New Syrian opposition group aggravates activists

Nada El-Kouny, Saturday 4 Aug 2012

A new Cairo-based opposition group headed by veteran activist Haitham Al-Maleh hopes to become Syria's transitional government, but generates criticism from Syrian activists and analysts as being 'premature'

Haitham El-Maleh

As the conflict within Syria escalates and develops, with defining battles being fought within Aleppo and Damascus, a new Syrian opposition group is formed.

On Tuesday, a new opposition Syrian group was launched in Cairo, Egypt by opposition figure and veteran judge, Haitham Al-Maleh.

The seasoned activist and long-time opposition figure to the Syrian regime, who over the past four decades has spent several years in prison on numerous instances, was a former member of the Syrian National Council (SNC). He resigned, however, from his post as member of the SNC's executive board in March 2012, mainly for reasons of dispute between the leadership.

"The brothers have asked me to form a transitional government in Syria and to begin dialogue with the rest of the Syrian opposition," Al-Maleh stated in a press conference. The new opposition group was named the Commission of Trustees of the Revolution.

Maleh also told Reuters the new alliance would act as an alternative to the SNC, which he said "had failed to help the Syrian revolution."

Tha'er Al-Nashek, a colonel of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), told Ahram Online that the formation of a "transitional government" as characterised by Maleh, is "very premature."

Nashek further claimed that he does not believe in the idea of initiating a so-called transitional government before the fall of Al-Assad. He also asserted that such an initiative, based on the Libyan experience, which saw the formation of the National Transitional Council, was only done following the fall of late-President Muammar Gaddafi, after the seize of Benghazi.

During the launch conference, Maleh announced he had the support of the Syrian people.

Commenting on this support, Nashek claims that there has not been any significant expression of support for Maleh from Syrians within or outside Syria. He further believes that a priority would be given to Syrian rebels and fighters within Syria.

"The FSA has also vocally expressed its rejection of the initiative," asserted Nashek. The armed FSA fighters called them "opportunists who seek to divide the opposition and benefit from the rebels' gains," as reported by Reuters.

Sallam Kawakibi, a Syrian political scientist and director of the Arab Reform Initiative who is based in Paris, does not believe a transitional government should be formed until it is well thought-out. He also thinks it is mainly focused on attending to international concern and does not singularly work for the benefit of the Syrian revolutionaries.

Kawakibi is also apprehensive because he believes that such "spontaneous," initiatives block the way for other better thought-out projects and initiatives.

More importantly, Kawakibi asserts, this initiative like many of its kind, is "weak" from the outset and is not attentive to the public debate taking place within Syria. "The Syrian revolution has produced elements of a young and promising leadership which is close to its people. That force is what the upcoming period of the revolution will largely depend on, no matter what the different scenarios regarding the political transition may be," he asserts.

A member of the general secretariat of the SNC and former colleague of Maleh's, Bassam Said Ishak, expressed to Ahram Online: "Maleh is a very well-respected figure amongst all of us in the Syrian opposition - and will remain to be so." Ishak asserted, however: "I had wished he consulted with all of the opposition groups and had included them in the process, despite the differences that may have been experienced prior.

Ishak also clarified he is not against the idea of forming a transitional government at this point in time. "To form [an attempted transitional government] now will make it easier for us to function once the regime falls; it will make it easy to fill the political vacuum."

"Most importantly, this will serve as a moral push to the Syrian revolutionaries within Syria and we can be expected to see greater defections from within the Syrian army," claimed Ishaak.

A Syrian activist based in Egypt, who wished to remain anonymous, disagreed with Ishak’s point. "There should be no talk about a so-called transitional government before the fall of Bashar."

She added, "If he [Nashek] wants to go and lead the opposition from Syria then he is more than welcome, but playing politics in this manner is absurd."

The activist claimed that the major issue of concern at the moment should be the attention given to humanitarian assistance and for building a strong civil society base, which will be ready to fill the gaps that the "post-uprising government will have to fill and will struggle in doing."

She added, "We are not concerned with official politics: these meetings and conferences being held abroad are largely gaining a lot of media attention, while the major concern should be directed towards attempting to support the grassroots initiatives within the country."

Meanwhile, the initiative is currently being formed and members of the leadership are being chosen. On Thursday, Maleh met with Secretary of the Arab League, Nabil El-Arabi. He confirmed that the reason for basing the group (which is still being formed) in Cairo is because of its "Arab dimension," as opposed to the SNC, which is based in Paris with a branch in Turkey.

Arabi welcomed both the idea of a transitional council and this particular council. He did mention, however, that he believes there should be no additional division within the Syrian opposition.

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