Syria’s opposition is unified and peaceful – Mohanad Hage Ali

Article  •  Publié sur Souria Houria le 19 octobre 2011


Wednesday 19 October 2011

Bashar al-Assad may claim his opposition are violent Islamists, but the birth of the Syrian National Council shows otherwise

The birth of the Syrian National Council in Istanbul earlier this month challenges the Assad regime’s claims that the opposition is Islamist, backward and violent.

Since the uprising began seven months ago, the regime’s media has been trumpeting reports of clashes with Islamist extremist gangs to undermine the revolution internationally, and to nurture a fear of change inside Syria. The relative absence of a unified voice for the opposition and the revolution has played into the regime’s narratives.

But the emergence of the SNC largely demystifies Syria’s opposition map, which is mostly divided into the old guard and the revolutionary youth organised under co-ordination committees.

The old guard are pre-revolution opposition groups and independent dissidents, whether secular or Islamist (including the Muslim Brotherhood). The new youth groups, also represented on the SNC, are the revolution’s « engines », officially known as the local co-ordination committees and the Syrian Revolution General Commission.

These committees date back to a month before the uprising when Syrian activists organised solidarity sit-ins at the Tunisian, Libyan and Egyptian embassies. The meetings they held for co-ordination turned into a national phenomenon through Facebook and other social networking sites, and gave birth to a network of loose organisations.

While co-ordination committees and opposition groups inside Syria secured 60% of the 230 seats on the SNC, the remaining positions were distributed among the exiled groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

The SNC also encompasses the various communist, pan-Arab, Kurdish, Assyrian and independent dissidents who include Burhan Ghalioun, the council’s most prominent leader and spokesman.

The recent increase of violence due to splits within the military and the security services has considerably raised fears of civil war. Any militarisation of the revolution would jeopardise this rare opportunity to overthrow Syria’s dictatorship. In the early 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood embarked on a campaign of violence against the regime of Hafez Assad, the former Syrian president, and the father of the current leader. The Islamist uprising ended dramatically with the massacre of thousands in the city of Hama.

Ghalioun – a Paris-based professor and popular dissident – has outlined the SNC’s commitment to peaceful revolution, in spite of the regime’s escalating repression. He wants intervention to be restricted to allowing foreign journalists and international observers into Syria as witnesses.

So far, the Muslim Brotherhood has been largely absent from the Syrian revolution. The lack of any Brotherhood slogans or symbols is noticeable in the hundreds of videos from the uprising. There are many reasons for this, but above all, the Brotherhood has been severely repressed since the 1980s.

The Brotherhood’s apparent weakness in Syria also has a demographic dimension: the recent demonstrations originated in tribal and rural regions, such as the agricultural south-western province of Hauran, where strong familial ties impede the rise of the urban-led pan-Islamist Brotherhood (the former and current leaders are respectively from the cities Aleppo and Hama).

Also, Syria’s ethnic and religious demographics do not serve this Islamist group’s ultimate aim: to establish an Islamic republic through the ballot boxes in a post-Assad Syria. Ethnic and religious minorities constitute 40% of the population, while the Arab Sunnis’ 60% majority is clearly diverse in its political affiliations.

The SNC has moved quickly to assert itself on the regional and international scene. It communicated with the Arab League in the revolution’s name, detailing its demands and intensifying pressure on the regime.

The Syrian opposition now has a somewhat unified voice. What remains unclear is how the confrontation will unfold. In the words of one Syrian dissident: « The regime’s fate is known; the two unknowns are only the time and the heavy price we have to pay. »

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