khaddam :”The Assad regime collapsed since the idea of inheriting the republic was conceived.”

publisher: عكاظ okaz

AUTHOR:  حاورته: أسماء كوار (باريس)

Publishing date: 2013-11-05


Challenging anyone who possesses evidence of his corruption in government, Abdul Halim Khaddam to “Okaz”:

The Assad regime collapsed since the idea of inheritance of the republic.

Interviewed by: Asmaa Kwar (Paris)

The conversation with Khaddam seems to lack an end or a beginning. In every sentence, you find a need for more of Syria’s secret history, and likewise, eager to move to a more important axis. However, we invested the time of the dialogue in all directions, political and historical, and Khaddam addressed every aspect of the political life of Assad the father.

Khaddam confirmed that Assad’s insistence on the idea of inheritance from his brother Rifaat, then his son Basil, and later Bashar, was the beginning of the fall of Assad’s rule in Syria. How can you turn this republican state into an inheritance for your son?

Khaddam replied to all those who accuse him of corruption, challenging anyone who presents tangible evidence against him. He pointed out that he was part of the corrupt and tyrannical regime, but that doesn’t mean he was part of that corruption in any way.

To the second part of the interview:

Were you a man of Arab nationalism?

My conviction since I entered politics was that the Syrian people are part of the Arab world. No strong Arab country can exist except within the framework of finding formulas between all Arab countries, whether political, economic, or security formulas. This became part of my political conviction back then. Before 1970, no Arab country had a single ambassador in Syria. We restored severed relations with all Arab countries like Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and most influential Arab countries. We faced Israel, and therefore, these countries had to be with us, not against us. So, we planned and corrected our Arab relations with everyone.

Pre-October period

And why were relations severed with these countries?

The previous regime in the pre-October period of 1970 was a strict Marxist regime, which led to cutting relations with these countries. They issued statements and speeches urging Arab masses to launch revolutions in these Arab countries. It was not our responsibility to liberate Arab countries from their rulers; our responsibility was to liberate our country from colonization first and then develop it.

Assassination files

The Syrian people see in Abdul Halim Khaddam the source of corruption, the head of corruption, and the source of political assassinations?

I never participated, either with Hafez al-Assad or his son, in political assassination files. I said it before, and I repeat it: I was part of a corrupt, bribed, and dictatorial regime for three decades, but that doesn’t mean I am corrupt, a thief, a tyrant, or a killer. I am not responsible for the crimes committed by the regime against the people or regarding political assassinations. I bear the moral responsibility because I was part of this regime, but that doesn’t mean I am responsible for the crimes and mistakes committed by the regime. It was a matter of life or death. Either you keep silent and preserve your life, or you speak up and express your opinion openly, and then your fate is lifelong imprisonment, which is the lesser evil compared to being shot by unknown bullets.

Conclusive evidence

But you were close to Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad and you held both power and wealth?

I challenge anyone who accuses me of corruption, and here I mean the regime that spread these rumors. They must present conclusive evidence of this corruption, whether it concerns me or any member of my family. I believe it is necessary to form a committee to investigate this matter, provided that it is an impartial international committee from outside Syria, and I will be ready for trial if my involvement is proven. The president, who was the decision-maker, I was not the decision-maker, and I had no role in domestic politics. The decision in domestic politics was for the head of state, and his main tool was the security apparatus close to him, sometimes assisted by the prime minister or some ministers. As for foreign policy, which I was the minister of, yes, I was responsible, but I wasn’t the sole decision-maker; I was a partner, preparing programs and actions to implement foreign policy. I am proud of everything I contributed to the fundamental and essential issues. On the level of foreign policy, we did not commit major blunders, and we did not make concessions to any country that threatened our land’s safety or the state’s sovereignty.

You said that you did not agree with what Assad did, and you were the one who used to influence Assad’s decisions. So why did you not convince him of his decisions?

Yes, I did not agree with many of Hafez al-Assad’s decisions, most notably the idea of inheriting the rule by his brother and then his son. He committed a great national error because at that stage, the country was ruled by a party, and the party raised the slogan: “Syria is an Arab Democratic Progressive Republic.” So how could he think of canceling all of Syria’s history with a decision like this? From that moment, the Assad regime began to collapse.

Did you feel that the position of Vice President would slip away from you? Did you express your opinion to him honestly?

Yes, there was a discussion between us on this matter. He told me that he wanted to appoint a Vice President, and I knew he was thinking of appointing his brother, Colonel Rifaat Assad. I told him it would create a big problem and that it would lead to a power struggle and that what he was doing was suicidal. He felt that the decision he made caused discontent among the Baathists. So he was convinced by what I said and abandoned the idea of his brother. When people asked him about it in the leadership meeting, he denied it, but on one occasion, a journalist asked him: “Do you think of inheriting your rule to your son?” He replied, “The leadership of the party alone decides who will take power after me.” But in reality, he was planning beyond that and intended to exclude his brother Colonel Rifaat and bring his son Bashar al-Assad. This opened the way for party and government leaders to steal and plunder public money. But at the same time, he kept records of their corruption, so no one dared to speak out.

“The Composition of the Party

Does your statement imply that Assad worked on the party and leadership through corruption files to subject them to a story of inheriting power?

