Syria debate: Haitham al-Maleh (top) and Kamal al-Labwani  

EU diplomacy should help to overthrow the Assad regime, Syrian opposition leaders told the EP's foreign affairs committee on 19 June. They spoke out in favour of a peaceful solution and shared a vision of a free and democratic post-Assad Syria. We spoke with dissidents Haitham al-Maleh and Kamal al-Labwani about how change can be achieved in the country.

The fall of the regime

Mr al-Labwani said the fall of the regime would be a necessary first step towards change. "After that we can start negotiations, we can compose a national government and we can implement the Kofi Annan peace plan, but first we need Bashar al-Assad to leave." To achieve that, internal protests should be coupled with diplomatic pressure from the international community.

Mr al-Maleh, a democracy activist and former judge, said: "the regime is finished... a thing of the past." During the hearing, he drew a parallel with the sudden collapse of the Soviet regime: "The Syrian regime is rotten to the core and can fall as a house of cards."

The opposition

Some of the MEPs criticised the fragmented nature of the Syrian opposition during the committee meeting. Mr al-Maleh responded that there may be differences among opposition groups on some issues but this is only natural as "there is no opposition in the world that is unified". However, there is unity on the objective "to bring the regime down, to finish with it and build a new democratic country with separation of powers and equality of people before law".

Mr al-Labwani agreed on the main objectives: "We need freedom, we need democracy, we need elections for a new president. We need to make sure dictatorship will not reappear in a new form."

Role of the international community 

During the meeting, opposition leaders emphasised the importance of humanitarian aid to alleviate the population's plight. They also called for more pressure on Russia to lift its resistance to UN Security Council-backed sanctions against the regime. Meanwhile, things might be changing on the ground. "I heard that yesterday Russians started leaving Syria," said Mr al-Maleh, adding: "Something will happen very soon but it is important that the international community should react quickly."