Syria´s opposition faces ´divided we fall´ moment (CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR) By Nicholas Blanford BEIRUT, LEBANON 03/26/12)
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Syria´s opposition meets today after being shaken by resignations and
splits. A united front could sway skeptical Syrians who don´t
particularly support Assad but fear the alternative could be worse.
Syria’s bickering opposition factions are gathering in Turkey today
in an effort to forge a united front against Syrian President Bashar
al-Assad´s regime and gain international support ahead of a "Friends
of Syria" summit next weekend.
Today´s meeting comes as the top opposition body, the Syrian National
Council, has been shaken by splits and internal rows that have ceded
the initiative to armed groups and revolutionary councils inside
The fault lines divide opposition figures living abroad from domestic
grass-roots activists, and secular liberals from religious cadres,
reflecting to some extent Syria’s complicated sectarian, ethnic, and
“Overall, the Syrian opposition, because of the sectarian and diverse
nature of the country, doesn’t tend to congeal as easily as elsewhere
where identity is more solidified,” says Andrew Tabler, author of a
new book on Syria under Mr. Assad´s rule.
Who backs Syria´s Assad? Top 4 sources of support
A united Syrian opposition could not expect the same level of Western
commitment to its cause as that enjoyed by the well-funded and -
equipped Libyan rebels because of the additional complications of
intervening in Syria.
But a united opposition could have an impact at home by encouraging a
broad swath of Syrian citizens who do not particularly support the
Assad regime but fear the alternative could be worse. By presenting a
clear political agenda – including promises of freedom and protection
of minorities – a stronger, more cohesive opposition could help shift
the internal balance of power away from the regime.
“The silent majority will be encouraged when they see hope for a
better future and when they see concrete initiatives that will
rebuild Syria and establish a democratic civil state where all people
are treated with dignity and enjoy a free and prosperous life,” says
Ausama Monajed, senior adviser to the secretary-general of the
SNC. “A grassroots campaign needs to reach out to this group to gain
their support even if they wish to remain at home.”
SNC criticized as toothless
The Syrian National Council (SNC) was founded in August 2011,
bringing under its wing most established opposition groups as well as
new factions that had emerged following the outbreak of unrest in
Syria five months earlier.
Led mainly by veteran opposition figures who lived in exile, it
lobbied the West for support and helped secure a raft of United
Nations and European Union sanctions against the Assad regime. Since
then its momentum has faltered amid worsening violence in Syria,
internal squabbles, and international hesitancy over intervention.
IN PICTURES: Conflict in Syria
That has allowed the rebel Free Syrian Army to gain traction at the
expense of the political opposition. The SNC has attempted to liaise
with the FSA through the formation of a military council, but the
armed opposition has shown little interest in dealing with the SNC so
Many grass-roots opposition activists accuse the SNC of being out of
touch with the realities on the ground and toothless in the face of
the Assad regime’s brute force bid to crush the uprising.
“They are a waste of time. They move from one capital to another
arguing with each other and have no credibility at all inside Syria,”
says Ahmad, a Syrian activist living in hiding in north Lebanon. “We
are the people running the revolution and we’ll not allow the SNC to
push us aside and take power once Assad is gone.”
Ahmad echoes complaints from other opposition activists about the
lack of transparency within the SNC, particularly over the handling
Five groups create spin-off
On Saturday, five opposition groups announced the creation of a new
coalition that would act independently from the SNC: the liberal
National Movement for Change, the Islamist Movement of the
Fatherland, the Bloc for Liberation and Development, the Turkmen
National Bloc, and the Kurdish Movement for a New Life.
“We see the SNC as a temporary structure which will disappear with
time, while our own coalition is a more long-term entity that will be
there after liberation,” said Imamduddin al-Rashid, leader of the
Movement for the Fatherland.
The establishment of a rival opposition group was just the latest
blow to the SNC’s standing. Two weeks ago, three prominent figures in
the SNC resigned, including Haitham al-Maleh, a member of the
executive board and a veteran opposition campaigner who spent many
years in prison in Syria, and Kamel Labwani, a lawyer who was
released from a Syrian jail in December after seven years behind bars.
Mr. Labwani, a secular liberal, accused “well-organized”
Islamists “financed primarily from abroad” of hijacking the SNC.
“They paralyzed the liberal face of the Syrian National Council,
taking them out of the equation,” Labwani wrote in an opinion
published by the online Fikra Forum. “Thus the revolution has been
stolen and is no longer a catalyst towards a state of democracy and
modernity. Instead, the future state of Syria will head toward a
renewed form of despotism with a religious embodiment rather than
secularism. This could lead to chaos and civil war ....”
Armed groups increasingly Islamist
The evolution of the Syrian uprising from peaceful protests into an
armed insurgency has been matched by a corresponding rise in Islamist
sentiment, manifested by the names chosen by some armed groups and in
statements laden with Islamist rhetoric.
Among the latest additions to the Free Syrian Army is the “Allah u-
Akhbar” or “God is Greater” Brigade, which proclaimed a "jihad"
against the Assad regime. Clashes have taken on a sectarian dimension
with the mainly Sunni opposition fighting the minority Alawites, an
obscure off-shoot of Shiite Islam that forms the backbone of the
Al Qaeda has voiced support for the Syrian rebels and a previously
unknown group called Jabhat al-Nusra claimed responsibility for twin
suicide car bombings in Damascus on March 17, which killed 27 people.
IN PICTURES: Conflict in Syria
The gradual shift toward Islamist militancy in Syria has dismayed
secular opposition figures and alarmed the West, leaving mainstream
Syrian Islamists within the opposition scrambling to reassure
“The regime is trying to show that the Muslim Brotherhood is trying
to control Syria alone,” Mohammed Riad al-Shaqfa, the head of the
Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and a member of the SNC, said on
Sunday. “We want a democratic Syria and we do not want to control the
Seeking support from ´Friends of Syria´
Syria’s feuding opposition factions now have an opportunity to
resolve their differences in Istanbul and forge a united front ahead
of a crucial “Friends of Syria” meeting scheduled for April 2 in the
The United States and Turkey have agreed that they will use the
Friends of Syria meeting to win backing from the participants for the
provision of non-lethal aid, such as medical assistance and
communications equipment, to the opposition in Syria. The April 2
gathering also will renew support for the six-point peace plan being
pushed by Kofi Annan, the UN envoy to Syria. Russian President Dmitry
Medvedev warned yesterday that Annan’s proposal represented the last
chance for Syria to avoid plunging into civil war.
However, the political opposition groups risk being marginalized at
the Friends of Syria meeting if they cannot reach agreement in the
next few days, which, given their differences, looks unlikely.
“It’s an opportunity for the SNC to step up and assert itself,” says
Tabler, the Syria expert. “So far, I don’t see that. I see the SNC
breaking up into different parts.” (© The Christian Science Monitor.
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