Yes, he understood well that the composition of the Ba’ath Socialist Party does not allow for such transgressions. Therefore, Hafez al-Assad worked on this point and strengthened the leadership around him. He left them some leeway and deviated from the plan, starting to consider his son as the legitimate heir to power, after he had considered his brother…

After that, his son started interfering in state affairs and ministries, handling sensitive files. When I tried to warn Hafez al-Assad about this, he replied, ‘Leave him… I will warn him and handle the matter my way.’

Of course, I understood at that moment that he was grooming his ‘successor’ in governance on sensitive files like the Lebanon file. I couldn’t declare war with Hafez al-Assad because, at that stage, the rule in Syria had turned into a police rule. The situation had reached a point where if three people sat in a café, two of them would suspect that the third was from the intelligence.

Consequently, the confrontation was one hundred percent unsuccessful. So, I waited until the right time came and declared my defection from the regime.”

Historical Document

But the historical document that appointed Bashar al-Assad as the president, and I mean Law No. 9 amending Article 3/80, bears your signature?

That’s true, but according to the constitution, there is an article stating that in the event of the death of the president, the vice president assumes the presidential authority. However, according to the constitution as well, both the president and the vice president are subject to the decisions of the party leadership. When Hafez al-Assad passed away, I was in my hometown, Banias. I had visited a couple of days before. It was my habit to come down to the coast on Thursdays and Fridays… I returned on Saturday and arrived home, and they informed me that the presidency wanted to see me. There was an agreement between Hafez al-Assad and me to have a meeting on Saturday. I said I might go for the meeting, but I went back home and found out at that moment that he had passed away. The party leadership was gathered, and then the party’s assistant secretary-general told me that they had convened and decided to amend the constitution and choose Dr. Bashar for the presidency. I was surprised by both the death and the decision.

Naturally, the decision was made by the leadership and approved by the People’s Council, and it was required for the Vice President to sign it, so I signed it. I had no choice but to comply because all the surrounding factors were not in my favor if I refused. The army was composed of a certain configuration, and there was no military group I could trust that would stand with me if I said no to the decision that was made… As for the party, it was fragmented and practically unreliable. My only option was to carry out the decision of the leadership, sign it, and submit to the reality.

Remaining Neutral

Bashar came to power, and you remained “close” to the Assadist politics. How did you continue under the shadow of Assad’s son despite being opposed to his presidency?

Practically, after 2000, I kept myself out of active engagement with some reservations. In other words, on fundamental issues that I believed in, I would only give my advice. Assad would agree with my opinions in the morning and reverse them in the evening, deciding something else. So, I made the decision to wait until the first party conference to announce my resignation and withdrawal from the regime.

Why did you wait until the party conference to announce your resignation?

So that everyone would know the reason for my resignation. If I had announced my resignation early and managed to leave the country alive, I would have undoubtedly been accused of a thousand charges and rumors.

Reasons for Resignation

Did you ever feel that Bashar al-Assad “betrayed” you, considering he was the one who pushed you to resign?

Since the late 1990s, around 1998 and after Hafez al-Assad’s health deteriorated, I had prepared myself to resign because the situation became unbearable, and there was arbitrariness in the decisions. I became certain that Hafez al-Assad would pass the rule to his son, especially after assigning him to handle some sensitive files like the Lebanon file. So, I hesitated to announce my resignation because if I withdrew, that is, resigned from the regime, my fate would either be lifelong imprisonment or a bullet to the head… I was well aware of this, especially since I had knowledge of sensitive files, and there were assassinations for those who opposed or expressed their opinions openly.

Like whom?

Like Mr. Salah Bitar, who was the party’s secretary-general and one of the founders of the Ba’ath Party, he wrote an article in a newspaper, and they killed him in France. Salah Jadid, who became the new assistant secretary-general of the party, appeared as an opponent and a rival, so he was imprisoned for 25 years… and the list goes on.

Unparalleled Corruption System

Don’t you believe that corruption is part of the political system?

The “Al-Assad” system is a unique system, and the corruption system with both Hafez al-Assad and his son is unparalleled in the world. With the Assad system, a person either lives with them in perpetual bitterness, remains silent, and loses the ability to feel and think for the public interest, or he speaks his mind and faces imprisonment, if not assassination. In the 1950s and 1940s, any employee accused of bribery was imprisoned.

During Hafez al-Assad’s rule, corruption became prevalent among his relatives, and corruption became a normal phenomenon. The state operated on corruption, to the point that any official who had a transaction or document could not obtain it without giving a bribe.

So, gangs for corruption were formed publicly during Hafez al-Assad’s rule?

His son-in-law was their leader, and corruption became even more widespread during Bashar’s rule, but with a different person as the leader (Bashar al-Assad). He opened the door to corruption, and it even extended to the detriment of people’s bread… This reinforced my conviction that I must leave the system. However, leaving meant that my fate would either be lifelong imprisonment or a bullet to the head… I was well aware of this, especially since I had knowledge of sensitive files, and there were assassinations for those who opposed or expressed their opinions openly.

And I remained until the tenth party conference, where I was the first one to deliver a speech at the conference in June 2005. I requested to be relieved of my position as the president and a member of the Syrian National Leadership and the Progressive Front affiliated with the Ba’ath Party. I spoke about the situation, criticized Syria’s foreign policy, the prevailing corruption within, the spread of chaos, and the fragmentation of the Syrian society on sectarian grounds. The important thing is that I said everything I wanted to say and announced my resignation.