The head of Syria’s main opposition council offered to resign on Thursday “as soon as a replacement is found” after some members threatened to quit, damaging efforts to present a united front against President Bashar al-Assad.
Burhan Ghalioun said he did not wish to be a divisive figure and was ready to step down, just days after he was re-elected to a third, three-month term as head of the Syrian National Council (SNC).
“I announce my resignation as soon as a new candidate is picked, either by consensus or new elections,” he said. “I will continue to work to serve the revolution from my position as a member of the council.”
Syria’s opposition is still struggling to overcome infighting and inexperience 15 months into the uprising, preventing the movement from gaining the traction it needs to present a credible alternative to Assad. Its international backers have repeatedly appealed for the movement to pull together and work as one unit.
Since its inception last September, the council has acted as the revolution’s international face and been a contact point for western leaders.
Ghalioun’s statement came after a key activist group accused the leadership of marginalising council members and acting alone on major decisions.
The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), a network of activists inside and outside Syria, warned the SNC it was drifting away from the spirit of the country’s revolution and threatened to suspend its membership.
“We have seen nothing in the past months except political incompetence in the SNC and a total lack of consensus between its vision and that of the revolutionaries,” the LCC said.
The UN estimated in March that the violence in Syria had killed more than 9,000 people. Hundreds more have been killed since then as a revolt that began with mostly peaceful calls for reform has transformed into an armed insurgency.
The SNC, whose leaders are largely Syrian exiles, has tried with little success to gather the opposition under its umbrella and has alienated minorities including the Kurds and Alawites, the tiny sect to which Assad belongs. The Alawite community has largely stuck by Assad.
Some opposition figures accuse its leadership of being out of touch with reality on the ground while several prominent dissidents have already quit the SNC, calling it an “autocratic” organisation.
Bassma Kodmani, a Paris-based senior council figure, said on Thursday that the LCC concerns were “justified and legitimate.” She acknowledged this week’s meeting in Rome where Ghalioun was re-elected was marred by the absence of several members and should have been better prepared.
However, she said differences within the Syrian opposition were “natural and healthy” and a sign of democracy, “otherwise we would be just like the Ba’ath Party and the Assad regime”.
Ghalioun, a Sunni Muslim professor at the Sorbonne in Paris who has led the SNC since its formation, has been criticised by some opposition figures of being too close to the Muslim Brotherhood and of trying to monopolise power.
Ghalioun ran against George Sabra, a Christian council member seen by many as a better choice to soothe concerns by Syria’s religious minorities, some of whom have remained loyal to Assad out of fear for their future in case his regime collapses.
Unlike Libya’s National Transitional Council, which brought together most factions against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and was quickly recognised by much of the international community, Syria’s opposition has no leadership on the ground and has not been officially recognised by significant powers.
A conference sponsored by the Arab League in Cairo to help unite the disparate opposition was cancelled this week, largely because of infighting between various groups.
Source: The Guardian