According to Lamia Al-Hariri, the first female Syrian diplomat to defect from the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, there are fears that the Syrian diplomatic establishment will collapse if the wave of defections continues.
The regime has been threatening revenge on her family because of her declaration of support for the Syrian revolution, Al-Hariri said. But she remains confident that the revolutionaries fighting on the ground in Syria with the support of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) "will soon be the ones to determine Syria's fate."
Before her defection the head of the Syrian diplomatic mission in Cyprus, Al-Hariri is a native of Deraa, the birthplace of the now 17-month-old Syrian revolution. On 24 July, Al-Hariri announced her defection from the regime, and the following day her husband, Abdel-Latif Al-Dabagh, serving as Syrian ambassador to the UAE, did the same.
The two are the first senior Syrian diplomats to defect, sending tremors through the regime even as it tried to downplay the defections in the official Syrian media.
Commenting on what prompted the couple to take their decision at this time, Al-Hariri told the Weekly that "I had taken the decision at the outset of the revolution, but family circumstances prevented me from acting on it until much later. However, I remained in contact with activists and opposition members. Some of these even asked me to remain in my post because they thought I could be more useful in that capacity. But I could no longer tolerate the brutality of the regime and the magnitude of the death and destruction it was meting out."
The regime has forbidden members of the diplomatic corps from tendering their resignations, and the Syrian authorities have begun recalling diplomats to Damascus on the suspicion that they might defect.
"To the regime, resignation means defection. At the slightest hint that a diplomat might resign, or the faintest whisper from the security agencies or their agents in embassies abroad that a diplomat intends -- just intends -- to resign, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will order that diplomat back to Damascus immediately. This has already happened to quite a few of us," Al-Hariri said.
So far the defection rate among senior diplomats has been low. The former head of the mission in Cyprus said that "the chief reason for this is fear of retaliation from the regime. Many diplomats would like to defect, but they are waiting for the right opportunity. Another reason is that a large portion of diplomats are originally connected with and supporters of the regime."
The Syrian opposition claims that the Syrian security agencies form the backbone of the government and directly control many aspects of foreign policy. The Foreign Ministry, like the other ministries, are only civilian faÃ§ades for the military state, the opposition says, and no one can be employed in the ministry without having first passed intensive background checks to ascertain their loyalty to the regime.
Al-Hariri agreed with this analysis, adding that the Foreign Ministry's close connections with the security agencies helped explain why it had not experienced a massive wave of defections.
On 12 July, Nawaf Al-Sheikh Faris, the Syrian ambassador to Iraq, announced his resignation, making him the first Syrian ambassador to defect before al-Hariri and her husband. As few as they have been, Al-Hariri, who is temporarily residing in Qatar, believes that the diplomats' defections have been enormously significant.
"The moral impact [of the defections] is huge. They demonstrate to the world that even those who are presumed to represent and defend the regime have reached a point where they can no longer remain in their posts and can no longer remain silent in the face of the massacres that are being perpetrated against their people."
"However, they also have a more practical impact, which is to drain embassies of personnel and expertise. There is no longer a sufficient number of qualified staff in Syria's embassies abroad, especially now that some have been closed and their employees fired. The regime fears that the wave of defections will prompt many who are currently wavering to follow suit and that as a consequence the diplomatic corps will collapse."
The Syrian army and security agencies form a "government behind the government", she said, directly controlling many aspects of foreign policy.
Of claims that foreign forces have superseded domestic groups as the prime movers of the Syrian revolution, she said that "in spite of the part that foreign forces are playing in shaping public opinion, furnishing aid to the Syrian people, and pressuring countries that support the Syrian regime to put pressure on it to agree to the peaceful transfer of power, other foreign powers are working in the opposite direction. These are seeking to defuse the revolution and to prevent it from achieving its original aims."
"As a result, Syria has become an arena for regional and international conflicts. But that said, the actions of the people and the revolutionary tide on the ground remain the real determinants of the revolution. We are certain that the revolutionaries on the ground at home, supported by the Free Syrian Army, will ultimately win, regardless of the sacrifices, and set the course for Syria's future. The revolution is now in its 17th month, and the regime's security and military machine has not been able to crush it."
Does Al-Hariri believe that a political solution to the Syrian crisis could still be possible, even after more than 22,000 civilians have been killed, according to Syrian human rights monitors, and when the Syrian regime apparently still continues to cling to a military solution?
"The regime has forfeited all opportunities for a political solution. It lost its legitimacy with the first bullet it fired against its people," she said, adding that it was the regime that transformed an originally peaceful protest into an armed rebellion.
"The peaceful protests on their own would eventually have been able to topple the regime had the latter not resorted to a military solution. There could have been a political solution that would have ensured Syria's transition to a pluralistic, democratic country with the peaceful rotation of power. But the regime ignored every opportunity that would have opened the way to a peaceful solution and averted armed conflict and bloodshed."
"What happened is that the regime proved so bloodthirsty that it forced the peaceful protesters and the families of the thousands of victims to take up arms against its military machine in defence of their own lives. Yet, up to now this machinery of repression, despite all its might, has been unable to resolve the conflict in its favour, the reason being that it is contending with a grassroots movement that is determined to fight for life with dignity and freedom in a pluralistic and democratic state that embraces all segments of Syrian society."
She believes that the regime was aware from the first that the success of the revolution would be contingent upon its ability to remain peaceful. It therefore drew up a plan that would involve the massacre of peaceful protesters and civilians, driving people to take up arms in self-defence. By turning a peaceful revolution that was guaranteed to succeed into an armed conflict or civil war, the regime believed that its chances of survival would be much greater.
When asked whether she feared that the Syrian authorities would take revenge on her and her husband for their defections, she responded, "everyone knows how this regime reacts to people who openly oppose it or take action against its inhumane practices. In my case, the moment I defected the regime struck back, exacting financial, administrative and other penalties against me and my family."
"The sole reason for these actions was that I voiced my opinion. I openly opposed the regime in its handling of the revolution, through which the Syrian people are striving to regain the freedom and dignity of which they have been deprived for decades."