Weeks after the outset of the uprising, on August 2011, a new coalition named Syrian National Council (SNC) (SNC´s web) emerged as the single and main representative of the Syrian Opposition, following the Libyan example of the National Transitional Council (NTC), a group that gained international recognition as the legitimate governing authority in Libya and acted as such during and after the 2011 Libyan civil war, before handing power to an elected assembly on 8 August (actually, the Council was recognized by the NTC in Libya as the sole legitimate government of Syria).
According to Wikipedia, the SNC was in principle a coalition of Syrian opposition groups (in principle: exiled Syrian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, Damascus Declaration, the Assyrian Democratic Organization, the National Democratic Rally, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, the Supreme Council of the Syrian Revolution, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, the Free Syrian Army and its Higher Military Council, the Syrian Liberation Army, the Coalition of Secular and Democratic Syrians, the Syrian Democratic People’s Party and few Kurdish dissidents ) based in Istanbul that asked for international recognition, but denied seeking to play the role of a government in exile (nowadays, that seems hard to believe, moreover if we take into account France’s Hollande recent statements). The SNC claims to represent approximately 60 percent of the Syrian opposition. As of today, the SNC is recognized in some capacity (main interlocutor, partner in dialogue…) by various states, three of these being permanent members of the Security Council (France, United States, United Kingdom).
However, the SNC has repeatedly had to face internal conflict throughout the last months, in particular the resignation of prominent members, the swap of President (Burhan Ghalioun was forced away and replaced by the Kurdish Abdulbaset Sida, mandated with reforming and restructuring the organization), accusations of corruption, accusations of being controlled in even more than half by Islamists (notably by Muslim Brothers) and accusations of presenting a poor democratic record. The SNC has therefore struggled to become an umbrella for myriad opposition factions, and is thus increasingly given the cold shoulder by both Western governments and Assad’s Syrian foes.
The proof is in eating the pudding. It is not clear which links does the SNC have with the Free Syrian Army. While formally the FSA belongs to the Council, it seems the disconnection between these entities grows by the day. In the beginning, the CNS was set as a Defence Ministry controlling all the movements of the FSA, but Colonel Riyad al-Assad (FSA´s Head) said the group does not want any political interference and has its own military strategy. It is the FSA who is in control of the land conquered by the rebels, and the FSA soldiers are the ones who try to satisfy the population’s basic needs. No trace of the foreign-based opposition, time after time accused of not working with the rebels on the battlefield. The inevitable question arises: who’s going to be in charge of the transition (we all know that moment will come, sooner or later) in view of such disengagement? No wonder the international community feels sometimes like Kissinger trying to call the European Union by phone …
[It seems the SNC´s Chairman denies that vision in a recent interview with El Pais: “The military decisions, defending the Syrians, are both within the FSA’s mission, but the political leadership belongs to the CNS, that is working to win over the international political and economic support for the Syrian revolution. Once the regime is defeated, there will be a transitional phase in which we will travel together to overcome the corresponding issues”.]
Besides, there are other opposition groups. However, even though SNC’s membership does not formally overlap with these, it is clear the surge of new opposition representatives contributes a great deal to the jeopardizing of the cause. One amongst them is the National Coordination Committee for the Forces of Democratic Change, gathering a large proportion of secular political parties and portraying itself as Syria’s “internal opposition” (in contrast to the SNC). We can also find the Syrian National Democratic Council, formed by Rifaat al-Assad, uncle of Bashar al-Assad, as well as the Syrian tribal council, which consists of approximately 40 Arab and Turkmen tribal leaders.
Moreover, there is the Kurdish Supreme Committee. Indeed, and despite having appointed a Kurdish as its chairman, the SNC does not have Kurdish nationalist members. In this respect, Abdulhakim Bashar, Secretary-General of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria, claims the SNC is too “much influenced by Turkey”. The Kurdish Supreme Committee is a governing body of Kurdish-held regions in Syria. As could be witnessed during the July Syrian opposition meeting held in Cairo, the Syrian opposition remains sharply at odds over Kurdish demands for recognition as a distinct people inside Syria, with their own cultural and linguistic rights under some form of “political decentralization”.
Regarding the Muslim Brotherhood’s controversial domination of the SNC, it has to be said that the group has always been incredibly intertwined in Syrian history: it was the brotherhood that was mainly behind the Islamic uprising in Syria between 1976 until 1982 (cause of the Hama massacre). The party is banned in Syria and membership became a capital offence in 1980. Even though, Moulhem Droubi, a senior member of the Brotherhood, says the organisation represents 25% of the Syrian population, the figure is still confronted by many, who think the group seems to be more popular among the exiles. Hassan Hassan clearly shows in his article “Syrians are torn between a despotic regime and a stagnant opposition” that the Brotherhood doesn’t benefit of such a deep integration in the country. “The Brotherhood realizes the limits of its power and seeks to establish levers of influence during the uprising and in the transition period. According to different accounts, the Brotherhood is using its control over the two key offices within the SNC, the aid and military offices, to establish leverage in certain areas and among the Free Syrian Army”. When the opposition group was formed, in the absence of a mechanism to determine the power base of the SNC, it was the Muslim Brotherhood that came to dominate the Council, benefiting from its relations with Turkish AKP and nowadays both Algeria and Egypt’s islamist governments. However, in view of the current discontent, a new arrangement was needed, and both the appointment of a new President not linked with the Brotherhood and the appointment of Lakhdar Brahimi as the new UN-Arab League joint envoy to Syria (I already explained why he is a much better fit), could contribute to the change of tack towards stability and consensus.