US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced that the US no longer considers the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition group seeking the fall of the Syrian regime, to be the sole representative of the Syrian opposition — a move that has received sharp criticism from SNC members.
“We’ve made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition. They can be part of a larger opposition, but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice which must be heard,” Clinton said recently.
Khaled Khoja, a member of the SNC, said Clinton’s statement was “unfortunate, untimely and unnecessary.” Implying that the US government should also take some credit for the flaws that are attributed to the SNC, Khoja said that from the early days of the uprising, the SNC has been questioning why the Syrian opposition was deprived of the international support provided to the Libyan opposition. “The Americans, so far, did little to strengthen the Syrian opposition, since they refrained from providing political, military and financial support,” said Khoja.
US officials have privately expressed frustration with the SNC’s inability to come up with a coherent plan and its lack of traction with the disparate internal groups which have waged the 19-month uprising against the Syrian regime.
Referring to the fact that the SNC is headquartered outside of Syria, Mazen Jabr, a local activist from Aleppo, said it is not the geographic difference that makes an opposition group “outside” opposition. “Despite its shortcomings, given the limited support, the SNC functioned as the best possible political body of the opposition. Now through discrediting the SNC, the Americans want to hijack the revolution,” said Jabr.
However, Marwan Maalouf, the director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Tunisia, claims that the dependence of the SNC on international support was the primary strategic mistake of the SNC that paved the way for the “failure” of the organization.
The largest group representing the Syrian opposition to the Bashar al-Assad government, the SNC, formed in İstanbul in September of last year, was recognized as a “legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition,” but infighting and worries over the group’s inclusiveness have kept the group from being seen as the sole voice of a growing Syrian opposition.
The SNC saw a major blow to its legitimacy when prominent members of the SNC resigned after bringing accusations that the organization was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is such crises of legitimacy that made the US government question its support for the group, says James Prince, head of the Democracy Council.
A leading member of the SNC who wished to remain anonymous said the bridges between the US and the SNC were burned after the Cairo meeting of the SNC held last June. “During this meeting Ambassador Robert Ford attempted to exert control over a ‘national’ project and impose a particular agenda. For example, he pushed the SNC to collaborate with the PYD [an offshoot of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Syria], which the SNC deemed unacceptable. After this meeting, when the SNC made it clear that it won’t be a US puppet, a campaign was launched against the SNC accordingly,” the SNC member said.
Another source close to the SNC claimed that during the last six months key actors involved in the Syrian crisis were bypassing the SNC; in fact, the institution has even begun to be ignored by the international media.
The new US initiative to overhaul the Syrian opposition’s leadership seeks to generate a new opposition platform, called the Syrian National Initiative (SNI), that would include members of the SNC as well as other opposition figures from various organizations. Riad Seif, a former Syrian parliamentarian and dissident, is considered to be a major player in the initiative on the Syrian side.
Khoja, on the other hand, points out that the SNC does not have a fundamental objection to the new proposal. In fact, he claims this new plan was already prepared by the SNC. “Clinton’s statement came on the eve of the Doha meeting, where the SNC was already planning to discuss and implement the Riad Seif plan. This proposal was prepared with the support of the SNC. I don’t understand why the Americans are trying to appropriate a plan that was cooked in the kitchen of the SNC,” Khoja remarked.
Source: Sundays Zaman