Syrian Split Sets Back Bid to Unseat Assad / Opposition Group´s Head to Step Down Amid Disagreements Over Strategy (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By NOUR MALAS BEIRUT, LEBANON 05/18/12)
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BEIRUT—The head of Syria´s main opposition coalition offered to
resign, two days after his re-election sparked broad discontent among
antigovernment activists, as hundreds of students clashed with pro-
The move on Thursday threw Syria´s fragmented opposition into further
disarray, as frustration mounts among activists who say their
political infighting has helped President Bashar al-Assad pursue an
unfettered crackdown on dissent. The development was also likely to
set back efforts to lure more Western aid, as foreign powers have
cited the lack of cohesion by Syria´s dissidents as an impediment.
Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab League peace envoy to Syria,
said he, too, was concerned the opposition was facing difficulties in
uniting, his spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said.
Burhan Ghalioun, who has presided over the Syrian National Council
since it was effectively formed in September, said he would step down
once a new candidate was chosen.
His decision comes after months of mounting tensions and power
struggles within the SNC, an umbrella group that has served as the
opposition´s point of liaison with most Western and Arab governments.
Mr. Assad this week appeared to belittle the SNC in his first
television interview since December. "I don´t think that they have
any kind of weight or significance within Syria," he told a Russian
state television channel, the Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile, hundreds of students protested at Aleppo University in the
presence of U.N. observers who are in Syria to monitor the terms of
the April 12 cease-fire. That came two weeks after an on-campus raid
by security forces left four students dead and shut the university.
On Thursday, some activists said pro-regime students and regime
forces attacked demonstrators, but it wasn´t clear whether the
monitors witnessed the fight.
Mr. Ghalioun, a 67-year-old Paris-based academic, offered to resign
after one of the earliest and broadest grassroots activist networks
in the uprising, the Local Coordination Committees, threatened to
pull out of the coalition.
That threat signals a widening divide between the opposition´s exiled
leadership abroad, led by the SNC in Istanbul, and activists leading
protests inside Syria, many who feel they are facing the brunt of the
Many activists say the council has lost touch with the uprising on
the ground, failed to meet protester pleas for humanitarian aid or
arms and only in vain lobbied foreign governments for help to stem
"The SNC doesn´t mean anything to me," a 33-year-old protester in
Damascus, Syria´s capital, said by Skype. "They don´t own this
revolution. If they can help us get to the end, fine. If not, we´ll
get there anyway."
Some allege an outsize role for one of the SNC´s seven main political
factions, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose backing for the secular and
liberal Mr. Ghalioun has helped cement his leadership but has
alienated other secular factions.
Samir Nachar, a member of the council´s top leadership committee,
said the council now faced "a real crisis." Members met on Skype on
Thursday evening to plan their next moves, he said.
Molham al-Droubi, a Brotherhood member on the council, said the group
would have to restructure to become more inclusive to other
opposition coalitions and recruit qualified technocrats from outside
the council "who can do the job."
"If this happens, we will save the SNC," Mr. Droubi said by
telephone. "Otherwise, I think the SNC will no longer exist."
He said the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood was aware of allegations it was
monopolizing decision-making in the council, which he acknowledged
but said was due to it superior organizational abilities. Brotherhood
members had reached out to other opposition members and Western
diplomats to address these concerns, he said.
A 10-member panel appointed in April to restructure the SNC´s
leadership bodies and broaden the council failed to do so amid
disagreements, panel members said.
But other activists warn that the bickering in the opposition is
setting back efforts to form a united front against Mr. Assad,
allowing him to defy the cease-fire.
On Tuesday, Mr. Ghalioun´s competitor in elections was George Sabra,
a Christian whose candidacy was backed by another longtime opposition
group called the Damascus Declaration.
Analysts and some activists say a council under Mr. Sabra would send
an important message to Syria´s religious minorities in an uprising
that has pitted the majority-Sunni protest movement—a reflection of
Syria´s Sunni-majority population—against a regime dominated by
Alawites, an offshoote Muslim sect associated with Shiism.
A version of this article appeared May 18, 2012, on page A9 in the
U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Syrian
Split Sets Back Bid to Unseat Assad. (Copyright © Dow Jones &
Company, Inc.) 05/18/12)
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