Divide and Rule in Syria
The schisms of the Syrian opposition
Intense dispute has surrounded the implementation of an Arab League initiative to end the Syrian crisis since a delegation of Arab League observers arrived in Syria on 26 December. Opposition groups and activists inside and outside Syria have criticized the effectiveness of the mission, labelling it ineffective and practically redundant. The most salient criticisms feature accusations that the visiting team is too small for the task at hand—numbering less than 100 observers—and that the man placed in charge of the operation, Sudanese General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa Al-Dabi, is tainted by association with Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir.
Local activists within Syria have complained that negligence on the part of the visiting delegation, including arriving late to specified areas and sometimes not arriving at all, have effectively meant turning a blind eye to government violence. Committees of protesters in the country claim that at least 390 people have been killed since the observers arrived.
Despite the continuing violence, and an apparent lack of political will to successfully implement the Arab League’s initiative, opposition to the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad has failed to maintain a united front. Last week optimism was high that the two main groups of opposition had reached an outline agreement for a workable transition in the country, which might have encouraged more positive measures. However, this week it has emerged that the Syrian National Council and the National Coordination Committee remain at odds concerning how to move forward.
Here The Majalla provides a comprehensive outline of the various political groups and individuals in opposition to the ruling Assad regime.
Forces Competing for the Rule of a New Syria
Ten months after the outset of the Syrian revolution, no political alternative with popular consensus has crystallized. Even the opposition appears at odds, divided into Islamists, liberals and youth leaders belonging to many groups and committees. These groups are leading the protest movement on the ground along with the Free Syrian Army (composed of defected Syrian Army officers).
The problem facing the Syrian opposition forces in a potential transition period is the form of transition itself, and the many perspectives of a post-Assad ruling system. In fact, the situation of the opposition may suggest a competition between forces and figures that have emerged during the revolution, particularly two bodies: The Syrian National Council and the National Coordination Committee.
There are numerous ideological differences among today’s Syrian opposition, in spite of the coalitions forced upon them due to the developments of the Arab Spring and the current necessities of unity.
The Syrian National Council (SNC): The SNC was established on 29 August, 2011, in Istanbul, with Burhan Ghalioun appointed as president of the council that comprises 94 prominent Syrian figures from inside and outside Syria. The Council has been expanded to include 230 representatives of eight Syrian groups and parties: The Muslim Brotherhood, the Damascus Declaration Group, independent groups in exile and inside Syria, Kurds, Assyrians and the revolutionary movements including the Supreme Council for the Leadership of the Revolution and the Local Coordination Committees, in addition to the constituent committee of the National Council. The General Secretariat of the SNC comprises eight figures each representing his/her own party or group: Burhan Ghalioun, Haitham al-Maleh, Ahmad Ramadan, Farouq Tayfur, Abdul-Baset Sida, Motei Al-Bateen, Basma Qadmani, and Abdul-Ahad Satifo.
On 17 and 18 December 2011, the SNC held its first general assembly, in Tunis, and asserted its commitment towards the Syrian people’s choices and the targets of the revolution represented in toppling the head, figures and pillars of the Syrian regime.
The SNC has confirmed its adherence to the constitutional recognition of the national identity of Kurds, and considered the Kurdish issue an integral part of the country’s public national cause. It also announced that it is committed to the constitutional recognition of the Assyrian national identity, and called for solving this issue within the frame of the nation’s unity. The SNC has pledged to provide support for the Free Syrian Army, acknowledging its role in protecting the Syrian popular uprising.
The SNC has called on the Arab League, the United Nations and the international community to protect civilians and protestors in Syria within safe areas and other buffer zones.
The National Coordination Committee (NCC): Established in May 2011, led by Haitham Al-Manna’, it consists of a number of leftist Syrian parties, the Communist Labor Party, the Socialist Union Party and four Kurdish parties.
The Committee’s executive board includes Majed Habbo, Hassan Abdul-Azim, Hussein Al-Awdat, Aref Dalila, Rajaa Al-Nasser, Abdul-Aziz Al-Khair, Mohammad Al-Ammar, Mounir Al-Bitar, Fayez Sara, Saleh Muslim Mohammad, Jamal Mullah, Mohammad Musa, Bassam Al-Malek, and Mohammad Sayyed Rassas.
