Friday, September 29, the Al Jazeera Arabic program “The Other Side,” hosted by Ola Faris, featured a dialogue with Syrian politician Riad Hijab who discussed several important and sensitive issues related to the current situation in Syria.
Riad Fareed Hijab was born in 1966 in Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria. He holds a Ph.D. in Agricultural Engineering. He is married, and has four children. He held several ministerial positions during Bashar Assad’s regime, most notably that of Prime Minister of the Syria. Hijab was appointed on June 6, 2012, and exactly two months later, on August 6, announced his defection from the Assad regime after he and his family were able to safely cross the border into Jordan.
Hijab revealed that Bashar Assad had repeatedly rejected calls from his government for a political settlement, preferring a military approach
Hijab made his decision to leave after joining the popular revolution calling for the overthrow of the Assad regime. After his defection, Hijab became an active member of the opposition and on December 17, 2015, was appointed General Coordinator of the High Negotiations Committee tasked with dialoguing with the Assad regime.
During the interview, Hijab revealed that Bashar Assad had repeatedly rejected calls from his government for a political settlement, preferring a military approach. He stated that senior officials in his regime had urged Assad to negotiate with the opposition. “We told Assad that he must find a political solution to the crisis because those we are killing are our own people,” he said. “We proposed to him to work with the Friends of Syria group, but he bluntly refused to stop military operations or negotiate.”
Hijab also talked about his early life, his social background, education, his involvement in student activities, and the responsibilities he held in the Syrian Student Union. He also discussed his progression in political and government roles within the Ba’ath Party and in power, including his tenure as governor of Quneitra and Latakia provinces, and later as Minister of Agriculture.
Assad declared that the appointed government, the government of Riad Hijab, was a wartime government which was contrary to what had been agreed upon before its formation
Hijab said that he arrived at a pivotal moment in his political career and in Syria’s history when the protests that began in Daraa in March 2011 expanded to other Syrian cities and evolved into an uprising and subsequent confrontations. By this time, Hijab had assumed the role of Prime Minister of Syria which tasked him with the challenge of addressing these developments.
As revealed in his conversation on “The Other Side,” during that period Prime Minister Hijab attempted to communicate with the Syrian leadership while simultaneously listening to the protesters. His aim was to stop the bloodshed and resolve the crisis. However, he was unable to achieve this goal due to President Bashar Assad’s insistence on a security solution. Assad declared that the appointed government, the government of Riad Hijab, was a wartime government which was contrary to what had been agreed upon before its formation.
Hijab stated that when he reached this crossroads in his journey, he decided to defect from the regime and join the Syrian opposition. He made plans and arrangements with opposition figures inside Syria to secure his and his family’s exit, along with his siblings and their families. This plan was realized when he reached Jordan, where he announced his defection from the regime.
Hijab recollected that Bashar Assad “resorted to the use of force and violence against the protesters from the very early days of the revolution”
Syria’s former Prime Minister then discusses his involvement with the opposition and his engagement with the international community to find a solution to the Syrian crisis. He also shared his views on several important and sensitive issues related to the Syrian situation such as the nature of the regime’s structure, the fate of the solution in light of the failure of negotiations between the regime and the opposition, and other issues like the Syrian refugee crisis and the fragmentation of the Syrian opposition.
Hijab recollected that Bashar Assad “resorted to the use of force and violence against the protesters from the very early days of the revolution” and that “their demands were legitimate, including the release of detainees and the provision of job opportunities.”
Hijab said he believes that the next phase might hold some promise for the Syrian issue amid the global shifts happening since the onset of the Russian war in Ukraine
He also described the current Syrian situation as extremely difficult and painful and referred to the fact that there are five armies on Syrian soil, four governments, one affiliated with the regime, another with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the interim government associated with the Syrian Coalition, and the government of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). In addition, there is the immense suffering of Syrians in camps, the collapse of the economy, and the disintegration of state institutions. All of this, he said, is compounded by the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey. Hijab’s recitation of Syria’s woes included criticism of the United Nations and the international community for their delays and shortcomings in assisting Syrian victims.
Striking a more positive note, former Prime Minister Riad Hijab said he believes that the next phase might hold some promise for the Syrian issue amid the global shifts happening since the onset of the Russian war in Ukraine. He points to the Russian forces’ withdrawal in Syria, Iran’s attempts to expand its influence there, and Israel’s escalation regarding Iran’s presence in Syria as key factors to watch in the evolving Syrian landscape.