Farid Ghadry is the President of the Reform Party of Syria, a U.S.-based organization opposed to the Assad regime and the Islamist forces among the Syrian rebels. He is a member of the American Islamic Leadership Coalition.
The following is the Clarion Project’s Ryan Mauro’s interview with Farid Ghadry:
Mauro: As a secular-democratic Syrian who opposes radical Islam, are you hopeful that the Islamists won’t take over Syria?
Ghadry: My hope rests with the efforts of people like myself who always stand up to the backwardness and ignorance of Islamism. Unfortunately, while our will has been steady in its resolve, the West has oscillated often as its leaders attempt to find solutions to extremism and terrorism.
It is safe to say that President Obama’s extending a hand to the Islamists has failed. The same man that the Obama Administration supported to become the President of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, was the man that called for jihad in Syria. That should be intolerable to all Muslims. My hope is that whoever becomes the U.S. President in 2016 will, 15 years after 9/11, develop the right strategy to rely on our work and commitments.
Mauro: Does the Free Syria Army stand a chance of overpowering Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing), the Muslim Brotherhood and the other Islamist components of the rebel forces?
Ghadry: Jabhat al-Nusra is the result of two factors. It filled a vacuum left by a retreating and hesitant U.S. leadership. Had the Obama Administration supported the moderate Free Syria Army elements that first defected from the Syrian army, most of these jihadists would not exist today.
The second factor is the result of Assad promoting a sectarian war, knowing that this would flood Syria with jihadists that he could scare the West with. Today, the Free Syria Army has been weakened because the outsider powers, such as the U.S., Erdogan of Turkey and the Qataris, have been funding and empowering their opponents.
The moment the U.S. turns heavily to the Free Syria Army to become the vanguard against jihad and extremism, I am certain the FSA will be able to defeat Islamism the way the Egyptian army defended the country from the Muslim Brotherhood.
The FSA is the answer to removing Assad from power, which will weaken Iran and Hezbollah and protect Syrians from the trend towards Islamic extremism. The Obama Administration does not seem to be fully aware of all the facts and it bewilders me why there has been no support for the FSA and there’s been favor towards the Muslim Brotherhood, even though I personally tried to lobby the administration on numerous occasions.
Mauro: What do you see in Syria’s near future? Is it more likely that Assad will be overthrown or that there will be a ceasefire with the country divided?
Ghadry: Syria is no more. What we have today are four groups that are more concerned about their own well-being than the unity of Syria.
On one side, we have the minorities standing by Assad in the territories west of Homs on the Mediterranean coast (about 30% of the population). On the other side, we have the Kurds vying for a nation that they can call their own and that’s only possible by carving out the northeastern part of the country (about 15% of the population).
Then we have the Shiites who see Iran as their salvation and protector, not a unified Syria (about 5% of the population). The last are the Sunni majority fighting the Assad regime with the Muslim Brotherhood. Mind you, many Sunnis remain loyal to Assad because either they benefit financially from his cronyism or because the y are afraid of the Islamists, as well all are.
The Sunnis supporting Assad will be a formidable force because of their liberalism and anti-Islamism, but they will jump ship at the last minute once they are certain that Assad will be defeated, something many cannot see happening today given the sparring between the Americans and the Russians.
Mauro: One of the arguments against U.S. support for the Syrian rebels is the fate of the Christian minority, which is about 10% of the population. Won’t the Christians be safer if Assad is victorious?
Ghadry: In Syria, we have a very vibrant Christian minority that is peaceful but also fearful of Islamism. As an American-Syrian and a moderate Muslim, I cannot tell you how important it is for the Christian community to live in peace and to prosper financially, politically and socially.
To me, the treatment of the Christian community is the gauge of our own behavior in regard to tolerance. Airplanes have an instrument called an Altitude Indicator that tells a pilot where the horizon is at all times. Our respect of the Christians, as well as all the minorities of Syria, is our own Altitude Indicator as a society that will set us on the right course towards prosperity and peace. The well-being of the Christian community means the well-being of Syria.
However, the Christian community is today standing by Assad because of its fears. This is wrong for two reasons: Getting protection from a barbaric and violent dictator is like getting the mafia to protect you and it weakens moderate Muslims like myself. It dilutes our efforts to steer Syrians in the direction of freedom and human rights for all.
I grew up living amongst Catholic priests who treated me as their own while respecting that I came from a Muslim family. The same was true when my family immigrated to Lebanon, where the Christian community welcomed us warmly and made us feel at home. That sense of communal unity that transcends religion, social class, or history is what we need the most in the region today.
When I return to Syria, I intend to work tirelessly to promote that sense of togetherness amongst all Syrians, as well as with all the other Arab countries. In the Middle East, we must follow the path that we have no enemies, just people we disagree with and whose opinions must be respected.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.