Inside Syria

Syria’s opposition: Embracing change

Can Syria’s fractious opposition unite against the regime of Bashar al-Assad?

Seeking a united front against President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian opposition groups are struggling to shape a new leadership to help end the 20-month crisis.

The international community came up with the Seif plan and they said ‘you need to support this initiative and you have to come’ They are imposing and they are enforcing the SNC to join the Seif initiative but that is repeating the same mistakes of the SNC.

–  Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian National Council member

The Syrian National Council (SNC) and other exiled opposition groups have been meeting in Qatar’s capital, Doha, to thrash out what is being called the Syrian National Initiative.

The SNC, once seen as the leading representative of the opposition, is now perceived by the West as dominated by out-of-touch exiles and has come under increasing pressure to accept a unity plan.

The initiative is intended to bring together different military and political groups to form a credible alternative to the al-Assad government. This new body would then serve as a single point of contact for Western and Gulf allies.

The group is said to have around 60 members with the SNC making up about one-third of these and the rest would be drawn from 14 local councils in Syria, the National Kurdish Council, other opposition groups on the ground, and so-called independent personalities.

We need to absolutely debunk the myth that the SNC and this [Seif] initiative is at odds with each – nothing could be further from the truth. The founding members of the SNC are at the core group of the initiative and it is precisely because the SNC has unfortunately not been able to bring together all of the Syrian opposition under one umbrella that Riad Seif took this initiative for the past few months.

– Yaser Tabbara, an adviser to the Seif Initiative

The commission would then form a temporary government, a military council, and a legal committee.

Attention has also been focused on the man at the heart of the change – the Syrian National Council’s recently elected, new leader. George Sabra is a prominent Christian opposition figure and an outspoken critic of al-Assad, who was jailed for eight years by the president’s father and was detained twice after the Syrian uprising erupted. 

Meanwhile, on the ground inside Syria, there was no let-up in violence on Saturday. Forces loyal to al-Assad suffered a new blow as two suicide car bombings struck an officers’ club in Deraa, cradle of the nearly 20-month-old uprising.

The attacks killed 20 soldiers and possibly many more, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the UK-based watchdog group.

In this episode of Inside Syria, we look at how the different opposition groups are trying to find their place in a changing political landscape.

Presenter Stephen Cole is joined by guests: Yaser Tabbara, an adviser to the Seif Initiative, which is the name of the plan to unite the Syrian opposition; Radwan Ziadeh, a member of the Syrian National Council; and ambassador Jon Wilks, the British envoy to the Syrian opposition.

“We congratulate George Sabra on being elected leader of the SNC, he’s got an incredible challenge in this job of showing leadership to the SNC but also within the negotiations over the Syrian National Initiative to succeed in producing a body that can convince Syrians that they are being fully represented … we have to be honest, there are a large number of Syrians who are neither with the regime nor active with the opposition.”

Jon Wilks, the British envoy to the Syrian opposition

Editor’s note: Shortly after this episode of  Inside Syria aired, Syrian opposition groups meeting in the Qatari capital have signed an initial agreement to form a united group called the Syrian National Coalition. Details of the agreement are still being negotiated.