Haitham Al Maleh is preparing himself to be the next Syrian president, but he says he's also number one on the Syrian regime's hitlist for assassination.
Al Maleh is a leading figure in Syria's opposition, known as the country's father of human rights, who's spent many years in prison for his work.
Yaara Bou Melhem gets close-up access to him in exile in Cairo, as he works to arm and finance the Free Syrian Army in its fight against the Assad regime and its violent crackdown on opposition.
But at the age of 81 and constantly fearing for his life, will he ever see a free Syria?
WATCH - Click to see Yaara's story, which subsequently won a United Nations Australia Media Peace Award in October 2012.
BLOG - Yaara writes for the Dateline blog about the huge task ahead for Haitham Al Maleh and Syria's opposition.
INTERACTIVE - Use our interactive guide to get the latest situation in countries across the Arab world, including Dateline's coverage of the recent unrest.
REPLAY - See Dateline's previous stories from Syria, including Yaara's award-winning report, Freedom's Call, from February 2011, which also featured Haitham Al Maleh.
PHOTO GALLERY - Look at some of the confronting images of events in Syria since the uprising began in March 2011.
Photo (Syrian flag): AAP
Turmoil in Syria one year on
Yaara Bou Melhem writes for the Dateline blog about the huge task ahead for Haitham Al Maleh and Syria's opposition...
Tucked away down a quiet street in the centre of bustling Cairo is a rather unremarkable, half-finished building where people are working on something quite extraordinary... the downfall of the Syrian regime.
The building is a hub of Syrian opposition activity. Politicians, lawyers, journalists and activists meet, work and a few even live here.
Each time I visit the building I am struck by the parallels of this unfinished construction to the Syrian opposition itself, a group still half-formed and struggling to display a cohesive front.
When I ask the anti-regime activists there about the building they say 'It’s new". The same can be said for the Syrian opposition.
'The Opposition in Syria has been like a desert for the last 40 years," says Haitham Al Maleh, one of the leading opposition figures.
81-year-old Al Maleh was Syria’s first human rights lawyer and is now on a worldwide mission to raise money for the rebels fighting inside Syria.
So what’s a human rights lawyer doing supplying guns and money to the rebel forces?
'The times have changed. I’m a lawyer in Damascus, now I am out, supporting the revolution. The only way to finish the regime is to support the Free Army," Al Maleh tells me.
The Assad family has ruled Syria since 1970. In a coup that year, the late Hafez Al Assad and his Baath Party came to power. His reign saw bloody crackdowns on dissent, intolerance of any form of opposition and wide-sweeping powers for intelligence and security services. When Hafez Al Assad died in 2000, his British-educated son Bashar Al Assad inherited power in Syria and the regime apparatus that came with it.
Under the Assads, Syria has always been a police state. I travelled there many times before the uprising and never felt threatened by petty crime or assault as I walked the streets of the capital Damascus. There was a policeman on almost every street corner. I was once in a minor car accident and an officer was on the scene before I had a chance to unbuckle my seatbelt.
The flipside to that is, of course, that many would-be opposition figures, human rights advocates and journalists were jailed or exiled. My first report from Syria for Dateline, Freedom's Call, was on just this issue. Haitham Al Maleh featured in the story but I couldn’t interview him. He was in jail at the time for comments he made about corruption in a media interview. He was eventually released last May.
'I am preparing myself to be the next Syrian President," he tells me when I catch up with him in Cairo.
Al Maleh has spent the last nine months flitting from continent to continent on a tireless international lobbying campaign for action on Syria.
When I saw him in Egypt two weeks ago, he had just left the Syrian National Council, the main political opposition group, and was fielding more phone calls and interview requests than usual from the media.
'The Syrian National Council has just been doing media speeches and has done nothing to help the people inside Syria," Al Maleh says in interview after interview the day after his resignation.
In a savage critique of the SNC he calls them 'undemocratic’ and even likens them to Syria’s ruling Baath Party. He bemoans their lack of financial support for the Free Syrian Army, a loose collective of rebel fighters made up mostly of army defectors inside Syria.
Al Maleh has created his own group which he says already boasts 1,000 members. It’s called the National Group for the Free Syrian Army. Its sole purpose is to arm the rebels.
'We have no way, no political way to finish this problem in Syria and the only way to finish this regime in Syria is by force. To fight, by force," he tells me.
When an 81-year-old man, who pioneered human rights law in his home country, ditches diplomacy for weapons, you know the time for talking is long gone, despite the best diplomatic efforts of people like Kofi Annan.
On top of the back-to-back media interviews and meetings with politicians and advocates, Al Maleh is determined to raise as much money as he can to buy weapons for the rebel fighters.
Thus far he’s received large amounts of funding from rich Syrians and Gulf States like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
The rebel fighters are already turning to Al Maleh. I was granted rare access to meetings he had with Free Syrian Army envoys. They discussed weapons buying, and how to smuggle their purchases into the Syrian rebel strongholds. There seemed to be no shortage of wealthy benefactors willing to fund the rebels.
Despite this, the rebel forces are so far no match for the might of the Syrian military. Haitham Al Maleh and his colleagues will need all the help they can muster if they hope to win this long and bloody struggle.
You can also click here to see all of Dateline's stories on the unrest across the Middle East and North Africa.
Replay: Freedom's Call
Replay Yaara's previous story from Syria, Freedom's Call, which also featured Haitham Al Maleh and went on to win Walkley and UN Media Peace Awards.