SNC dismisses rift within anti-Assad opposition after launch of new group

By: Sinem Cengiz

ANKARA, Turkey - The Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition group seeking President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster, has dismissed the announcement of an alternative opposition platform by a Syrian political figure. Bassam Ishak, a senior member of the SNC, said Nofal al-Dawalibi’s new group would not be a substitute for the SNC, stating that it would instead be a “necessary complementary body.”

Nofal al-Dawalibi (L), son of former Syrian PM Maarouf al-Dawalibi, speaks to journalists before announcing an interim Syrian government in Paris

“Mr. Dawalibi is a friend of mine whom I respect, and he is also a member of the SNC,” Ishak told Today’s Zaman. “We are not — and ought not to be — in a competition for legitimacy, but rather in a competition to serve the revolution and its goals,” he said.

Dawalibi, whose father was Syria’s last democratically elected prime minister before President Bashar al-Assad’s family took power in the 1960s, announced in Paris on Thursday the establishment of the Free Syrian Transitional National Government, saying this new body could unite the opposition in a way the SNC had failed to do. At a press conference, Dawalibi also presented what he called an “interim government,” saying it had the legitimacy the SNC lacked.

In emailed remarks from Jordan, Ishak said Dawalibi had explained at the press conference that he sees the SNC as a legislative body and his soon to be announced shadow government as an executive body. “In other words, the way I understood it, Mr. Dawalibi was not presenting his shadow government as a substitute to the SNC, but — from his point of view — as a necessary complementary body,” Ishak said.

Dawalibi’s announcement of a new opposition group has raised suspicions that the Syrian opposition, already fragmented, is disintegrating. The international community has tried to unite the opposition under the single roof of the SNC, which was recognized as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people by the “Friends of the Syrian People,” an anti-Assad coalition of about 70 countries, when the group met in İstanbul on April 1. Ishak dismissed concerns that Dawalibi’s new initiative could be part of efforts to undermine the Syrian opposition.

“I don’t believe that Mr. Dawalibi’s efforts are part of a plan by Assad to weaken the opposition,” he said. “I think his efforts are due to the frustration that many Syrian opposition figures feel for being marginalized by the SNC. The SNC is aware of that and has been holding talks to reform and expand its organization and to revitalize its different components.”

But in a sign of fractures within the SNC, other members disagreed with Ishak about the new group. Abdel Baset Seda, a member of the SNC executive committee, said it would only serve to complicate matters. “This step is not well studied and will not lead to anything,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters in Cairo. Molham Aldrobi, another SNC member who is also a representative of Syria’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, was also critical of Dawalibi, saying he “has very limited credibility.”

“He has no grassroots,” Aldrobi told The Associated Press in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. “He had been invited to the SNC to participate. He walked away because he did not see himself getting a high-ranking position in the SNC. This activity that he is doing today, I don’t see it as a useful move from his side.” Still, Aldrobi brushed off concerns that the already divided opposition was on the brink of collapsing. “This is of no concern,” he insisted.

Offering ‘another option’

Dawalibi said in Paris that his group was offering another option, given that the SNC is not trusted by many people. “The only option at the moment is the SNC, but there are a lot of people that want to help, who have no trust in this organization,” said Dawalibi. Asked whether his movement was playing into Assad’s hands by creating a split within the opposition, he replied by asking: “What’s the alternative? The Syrian National Council, or the Annan plan that is going nowhere?” Dawalibi underlined that his group was more representative than the SNC, which he claimed was influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood and would eventually form an unacceptable government.

“If we want to get rid of a minority regime that has governed for 50 years, we are not going to let another minority take power,” Dawalibi told the news conference, which included a Kurdish representative, a Syrian tribal representative and a member of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Dawalibi stated that they had support from FSA generals, fighters in Syria, tribal systems and moderate Islamic schools. “Legitimacy comes from the inside and this government will be approved by those inside Syria,” said Dawalibi. Several FSA officers appeared in a video pledging allegiance to the group.

But the head of the FSA, Riad al-Asaad, declined to endorse the new group. “We think the flourishing of political blocs that we are seeing is confusing the situation. We’re soldiers and we are only concerned with the military situation,” Asaad told Reuters by telephone from Turkey. Dawalibi said his group had spoken to French, US and Gulf Arab officials, and had plenty of support in Syria. He claimed that his movement has backing in some Persian Gulf and European countries, but for now is funded from “our own pockets.”

Dawalibi also said his “government” comprised about 35 “ministers” inside Syria, whom he didn’t want to mention by name for security reasons, and that five or six members outside the country provided and coordinated financing, weapons and humanitarian aid.

Dawalibi’s group demands air strikes, a no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors, a slightly tougher line than the SNC. Dawalibi wants harsher action from the international community, but offered little clarity on how he would encourage a military intervention from abroad when few countries have advocated it.

Source: Today’s Zaman

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