Split in the “Coalition”: Reform or coup in Syrian opposition’s main body
Enab Baladi – Diana Rahima
The Syrian opposition’s National Coalition (SNC) expelled members and terminated political blocs last week in what was called a “comprehensive reform process.” However, the move faced rejection and big question marks by large blocs in the main opposition body.
Salem al-Meslet, head of the Syrian Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, also called the Syrian National Coalition, held a press conference on 8 April with a number of Syrian journalists, which was attended by Enab Baladi, along with the head of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), Abdulrahman Mustafa, and the Secretary-General of the National Coalition, Haitham Rahma, and the Secretary of the Political Commission, Abdulmajeed Barakat, in addition to a number of members of the Political Commission and coordinators of committees, departments, and offices.
In the opening statement, al-Meslet talked about several topics, including clarification of the reasons for excluding blocs and members, in addition to links between a Coalition member with the Syrian regime.
The Coalition’s General Assembly approved by its majority the new Internal Statute on 7 April, following in-depth discussions with the components of the Coalition and the revolutionary, political, and military forces and institutions, where the insistence was on achieving real reform and not just a formal amendment, the Coalition said on its official website.
The members of the General Assembly agreed to increase the representation of the Syrian Kurdish Independent Association within the General Assembly from one to three seats.
Members of the General Assembly also voted to terminate the membership of the National Action Movement, the Founding National Bloc, the Revolutionary Movement, and the Independent Kurdish Movement and voted to keep Hisham Marwa and Nasr al-Hariri as independent members.
On 2 April, the Coalition excluded 14 of its members without providing clear information about the reasons for the decision.
The members are Abdullah al-Faraj, Jamal al-Ward, Amal Sheikho, Hatem al-Zaher, Kifah Murad, Jalal Khanji, Abdulmajeed al-Sharif, Ola Abbas, Mohammed Safwan Jandali, Hussein al-Abdullah, Ziad al-Ali, Walid Ibrahim, Mohammed Ayman al-Jamal, and Hassan al-Hashemi.
Sources from the Coalition told Enab Baladi that the 14 members were excluded due to lack of commitment and frequent absences.
SNC’s head justifies action
Al-Meslet said in the press conference that no one in the Coalition is immune from reform and replacement, including the head of the Coalition, in reference to himself.
Al-Meslet referred to what the Minister of Interior in the Interim Government, Mohieddin Harmoush, said during the meetings of the last session No. 61 and in the presence of all members of the Coalition about links between one of the coalition members and the Syrian regime, which is a matter that affects the dignity of all Syrians if we keep silent about, he added.
Al-Meslet said, “It is necessary to reveal who is dealing with the regime, whether he is in this institution or in another institution.”
The SNC head instructed Brigadier General Harmoush to submit the required documents to be combined in a report that will be presented to judges and lawyers from outside the Coalition, in front of journalists, while a national decision will be taken that satisfies everyone, he said.
Regarding the alternatives to the representatives of the excluded blocs, al-Meslet said the Coalition is keen to have new representatives from inside Syria from active, elected, and legitimate components.
He pointed out, in his response to Enab Baladi’s question, that there are central elected unions and elected youth gatherings of large numbers, which will have representation from Syrian communities in Europe and the United States.
The SNC head said that the number of the current members is 61, and with the current changes, it may later reach nearly 100, but with active personalities, as he described it.
Al-Meslet added that it is not possible to accept the dismissal of any effective national figure from this institution.
“There will be a rapprochement between the institution and big figures, whether they are inside or outside this institution within a consultative framework with the institution aimed at strengthening the Coalition.”
Concerning finding alternatives, Abdulmajeed Barakat, the Secretary of the Political Commission, told Enab Baladi that the reform plan approved by the Coalition is an integrated plan.
The new policy plan began nine months ago, with the formation of the Basic Statute Committee, the study of political papers, evaluation, and consultation with the components, and then there were the decisions that were issued by the General Assembly to reach the step taken at the extraordinary meeting of the General Assembly.
According to Barakat, there will be subsequent steps related to expansion, empowerment, teaching legitimacy, enhancing representation, and all related matters.
The Secretary of the Political Commission added that local councils in the north, unions, federations and associations are also among the proposed alternatives.
