 rebels have been amnestied, 30,000 prisoners freed, and hundreds of cases of kidnapping and disappearances resolved. Some processes inspired by the uniqueness of a country where religious and tribal leaders paly a very important role, and where the concept of karama (dignity) is crucial.
In Syrian culture, an adversary must always be offered a way of leaving with dignity. For some this is a return to normal life, even joining the army or the police.
For others, the possibility of saving face in front of their colleagues, by going to another place without officially surrendering, in many cases leaving their families in areas under the control of the State.
These processes have already allowed the return of tens of thousands of people to their places of origin, and the normalization of life in those places which were occupied by armed groups.
Once they have put down their arms or left the area, the State re-establishes normal services.
As many as three million people have recovered security and stability in this way. Or in other words they have got their lives back. This is the aim of the national reconciliation process. No more no less.
(Translated by Graham Douglas – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)