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Syrian opposition says winning battle to unite

After months of talks, Syrian dissident groups continue to struggle to overcome political, strategic differences

AFP and Ahram Online, Friday 30 Sep 2011
Syrian opposition members listen as they announced a Syrian National Council in Istanbul, Turkey, September 15, (AP).
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United only in their desire to see President Bashar Al-Assad's regime fall, the Syrian opposition is divided by almost everything else: ideology, strategy and religion.

Nevertheless, after months of tortuous negotiations, an opposition movement that has struggled to unite since the uprising against Assad's regime began in March is now slowly coming together and believes its time will soon come.

While militants on the ground organise their "revolution," traditional opposition movements, intellectuals, the Muslim Brotherhood and Arab nationalists have set up a plethora of rival councils and coalitions.

Several initiatives were launched over the summer - in Istanbul, Antalya, Paris, Brussels, Bonn and Damascus - showing just how divided the opposition is in its objectives, composition and strategy.

But a more representative structure has now emerged: the Syrian National Council (SNC), created in Istanbul at the end of August.

Counting 140 members, half of whom still live and operate inside Syria, the SNC now has the vital support of the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) that bring together protest movements within Syria.

The SNC is meeting in Istanbul until Sunday and hopes, said spokeswoman Bassma Kodmani, to be bolstered by the Muslim Brotherhood as well as those who signed the 2005 Damascus Declaration calling for democratic change.

The groups held closed-door meetings with the SNC in Istanbul on Thursday.

Diplomatic sources in Damascus said the SNC's rise to power could be a result of an agreement between the US, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood and could unite the main opposition strands: nationalists, liberals and Islamists.

Also, there are generational differences between the overwhelmingly young Syrians eager for rapid change and the minority older generation that is reluctant to call for Assad's departure.

"The National Council is the only group that is supported by the domestic opposition," said Kodmani.

"The local committees are already very well connected to each other; they've done an amazing job. There are also influential individuals within the SNC who are sources of credibility."

But the opposition must first agree on basic principles and fundamental differences still exist.

"There are still obstacles to our discussions," admitted SNC member Halit Hoca.

"People in the street want foreign intervention," he said.

The Local Coordination Committees, however, were clear in their position regarding foreign intervention, publishing a statement in August explicitly saying, "While we understand the motivation to take up arms or call for military intervention, we specifically reject this position as we find it unacceptable politically, nationally and ethically."

Renowned Damascus-based opposition figure Michel Kilo, from the National Committee for Democratic Change (NCDC), said his group would not join the SNC because of its openness to the idea of a foreign intervention.

"The problem is that some opposition figures don't want to join any organisation that they didn't create. It's the problem with being in opposition," said one SNC member who asked not to be named.

"All these issues can be discussed afterwards," said Hoca. "Our aim is first of all to prepare for the post-Assad period."

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