Barakat pointed to a lengthy conversation with political components outside the Coalition, which have an active and an important role on the Syrian ground.
The SNC’s move did not find a positive echo on social media platforms, as Syrian activists underestimated its importance and feasibility in extricating the Syrian Coalition from what they described as “Inertia,” while the terminated blocs and members mobilized to confront the measures.
The first to oppose was the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which is one of the coalition blocs, as it said in a statement that it later deleted, “The national public opinion in Syria was surprised, as was our group, with a decision issued by the leadership of the (National Coalition for Revolutionary and Opposition Forces), dismissing a few dozen in a way that took place outside the regulatory frameworks agreed upon within this national institution, governed by a consensual internal statute that considers the legal reference for all components, parties, and individuals.”
The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood affirmed “its adherence to all national figures and systems that have been agreed upon.”
It also considered that “It is essential that all decisions issued by national institutions, foremost of which is the coalition, fulfill all their legal entitlements, and that the relationship between all parties and individuals in this leading national institution is based on mutual respect.”
The group added, “We believe that there is still time to rectify this mistake, and therefore we call on the leadership of the (Coalition) to urgently review this decision in accordance with the agreed frameworks and regulations in a way that comforts the national conscience and cuts off the path on ill-intentioned people.”
Reform Movement: “It is a coup”
A group of the Coalition members, calling themselves the Reform Movement, issued a statement describing what happened as a “coup at the hands of a dependent group.”
The Reform Movement demanded “the delegitimization of the group that climbs over the affairs of the (Coalition), and the election of a new national leadership.”
It also called to “let the Syrian people know the intrigues being woven by the dependent group, and expose attempts to impose suspicious agendas and concessions in the negotiations that will be among the most important priorities.”
The newly-formed bloc inside the SNC said, “we will visit the brotherly and friendly countries to explain the miserable conditions of the (Coalition), the state of paralysis it suffers from, the refusal of the dependent group to move to the liberated areas despite the availability of capabilities.”
It added that the Reform Movement members will “expose the corruption that is eating away at the (Interim Government), and its inability to carry out its duties in serving the Syrian people and the displaced in the camps.”
In a second statement following the press conference of the head of the Coalition, the Reform Movement stated that al-Meslet “insisted on fraud and concealment of facts in front of journalists who were invited to the headquarters of the (Coalition) in the presence of members of the dependent group.”
The statement spoke of al-Meslet’s rejection of appeals submitted by the arbitrarily dismissed members and did not acknowledge the existence of a serious legal breach in the procedures described by the movement as “flawed.”
The Reform Movement focused on al-Meslet’s neglect of the reason for dissolving the membership committee and monopolizing its powers, and bypassing the general body of the Coalition, which has jurisdiction and authority.
The statement added that al-Meslet had dodged the immediate demands to form a committee to investigate the statements of the Minister of Interior, Mohieddin Harmoush, regarding the presence of members of the Coalition linked to the Syrian regime.
The movement also talked about al-Meslet’s refusal to complete the transfer of the Coalition to the opposition-held areas in northern Syria, amid his firmness on halting funds allocated to build the new headquarters inside Syria and his will to cancel entry permits of the Coalition members through the border crossings with Turkey.
Change due to regional pressure
Enab Baladi conveyed to Salem al-Meslet, the head of the SNC, questions from the Syrian street that reveal regional pressure on the Coalition or international interventions to implement such measures, which may be linked to Ankara’s rapprochement with Riyadh.
Al-Meslet assured, “there is no state or anyone interfering in the Coalition decisions in regard to the new Internal Statute, adding that the Coalition has not been pressured by any party in its decisions before.”
Abdulmajeed Barakat, the Secretary of the Political Commission, attributed to Enab Baladi the move to “popular pressures from the Syrian street that represent all those we met with inside Syria in all the sub meetings we held, as they always talked about the importance of reforming the Coalition.”
Prior to the recent exclusion measures, the National Coalition consisted of the National Action Movement, the Future Movement, the Independent Kurdish Association, the National Gathering, the Scholars Association, the National Bloc, the Assyrian Organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Kurdish National Council, the Turkmen National Council, the Local Councils, the Tribes and Clans Council, the Revolutionary Movement, the National Movement, the Military Bloc, and the Independents Bloc.
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