Despite stirring much indignation with his statements supporting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and despite several Islamic scholars lashing out at his stance, Syrian Mufti Sheikh Ahmed Badr al-Din Hassoun still insists that national welfare is his topmost priority and that his opinion of the president was never meant to be taken as a personal endorsement.
“I have never sided with Bashar al-Assad as a person, but I only defended truth and justice,” Hassoun said Monday in an interview with the Iranian news agency Fars.
Hassoun argued that he did not defend Bashar al-Assad himself, but the man who wants to build a “new Syria” that is stable and peaceful.
“If he were not like that, I would leave and would not stand beside him for one second.”
Hassoun still insisted that his statements about Assad not wanting to stay in power are true.
“The only reason why he is staying now is that he wants to implement a series of reforms in the country.”
As for the way his statements were criticized for supporting a regime that kills peaceful protestors, Hassoun said that he received apologies for the harsh criticism leveled against him.
“I met several opposition figures in Damascus and they all hugged me and begged me to forgive them for what they had said about me.”
When asked about the current situation in Syria, Hassoun did not mention the anti-Assad protests, but focused on the gangs the regime says are targeting unarmed civilians.
“Armed groups were behind the violence and they have now stopped the killing and destruction.”
Hassoun’s defense did not seem to have convinced his detractors, especially members of the Syrian opposition.
Syrian activist Tamer al-Khleiwi said that Hassoun has proved that he is not the mufti of Syria.
“Hassoun is the mufti of the regime,” he told Al Arabiya in a phone interview from London.
Khleiwi added that Hassoun’s statements complement Bashar al-Assad’s speeches in the way both demonstrate the policy and future plans of the regime.
“Neither Assad nor Hassoun has ever mentioned anything about transition or the rotation of power.”
As for Hassoun’s meeting with Syrian opposition members, Khleiwi said that these must have been the regime loyalists sent to Russia and Turkey as opposition representatives.
“Those were hired by the regime and were never part of the protests to begin with.”
This was proved, Hassoun explained, by the fact those alleged opposition figures repeated the regime’s claims about the presence of armed gangs.
“Their demands during those negotiations have also never exceeded those imaginary reforms the regime has been talking about since the start of the protests.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)