Syrian Opposition Picks New Leader / Choice of Kurdish Academic Seen as Move to Woo Minorities (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By BILL SPINDLE, SAM DAGHER and NOUR MALAS 06/11/12)
WALL STREET JOURNAL
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The main Syrian opposition group´s choice of a Kurdish dissident as
its leader reflects the pressures on it to address doubts that the
country´s many minority groups share about the opposition.
The Syrian National Council, the main opposition group outside Syria,
chose Abdulbaset Sieda, a 56-year-old activist who has been living in
Sweden for more than a decade, on Saturday.
Western supporters of the opposition have been pressuring the SNC to
present a more unified front against the regime. The group´s internal
divisions have long been cited as one of the reasons it hasn´t
received stronger backing, more money and even arms from the growing
list of countries that have publicly said President Bashar al-Assad
and his regime should go.
Differences between the Sunni Muslim-dominated SNC—where the Muslim
Brotherhood holds significant sway—and representatives of minority
groups and religious sects have been a long-running problem for the
On Sunday, a ramped-up regime offensive focused on Homs, the
epicenter of the Syrian uprising, and Heffe, a town on the Western
A battle was unfolding between rebels and government troops in Heffe,
under bombardment by tanks and helicopter gunships for a sixth day,
according to several activist groups. More than 100 people were
killed in the violence in Heffe, at least 46 of them civilians killed
in the bombing and 62 government soldiers in fighting with the
rebels, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-
based opposition watchdog.
The casualties on the government side are the largest reported since
the start of the uprising in the province of Lattakia, where the
government has largely maintained control despite a combustible
religious mix of Sunnis and Alawites in the province.
Minority groups worry they could suffer under a Sunni Muslim-
dominated government that might follow Mr. Assad´s regime.
The regime is led by the Alawite sect, which makes up just over 10%
of Syria´s population, and has touted itself as a protector of other
minorities in the face of a Sunni Muslim majority in the country.
The regime has used fears of Sunni domination to rally support among
minorities—including Kurds, Christians, Druze and Alawites—or to keep
those groups from wholeheartedly joining the rebellion.
Simply naming a Kurdish leader may not be enough for the SNC to rally
the support of many minorities. Among Kurds in Syria, even those who
welcomed the move acknowledged its limitations, given the splits
among the opposition and divisions within the Syrian Kurdish
"This affirms Kurdish identity but not much will change," said Ahmed
Mousa, an activist from the northern Syrian Kurdish city of
Qamishli. "Kurds won´t step in front of the cannon unless they get
guarantees endorsed by the international community."
Abdul-Hakim Bachar, a leading member of the Kurdish National Council,
an umbrella group of nearly a dozen Syrian Kurd opposition parties
that was formed in October, said there "must be a pact that
safeguards the rights of all components of the Syrian nation and
offers them guarantees that change is in their interest."
"Barring this, most of the components—Alawites, Druze, Ismailis,
Christians and some Kurds—will remain on the sidelines of the
revolution," he says. Together those groups make up between 35% and
40% of Syria´s population of about 22.5 million, according to
estimates by various United Nations agencies.
The Kurds are an especially large and important minority. They have
long been treated as second-class, and the regime has denied many
In the wake of the uprising, President Assad offered Kurds
citizenship and other benefits. While few have become ardent backers
of the regime, the group has remained divided, and Kurds haven´t
joined the rebellion in the large numbers opponents of the regime had
The SNC´s election of Mr. Sieda as its new leader was an apparent
appeal to minorities. The 56-year-old academic was the only contender
for the post, which he will hold for three months before another
election is held.
Burhan Ghalioun, a secular Sunni academic based in Paris, resigned
three weeks ago over criticism that the council wasn´t working
transparently and that it had grown out of touch with the protest
movement inside Syria. For months, protesters have criticized the
group´s leaders—most of whom have lived in exile for many years—for
neglecting basic requests from inside Syria for funds, aid, and arms
as they jockeyed for political positions. Western nations trying to
shape the council into a transitional body have stressed the need to
make it more inclusive to a broader range of Syrians.
The SNC was born of a power-sharing agreement between Syria´s most
powerful exiled opposition faction, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood,
and secular groups, grass-roots activists, and independent opposition
leaders from religious or ethnic minorities, like Mr. Sieda.
Some activists were quick to point out that Mr. Sieda shares many of
the weaknesses that eventually discredited Mr. Ghalioun´s leadership,
which was seen as a superficial front to a council dominated by
heavyweight political players including the Brotherhood.
Mr. Sieda—who is Sunni Muslim as well as ethnic Kurdish—has been
based in Sweden for much of the two decades he has lived outside
Syria. He is not an influential leader within the Kurdish community,
observers say, but is seen as the only candidate the divided SNC
could agree on. A push behind a Christian candidate failed largely
due to objections from Islamists on the council.
Still, Mr. Sieda was quick to signal on his election that he would
focus on broadening the council to include more minorities and on an
internal restructuring to make it more efficient and accountable.
(Copyright © Dow Jones & Company, Inc.) 06/11/12)
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