The road towards the formation of a representative Syrian opposition body appears under way. On 2 October a group of Syrian opposition figures announced the initiation of the Syrian National Council (SNC) in Paris.
After months of deliberations and different groups pinning themselves as the “opposition,” the SNC has emerged as the final product of that process. It has garnered support and is in the process of forming its administrative body, with the French-based Syrian professor Bourhan Ghalioun at its head.
In early June a conference was held in Antalia, Turkey under the name of “The Syrian Conference for Change.” Then, on 28 August, 2011, the formation of a “national council” was announced in the Turkish capital of Ankara where Ghalioun was appointed leader.
The general secretariat of the council is expected to reflect the diverse make up of Syrian society. Four representatives will be members of the Damascus Declaration, whose signatories called for democratic change in Syria in 2005, considered to be a landmark statement of unity by its 163 signatories.
The rest of the council will be comprised of six members from Syria’s internal street movement and five from the Muslim Brotherhood. Kurds are to hold four of the seats, with one member from the Christian Assyrian community. Nine seats will be left for independents, with, so far, none of the potential candidates expected to hail from the ruling regime’s Alawite group.
There are, however, other opposition groups such the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change that was recently established within Syria. The committee includes Syrian nationalists, Kurds, socialists, Marxists as well as independents. According to Michel Kilo, head of the committee, they have welcomed the formation of the Syrian National Council, but disagree with its attempt to “monopolise the protest movement” and its acceptance of a possible military intervention, as reported by Reuters on 11 October.
In an interview with Ahram Online, Bassam Sa’eed Ishak, executive director for the Syrian Human Rights Organisation and current member of the SNC, described the current state of the council. The general secretariat, he explained, consists of 29 people, in addition to 119 members. The final council will contain 240 members, Ishak added.
Ishak made it clear, though, that the current make up of the council is not set in stone but still crystallising. Nevertheless, it is the strongest initiative so far taken towards unifying Syria’s opposition.
“It is, for sure, a positive development, but it is important to clarify that it is merely a first step,” added Tha’er Al-Nashek, political and media advisor of the Paris-based group Sons of the Syrian Community Abroad.
Talking to Ahram Online, Al-Nashek expressed his support for the SNC but has abstained from becoming a member, “despite their [the SNC] invitation.” He believes that there are more pressing issues at the moment, such as the worsening refugee situation in Turkey where around 7,000 Syrians live in camps “where basic necessities are not afforded and the media is shut out.”
While the formation of a formal opposition in Syria, the “national dialogue,” was announced on 20 June by Assad to give the appearance that a process of “democratisation” taking place, demonstrators in the country vehemently opposed the move. On 8 July, the protesters dismissed the talks and stressed that they did not represent them. As a result, the main strength of the internal movement comes from the local coordination committees led by a youth, both exposed by their activity and with little resources.
One member of this grassroots movement who has suffered as a result is Dellair Youssef. The 21-year-old activist was forced to flee Syria after being detained and tortured by the authorities. Speaking to Ahram Online in Cairo, he stated that the SNC gained its legitimacy from the Syrian protesters. This was most evident, he elaborated, during the Friday protest of 7 February, 2011, when protesters chanted “The SNC represents me.” When asked about the leadership of Borhan Ghalioun, Youssef affirmed that the public has made it clear they “want him.”
Youssef added that the reason for the divisions we hear about on the political level are mainly to do with the “I” complex that many of the council’s members suffer from. This just clarifies why the street opposition within Syria has become so united, because “blood unites people.”
“What is important at this stage is for all of the opposition groups to have a ‘unified vision’, as opposed to a ‘unified body’,” Youssef eloquently puts it, as he warned about the danger of aping the regime and becoming another Baath Party, once the house of Assad falls.
The SNC has been recognised by several international entities, the first being Libya’s National Transitional Council. France’s foreign minister has publicly stated his country’s openness to establishing relations with the council.
While Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is still to recognise the council, the Democratic Coalition for Egypt, a group of 40 political parties, has announced their endorsement of the body.