Syria’s anti-Assad foes jockey for position

ISTANBUL – Emad ad-Din al-Rashid, a former assistant dean at the Islamic law college of Damascus University, opened his laptop and flipped through spreadsheets detailing the unmet needs of seemingly every besieged neighborhood across Syria.

From his spare office, he spends eight hours a day calling into Syria, mostly to lobby hundreds of his former theology students to join his Syria National Movement, building a network that he hopes will one day become the Islamist movement’s power base.

While opposition groups are mostly concentrating on ending the brutish rule of President Bashar Assad, they also are positioning themselves for the longer-term question of who will rule in a post-Assad era. For that, they know from watching what happened in other Arab countries like Tunisia and Egypt that they need a good ground game.

“The Syrian people don’t want to hear about politics right now, they want to focus on toppling the regime,” said Al-Rashid, 47. “But you have to be present politically before the system falls.”

Political organizations of all stripes outside the country are jockeying for position, anticipating a new, democratic government in Syria for the first time since a 1963 military coup established the supremacy of the Baath Party and emasculated the rest.

The jockeying has alienated many Syrians, who say that members of the fractious opposition exile group — the Syrian National Council — are fixated more on grabbing appointments to use as future leverage than in forging the unity needed to defeat Assad. But the wrestling continues.

Syria’s Islamist leaders itch with anticipation that this is their moment, too. The Muslim Brotherhood is the dominant actor, but the National Action Group and Al-Rashid’s Syria National Movement are vying for influence. All are based abroad.

Obeida Nahas, 36, a marketing executive and founding member of the Syrian National Council and the National Action Group, described the opposition plan as the “four Ds”: demonstrations, defense, defections and diplomacy.

The age of ideology is dead, he said. Instead, he said, the generation that fomented the Arab Spring wants a limited, nonideological state that treats all its citizens equally. He said: “We are trying to find common ground, something that would create a national identity that would include all political groups.”

Source: Star Tribune

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