May 19, 2012

Rough Times Ahead For Syrian National Council

Syria's National Council (SNC) has seen better weeks. First the Arab League's conference to address outstanding political divisions fell through amid internal strife. Soon afterward, chairman Burhan Ghalioun was re-elected for another three-month post (his third in a row) and faced an immediate firing line of revolutionaries. The outrage spiked when Syria's Local Coordination Committees (LCC) posted a harsh critique on its website, threatening to quit the SNC unless more local leadership is promoted. 

"The Local Coordination Committees in Syria deplores the situation of the Syrian National Council. The situation reflects the Council and the Opposition’s furthering from the spirit and demands of the Syrian Revolution. Furthermore, it reflects their distance from directions towards a civil state, democracy, transparency and the transfer of power desired in a New Syria." 

These divisions, though concrete, are feeling even deeper as Syria's revolutionaries struggle to hold their ground against Bashar al-Assad's army. Paired with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the two groups remain politically decentralized and bogged down in battle with numerically and technologically superior forces. The loss of territory and men, along with a shortage of arms, has reverberated back up the SNC's chain of command, increasing the pressure to extract a military option from the international community. Disorder also obstructs foreign attempts to finance and arm the opposition, generating a vicious cycle of inaction. All of these factors lead to the conclusion that al-Assad maintains the upper hand in spite of - and because of - Kofi Annan's six-point proposal. 

On Friday the UN's mission chief, Norwegian General Robert Mood, called for a political dialogue as a means of ending the violence, but both sides reject this possibility. In his interview with Russiya 24, al-Assad said that Syria has "acute problem with terrorism. Terrorists don’t care about reform, they are not fighting for reform... The political course will not free us from terror." 

He is happily aware of the SNC's turbulence, suggesting that another large-scale offensive is being planned to break up its ranks. At least 800 Syrians (possibly many more) have been killed since a UN-sponsored ceasefire "took effect" on April 12th.

Given the revolutionaries' military situation and negative momentum seeping into their political mission, the SNC must correct its issues through a wide engagement of the opposition's base. Effective insurgency and civil disobedience cannot be waged without resolute and representative political leadership. As a means of saving face without sending the SNC into total chaos, Ghalioun offered to resign two days after his extension "as soon as a replacement is found through elections or consensus." George Sabra, a Christian council member (and reported communist), is one favorite to replace Ghalioun due to his alleged compatibility with Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, the largest bloc within the SNC. Whatever the outcome, the council needs to restore public confidence by appointing a chairman inside or near Syria. 

This problem isn't insurmountable. In the best-case scenario, Syrians will select a candidate with wider appeal and alleviate stress on the chain of command. Divisions, SNC spokeswoman Bassma Kodmani reminded the LCC, are inevitable during the explosion of pent-up revolutionary forces and democratic competition should make the council stronger in the long-term. Such pivotal decisions are not to be made lightly, but the process must be organized soon in order to promote better leaders and develop a sustainable insurgency that is capable of defeating an energetic tyrant.

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