The most important principle of the committee is the objection to any external intervention. Initially it did not call openly for the toppling of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, a significant difference from other opposition movements and the SNC.
The Committee has called for a serious dialogue with the regime after providing the necessary conditions, the most important of which is stopping the security military solution, releasing all political detainees, forming an independent investigation committee, punishing those responsible for killing and shooting protestors, lifting the state of emergency and martial laws and acknowledging the right of peaceful protests.
The Political Map of the Opposition Forces:
Muslim Brotherhood: Established in Syria in 1942, by Dr. Mustafa Al-Siba’i. Its current comptroller is Riyad Al-Shaqfa, and the group is considered an extension of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood which was founded by Hassan Al-Banna in 1928.
The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) have historically been active participants in all fields of political action. It had members in the Parliament and participated in forming the cabinet until 1962. The group has been absented from political life since President Hafez Al-Assad passed a law, in 1980, banning the movement.
In 2006, the MB contributed to establishing the National Salvation Front in Syria, based in Belgium and founded by ex-Vice President of Syria Abdul-Halim Khaddam. The MB withdrew from the coalition three years later.
After the eruption of the Syrian revolution, the MB has joined the Syrian National Council and is considered its biggest bloc.
The Syrian Communist Party: Founded in 1924 and gained great influence, especially in 1958. It stood against the union of Syria and Egypt in the United Arab Republic; subsequently its members were imprisoned and prosecuted during the union.
The party witnessed internal tensions from 1969 to 1972 then it split into two wings; one of them under the leadership of Khalid Bakdash while the other under the leadership of Riyad Al-Turk, which is known as The Communist Party – Political Bureau. It later joined the coalition of the leftist opposition movements, the Syrian National Democratic Assembly, after its establishment in 1979.
The Syrian National Democratic Assembly: was established in 1979, the group includes five leftist parties. Since 9 May, 2000, Hassan Abdul-Azim, the head of the Arab Democratic Socialist Union Party has become the spokesman of the party.
Reform Party of Syria (RPS): Established in the US after the September 11 attacks in 2001, under the leadership of the Syrian-American activist Farid Al-Ghadry.
The party considers itself the alternative of the two significant options; the ruling Baath party and the opposing Muslim Brotherhood. It supports toppling the regime with the help of American intervention and it also backs cooperation with Israel.
Movement for Justice and Development: Established in London in 2006. In its code of conduct, the movement demands a regime that prioritizes freedoms, peaceful circulation of power and cancellation of the state of emergency law. The movement calls for political liberty, freedom to establish parties, the return of all exiled Syrians and the release of political prisoners.
The Damascus declaration is a document signed in 2005 by prominent civil, Islamic and liberal activists. It demands ending 35 years of Assad family rule and replacing it with a democratic system.
The Declaration is considered the most comprehensive framework of Syrian opposition forces and it was the first opposition declaration released by groups inside Syria.
Syrian Revolution General Commission: This commission was formed after the 2011 Syrian uprising and is considered a platform for committees that have emerged during the revolution.
The Kurd National Council: A platform formed on 15 March, 2011, consisting of all Kurdish parties in Syria except for two parties: the Democratic National Union and the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria.
The Kurdish parties: The history of the Syrian Kurdish movement can be traced back to 1957. It consists of 12 Kurdish parties and three inclusive political platforms in addition to many other political parties outside those platforms, which are:
- - The Kurdish Political Council in Syria.
- - Parties of the General Council of the Kurdish Democratic Alliance in Syria.
- - Main parties which didn’t join these two frameworks, including the Democratic Union (which has close ties with Kurdistan Workers Party) and the Kurd Future Movement in Syria.
Rifaat Al-Assad: The younger brother of the former president Hafez Al-Assad and the incumbent president Bashar’s uncle. Between 1966 and 1984, he was responsible of the Defense Companies (Saraya Al-Difaa) which was accused of committing massacres in Hama between 1978 and 1982. He is currently living in exile in London.
Abdul-Halim Khaddam: The former vice president of Syria went into exile in December, 2005, after his relationship with President Bashar Al-Assad deteriorated. He founded the National Salvation Front which included some of the Syrian opposition movements. The Muslim brotherhood withdrew from the front in April 2009.