Haytham Manna, an academic and human rights activist, is deputy head of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change and the body’s representative abroad.
Manna was an associate of law professor Muwaffaq al-Din al-Kuzbari, who established the League for Defending Human Rights in 1962. In 1989, Manna co-founded the Committees for the Defense of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights, and in 1998 he established the Arab Commission for Human Rights along with Munsef al-Marzouqi, Violette Dagher, Mohammad Hafez Yaacoub, Mohammad al-Sayyed Said, Nasser al-Ghazali, and Mahmoud al-Khalili. He acted as the commission’s spokesperson until September 2011.
Manna has been consistently distrustful of external, non-Arab involvement in the Syrian crisis since the start of protests in March 2011. He opposes military intervention by external actors and prefers the deployment of Arab, rather than international, cease-fire observers. Similarly, he would also accept the deployment of “green helmets”—an Arab League peacekeeping force—but not a Gulf Cooperation Council force, questioning the neutrality of those of its member states who have called for international intervention in Syria.
Manna has moreover argued that the Syrian opposition’s failure to contain increasing acts of sectarian vengeance reveals its lack of real leadership and reflects its growing militarization. In his opinion, the revolution’s success requires a combination of popular mobilization, the special role played by prominent individuals who enjoy historical legitimacy, and leadership “from the front” by activists such as his brother Maan al-Awdat, a union organizer who was killed by regime forces in Deraa in August 2011. Manna does not disagree completely with the Syrian National Council but insists that it does not represent all opposition forces or the youth movement in Syria.
Manna was born in 1951 to a family known for its political activism in Umm Al-Mayazen in southern Syria. His father, attorney Youssef Nasser al-Awdat, was imprisoned for opposition activity in the 1960s and 1970s. Manna attended medical school at Damascus University but left Syria following ongoing harassment by the security agencies and continued his education at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris. He also earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from the International Institute of Sociology, Paris, and diplomas in the treatment of psychosomatic disorders, sleep disorders, and natural therapies. He founded the Su’al and Muqarabat intellectual magazines in 1980 and 1998, respectively.