"I think the Muslim Brotherhood [in Egypt] should govern by coalition that includes the people from secular parties and the Copts." That was the advice which Rached Ghannouchi, President of Tunisia's el-Nahda Party, offered his Egyptian Islamist counterparts during an interview with the editors of the Middle East Channel last Thursday. He warned pointedly against repeating the mistakes of Algeria when, as he put it, "the Islamists won 80 percent of the vote but they completely ignored the influential minority of secularists, of the army, of the business community. So they did a coup d'etat against the democratic process and Algeria is still suffering from that." Avoiding a replay of that catastrophe weighs heavily on Ghannouchi and his party.Full interview of Burhan Ghalioun, leader of the Syrian National Council (SNC), Syria's main opposition group, with The Wall Street Journal:
Ghannouchi was in Washington at the invitation of Foreign Policy, after being named one of its Top 100 Global Thinkers. He took full advantage of the opportunity to visit the United States for the first time in twenty years, appearing at a wide range of think tanks including the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and meeting with a range of U.S. government officials, journalists, and policy analysts. He had warm praise for the Obama administration as "supportive of the Arab Spring," and described the new willingness in the United States to talk about a more positive relationship between democracy and Islam, and between Americans and the Islamic world, as a very important new development. His reception in Washington is a sign of the times, as the United States struggles to adapt to the reality of Islamist electoral success and Islamist parties struggle to reassure those who fear their ascent while delivering on their own programs.
The Wall Street Journal: Do you feel there is momentum, despite criticisms that the Syrian opposition didn't organize as quickly as the Libyans, building for international recognition of the Syrian National Council?
Burhan Ghalioun: The SNC today is a key player in forming world opinion and policy on how to deal with the Syria issue. We are in continuous discussions with our friends and they consult us and ask for our opinion on every decision they make with regard to Syria.
We've agreed with the Arab League on including additional strands of the opposition. I think the SNC has made some major achievements in the past two months. And its presence encouraged Arab and international countries to chart a serious policy to stop the killings going on in Syria and putting a limit to the regime.
I feel there is a serious acceleration of events towards Syria and the measures that were taken puts the Syrian regime in the position of a fallen regime, a regime that is impossible to sustain its existence. We were asking our friends in Europe and the world to get to a point that illustrates to the public in Syria that there is no intention whatsoever in keeping Assad in power.
WSJ: Why haven't any governments formally recognized the council as an alternate government to Damascus?
Mr. Ghalioun: There are complicated legal issues that need to be resolved. They tell us that the situation in Libya was different because the Libyans had territory, an army, governance. They can recognize us politically as the representative of the Syrian opposition but not as the legitimate alternative yet, or else they have cut off the path of any relations with the regime.
WSJ: Are you modeling yourselves on the Libyan rebels?
Mr. Ghalioun: We believe the Syrian situation is completely different than the Libyan. We still believe we can count on the state agencies and ministries and their functions, and our civil servants.