US wants new Syrian opposition to replace SNC

Syrian National Council is a joke among ordinary Syrians, so US is hoping to found a more effective opposition

LAST UPDATED AT 15:19 ON Thu 1 Nov 2012

HILLARY CLINTON has called for a shake-up in the Syrian opposition leadership, the Syrian National Council, to give it more legitimacy with the people fighting to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

"There has to be representation of those who are on the front lines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom," said the US Secretary of State during a trip to Croatia. "This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes, but in many instances have not been inside Syria for 20, 30 or 40 years.

"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 that needs to be heard. So our efforts are very focused on that."

The New York Times explained that the US government was exasperated with the "anaemic leadership and constant bickering of the [SNC], which is often far more caught up in fighting over spots on travel delegations than in creating an effective transitional government".

The SNC has also failed to represent Syrian minorities, such as the ruling Alawite sect or Christians. "Its obscure academics and long-exiled activists also seem increasingly irrelevant in a civil war in which extremist jihadis are gaining more visibility," said the paper.

The views of ordinary Syrians towards the SNC were summed up by Khaled Youssef al-Aboud, a pilot in the northeast of the war-torn country. "The SNC has been over with for a long time now; fighters only talk about it sarcastically," he said.

But members of the SNC were outraged at Clinton's comments. Louay Safia told Al Jazeera it was "an astounding statement". He added that, although the SNC had under-performed in some areas, "the Secretary [of State] will have to take some credit for that". Safia also criticised US policy in Syria and said President Obama "would like to have quiet in Syria", even if it meant allowing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to retain some power.

Najib Ghadbian, a founding member of the SNC now living in the US state of Arkansas and working as a professor of political science, accepted that some criticism of his organisation was justified, but said a lack of international consensus had done little to end the Syrian uprising.

But with the withdrawal of Western support from the SNC, the body now looks doomed as an effective opposition force. Syrian journalist Hassan Hassan explained the shortcomings of the SNC in Abu Dhabi-based The National: "Political leadership must be connected to Syrians inside the country, working closely with activists and fighters, and begin to administer areas where the regime has little or no presence. When the opposition members inside Syria feel that they are sacrificing their lives, they naturally owe no allegiance to politicians living in hotels in foreign capitals."

The US has proposed a 51-member 'National Initiative Council' to act as a transitional Syrian government, according to The Guardian. The new body will be unveiled at a summit in Doha next week - and there are only 15 seats for members of the SNC. · 

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