Haitham Manna’ is one of the most respected Arab human rights activists. In the first days of the Syrian uprising he had very inspirational words for the protesters. As the uprising progressed, however, Manna’ has become a disappointment. Here are my issues with him:
1- Manna’ lacks imagination: He is unable to picture a future without Assad. Barely two months into the uprising, in an appearance on Al Jazeera English, he said, and I paraphrase: Let us face it; we have failed to bring out enough people onto the street. This was before the massive demonstrations in Hama, Idlib and Deir Al-Zor had begun.
2- Manna’ continues to talk about a silent majority. In Syria, and Manna’ of all people should know this, there is no silent majority. Silent majorities occur in free societies, not in very repressive ones like Syria. Any argument built on what the “silent” majority (in Syria) thinks or does not think is fundamentally flawed.
3- As protesters became adamant in their demands for the downfall of the regime, Manna’ has continued to talk about a nebulous “transition” to democracy in which the regime plays a part. Perhaps his long years of documenting the crimes of Arab regimes have engendered in him a strong streak of defeatism?
4- His biggest misstep thus far, and one that demonstrates a baffling degree of political naiveté, is his belief that the now moribund Arab League agreement has any chance of succeeding. Bashar Al-Assad did not even pretend to implement the agreement, and in the week since it was signed more than 100 Syrians have been killed, but Manna’ still believes there is a possibility it could work.
Haitham Manna’ is vocal against any international intervention in Syria. However, he is failing to see that unless there is significant international pressure on this regime that is driving Syria toward civil war, international intervention in Syria becomes more likely. Finally, Manna’ has built his reputation on documenting the crimes of Arab regimes – it is sad to see him act as a useful idiot for one.