Haitham Al-Maleh is a lawyer and human rights activist. Involved in politics since 1951, al-Maleh is known for his Islamist and Arab nationalist leanings. He was arrested several times, both under the late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad and his successor and son, Bashar al-Assad.
Having initially joined the Executive Committee of the Syrian National Council, al-Maleh emerged as a key figure of the Syrian revolution. However, he soon resigned and founded the Syrian Patriotic Group at the end of February 2012, along with Kamal al-Labwani and Catherine al-Talli, while preserving nominal ties with the Syrian National Council. He attributed his step to the “incoherence and lack of institutional efforts [within the Executive Committee], in addition to a monopoly of power by [then] Council President Dr. Burhan Ghalioun.”
After the publication of the Annan peace plan in March 2012, al-Maleh expressed his misgivings about the initiative’s chances of success, intimating that the Assad regime would fail to respect its provisions. He instead insisted on the need to arm the Free Syrian Army.
On July 31, al-Maleh broke completely with the Syrian National Council by launching the Committee of Trustees of the Revolution, a new Syrian opposition group based in Cairo. His declared objective is to renew dialogue among the Syrian opposition and to form a transitional government, with a strong Arab dimension, as an alternative to the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council. This initiative was immediately condemned by members of the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, who viewed it as a highly divisive and premature step.
Born in Damascus in 1931, al-Maleh obtained a law degree and a diploma in public international law, and he began practicing as a lawyer in 1957. He was made a judge in 1958 but resumed his legal practice after the Syrian authorities dismissed him for opposing the imposition of a state of emergency in 1963. He was imprisoned for six years under then president Hafez al-Assad for demanding constitutional reforms and for his activism within the Freedom and Human Rights Commission at the Syrian Bar Association. Al-Maleh later collaborated with Amnesty International, co-founded the Organization for Human Rights in Syria, and was awarded the Dutch Geuzen Medal for “his brave struggle for human rights.” In 2009, the seventy-eight-year-old al-Maleh was arrested again following his call to combat corruption, and was only released at the beginning of 2011 following a general amnesty announced by President Bashar al-Assad.