Saturday, November 10, 2012

Syrian National Council elects new leaders after US attempt to replace it failed

George Sabra
The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) has elected George Sabra,a leading secular Christian opposition figure, for a six-month term as its leader. Farouq Tayfour, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected Sabra's vice president.
Sabra, born in Qatana near Damascus, is a leading member of the leftist Syrian Democratic People’s Party. He was arrested several times by Assad's government. Earlier, the SNC elected 11 members to its executive committee, having already elected a 41-member secretariat.
The elections, on Friday, took place after several days of discussions in Doha, Qatar, after an American initiative to replace the SNC with an alternative body had failed. The US no longer considers the SNC as the representative of the Syrian opposition, as divided as it is and as ineffective as far as the coordination of military activities is concerned. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week called the SNC unrepresentative of opposition forces on the ground and said it "can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition."
In the Doha conference the US this past week tried to erect a new body, called the Syrian National Initiative, consisting of an umbrella body of some 60 members, representing several groups active on the ground, armed groups, Muslim scholars and others. This body would in turn form a transitional government of some 10 members, and a military council. The SNC would be represented by 15 members in the new initiative. As the leader of the new group, the US put forward Riad as-Seif, a member of the SNC. The formation of the new body was coordinated by former US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, and had strong backing from Great-Britain. (Britain's Prime Minister Cameron also suggested this week thet Britai would guarantee Assad immunity whe he would leave the country). France and the Gulf States were said to be favourable of the plan as well.
However, there was sytrong opposition of the SNC, which refused to be marginalised. It accused Washington of undermining the revolt and "sowing the seeds of division." Many members criticized the fact that the new initiative was in fact imposed by the US. Mockingly Al-Seif was called 'Ford's sword', a pun on the fact the Seif means 'sword'in Arabic.
As a result of the sever criticism Al-Seif on Wednesday lost his seat in the SNC and he withdrew. Also three of the dissident bodies seen as integral to the US-backed initiative said that they had refused to attend. That was the end of the plan, which was a severe setback for Hillary Clinton and the American attempts at reforming the Syrian opposition.

Riad al-Seif (r) with the outgoing SNC-leader Abdel Basset Seda during the meeting i Doha(AP). 

However, the SNC adopted the plan in an modified form. On Friday it proposed to hold ''a national congress of 300 members in liberated territories" in order to add "revolutionary legitimacy" to any executive, according to SNC member Najati Tayara. Such a congress would form a transitional government that would run territories seized by the rebels, channel humanitarian aid and direct military operations, he said. Burhan Ghalioun, a former SNC chief, said any accord "could boost the uprising" as it would enable the opposition to unite the different military groups battling regime forces.

Joshua Landis reports o his blog that shortly before the Doha effort to put together a Syrian government in exile collapsed, Ambassador Ford, the State Department’s ambassador to the Syrian opposition, inisted to exiles that Syrians must find a “political solution and not a military solution to their problem.” He reportedly told Syrian Opposition leaders that the international community will not create a “no fly zone” over Syria and that it will not support the Free Syrian Army militarily.” “There is no military solution to the Syrian problem,” he insisted. There is only a political solution.” 

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