Inside Syria

Syria: An opposition divided

What is the way forward for the Syrian opposition after its failure to unite against the al-Assad regime?

The Syrian opposition, divided by infighting over the last 14 months, now seems in complete disarray.

On the ground, the country’s largest city, Aleppo, has seen its biggest protests yet – led by university students.

Some believe it could be a turning point, but it comes at a time when those who claim to be leading the uprising from outside Syria, the Syrian National Council (SNC), are in absolute chaos.

The mistakes [of the SNC] depend on the ethics, the criteria which they [use to] choose the members … the members are not revolutionaries, [they] haven’t any history in politics, haven’t any history inside Syria. They bring somebody from outside Syria to represent those who live inside Syria. They haven’t the spirit of the revolution and they haven’t any kind of experience in struggle. That’s why we feel the leadership has been stolen, by those not able to lead, to work to be loyal.

– Kamal al-Labwani, a former Syrian National Council member

An Arab League initiative this week in Cairo tried but failed to get all the opposition groups to hammer out their differences.

Also this week, Burhan Ghalioun, the much criticised head of the SNC, was re-elected – which prompted some activists to say they now had two presidents to depose.

And to add to all this, the influential Local Coordination Committees, the key activist network based inside Syria, threatened to leave the SNC, forcing Ghalioun to offer to tender his resignation.

Ghalioun has admitted to the shortcomings of the SNC, saying: “The performance of the Syrian National Council has been weak and below the expectations. Therefore we’ve decided to start a re-structuring process, hoping for better performance and greater efficiency that enables us to support the revolution and help the affected Syrian citizens.”

The SNC, a 300-member council formed last September in Istanbul, is a coalition of seven opposition groups. 

It is made up of the exiled Muslim Brotherhood, dissidents and intellectuals living abroad, some minorities inside Syria, including Kurds and Christians, in addition to the revolutionary youth.

In March, the council set up its military bureau to coordinate the various armed anti-government groups but the main armed group, the Free Syrian Army, rejected the proposal.

The SNC has a secretariat general composed of representatives of the various member groups. They elect a 10-member executive committee and a chairman whose term is renewable every three months.

The council appears to be in need of strong leadership, so who is the best person to lead the SNC? And what is the way forward for the Syrian opposition after its failure to unite against the al-Assad regime?

Inside Syria, with presenter James Bays, discusses with guests: Bassma Kodmani, a senior figure in the Syrian National Council; Kamal al-Labwani, a Syrian opposition activist and a former SNC member; and Joshua Landis, the director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and a writer for Syria Comment – an online newsletter on Syrian politics.



  • A car bomb went off near a Syrian security agency building on Saturday
  • The Syrian government says seven were killed and more than 100 injured in the blast
  • The violence in Syria continues despite a ceasefire and UN monitors on ground
  • Only 200 of a planned 300 UN monitors are deployed in Syria
  • Observers are in Syria to monitor the implementation of a ceasefire plan
  • Kofi Annan’s peace plan aims to end the 14-month long uprising
  • The plan called for a ceasefire which was supposed to begin on April 12
  • Syrian opposition groups cancelled a meeting with the Arab League this week
  • The Syrian National Council, created last year in Istanbul, is a 300-member coalition of seven Syrian opposition groups
  • In February, al-Qaeda leader called on Muslims to join the Syrian uprising