Support Builds for Syrian National Council

Elizabeth Whitman

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 10 2011 (IPS) – What was once a glaring weakness in the seven-month Syrian revolution and uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad is now slowly transforming into one of its strengths with the coalescence of opposition groups into the Syrian National Council (SNC) earlier this month.

Yet many questions and concerns about strategies, both domestic and international, remain, especially in the wake of the latest failure in the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution condemning the violence in Syria.

On Oct. 2, the SNC convened in Istanbul to announce its official formation, outline its structure and goals, and publish a founding statement.

Members of the international community have welcomed its creation, even as the Syrian government threatened “tough measures” against countries that recognized the opposition council.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Monday that France intends to establish relations with the SNC, while the European Union hailed its formation, calling it a “positive step”.

Syrians began protesting in March 2011, calling for reforms and an end to government corruption, among other demands. The Syrian government initially responded with promises of reform that went unfulfilled. As protests grew, it turned to tanks and bullets in a brutal crackdown that has killed nearly 3,000 civilians, according to U.N. estimates.

Fledgling opposition

A core of the national council was announced in mid-September, followed by negotiations to include more political groups.

The SNC, with a general assembly membership of 230, and executive committee of 29 and presidential committee of seven, spans the political spectrum from leftists to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Four Kurdish and one Assyrian representative are among those included in the 29-member executive committee. Many Christians, Druz and Alawite are also members.

The council’s immediate concern is “having a well-founded and solid entity”, Monajed said. Until the leadership and structure is finalized, the council is not seeking meetings with world leaders.

The organisation’s vision is the “formation of a national body to represent the Syrian Revolution, embody its aspiration in toppling the regime, achieve democratic change, and build a modern civil state”, according to a council document.

It sees itself as a “political umbrella for the Syrian revolution in the international arenas” that aims to “deliver the message of the Syrian people in the field of international diplomacy”.

Saying that it was “inspired by previous initiatives and attempts at unifying opposition groups”, the council subtly acknowledged the difficulties, especially over the past six months, to consolidate Syrian opposition.

“It’s an agreement in terms of all the committees on the ground and it’s an agreement in terms of all the opposition,” an activist, who goes by the pseudonym of Alexander Page, told IPS.

Based in Damascus until early October, Page escaped Syria after he learned his identity had been compromised. He has been on CNN, Huffington Post and other outlets.

Page’s perspective was that a better opposition council could not be formed at this point. “After this, there’s not going to be any council that’s going to go through,” he said.

Politically, the council’s immediate concern is “having a well- founded and solid national council”, Ausama Monajed, a member of the council, told IPS. Until the leadership and structure is finalized, the council is not seeking meetings with world leaders.

In both its declaration and the words of Ghalioun, the Council has explicitly rejected foreign intervention “that undermines the sovereignty of the Syrian people”, as Ghalioun said.

Page, who was involved and remains in contact with various revolution groups on the ground in Syria, said that the SNC has garnered notable popular support domestically.

Intervention: a highly sensitive topic

A wide array of concerns accompanies discussion of international intervention, which remains a prominent issue that is highly sensitive both in Syria and for the international community because of the Syria regime’s domestic propaganda campaign and because of the looming shadow of NATO’s military intervention in Libya.

The Syrian government has claimed since March that armed gangs are launching attacks inside the country and that Syrian security forces have responded by quelling those attacks.

Aiming to discredit the international community, the Syrian government would use international intervention to support its claims that foreign governments are trying to undermine Syrian sovereignty. Giving the Syrian government the opportunity to legitimize those claims through foreign intervention could be detrimental.

Many, Syrians included, are wary of any intervention that could follow in the footsteps of NATO’s in Libya.

At most, the SNC would call for would a no-fly zone or possibly a buffer zone, Page said.

But Monajed emphasized that from the international community, the SNC would seek measures to ensure civilian protection, such as a Security Council resolution that called for U.N. observers that might help prevent some of the violence.

Similarly, the international community should “protect the civilians by all the legal means commensurate with the U.N. charter and international conventions”, Hozan Ibrahim, spokesperson for the coordinating network Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) of Syria and member of the SNC, told IPS.

Complications in the Security Council

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council has been criticized as it struggles to find a unified voice condemning the violence, civilian deaths, arbitrary arrests and torture.

Most recently, a rare double veto by China and Russia on Oct. 4 thwarted a Western-backed resolution that would have condemned Syrian authorities’ “continued grave and systematic human rights violations” and called for a “an inclusive Syrian-led political process” free from violence and intimidation.

In addition to the Russian and Chinese vetoes, Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa abstained – results that indicate underwhelming international solidarity regarding how to respond to the current situation in Syria.

Russia has strong business ties to Syria. Reuters reported in August 2011 that Russia’s top arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, would continue selling arms to Syria.

The European Union (EU) and the U.S. have already imposed sanctions on Syria, and Turkey announced last week that it would as well.

“Russia is waiting for the right price to sell, unfortunately,” Monajed told IPS. For Russia, Syria is a matter of money, regional interest and influence, he said.

He said the SNC was hoping the West would be able to pressure or reach a deal with Russia to allow a Security Council resolution to pass that would permit U.N. observers into the country to help prevent civilian deaths and hold the Syrian government accountable.

Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, had no specific comment on the SNC’s formation, but noted, “The Secretary-General has called consistently, repeatedly, for there to be a dialogue, inclusive dialogue,” in Syria and so the SNC could be understood “in that context”.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

Link: http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/10/support-builds-for-syrian-national-council/.

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