Media Coverage

Syrian opposition discusses post-Assad transition in Istanbul

Posted by on Jun 30, 2013 in main_page, Press | Comments Off on Syrian opposition discusses post-Assad transition in Istanbul

Syrian opposition discusses post-Assad transition in Istanbul

A group of senior figures representing a large spectrum of the Syrian opposition gathered to build consensus on a post-Assad Syria at a conference in İstanbul on Monday.

Titled “Managing the Transition in Syria: Challenges and a Vision for the Future,” the gathering seeks to unify the views among the Syrian opposition regarding a democratic transition following the potential fall of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The conference is being organized for the first time by the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies (SCPSS) and will last for three days from Oct. 29-31 at the Eser Diamond Hotel and Convention Center.

According to information obtained by Today’s Zaman, approximately 230 participants, including political and opposition leaders and activists from all political parties, attended the first day of the conference. Al Jazeera, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) and the İhlas news agency are among the media organizations that followed the conference the first day.

The conference is also expected to host senior figures of the Syrian opposition, including Abdul Basit Sida, the head of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition group seeking the ousting of Assad, and former Syrian Prime Minister Dr. Riad Hijab, who recently defected from the Syrian regime.

“Day after day, Syrians come to realize that the overthrow of the Assad regime is a necessity, no matter the human and material cost,” Dr. Radwan Ziadeh, executive director of SCPSS, told Today’s Zaman.

Ziadeh added that the need for considering the transitional period has grown increasingly great now that large swaths of Syrian territory are no longer under control of the Assad regime, including several crossings along the Turkish and Iraqi borders. “It is imperative that Syrians build a central authority capable of managing newly liberated territory in the transitional period,” said Ziadeh.

A number of leaders and members of the SNC, the Kurdish National Council, the Assyrian Democratic Organization, the Damascus Declaration, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, the Syrian Scholars Commission, representatives from local coordinating committees and other political powers inside and outside Syria, defected Syrian ambassadors, and a number of other former Syrian diplomats are also expected to attend the conference.

Leaders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the most prominent of several armed groups fighting to overthrow Assad, and other armed battalions are also included in the attention-grabbing participants expected at the conference.

A number of local civil administration council leaders from Aleppo, Homs, Deir al-Zor, Idlib and a suburb of Damascus are also among those listed as participants.

Conference attendees are scheduled to discuss several topics, including constitutional, legal, political and administrative reform, electoral law and mechanisms for activating and organizing the public, civil and political participation, reforming security services and building a modern national army during the workshops taking place on Tuesday. Unlike the first and third day of the conference, the sessions on this day will be closed off to the press. The results of the gathering will be discussed at a press conference at the end of the day on Wednesday.

Recently, a group from the Syrian opposition also gathered in Ankara to present their plan for the transition era, titled “The Day After: Supporting a Democratic Transition in Syria.” Approximately 70 participants, including diplomats, academics, government officials and members of the press, attended the meeting, which was hosted by the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM).

Sunday’s Zaman

Istanbul Meet Urges Unity

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Istanbul Meet Urges Unity

Nearly 150 members of the Syrian opposition met in Istanbul yesterday for the beginning of a three-day conference to focus on “transitional governance and management after the downfall of the [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad regime.” The members, from many different rebel groups, emphasized “the need to stand together against the al-Assad regime,” during the meeting in Istanbul.

Abdul Hakim Bashar, the head of the Kurdish National Council of Syria, said the meeting was part of an unarmed struggle against al-Assad to act in accordance with the Syrian National Council.

“We Kurds are against al-Assad two times more than the opponent Syrian Arabs since we faced his atrocities for being Kurds and for being opponents. But al-Assad is trying to divide the opposition movement in this manner by using this ethnic and religious diversity in the country. He is trying to use Kurds as a trump card,” Bashar said in reference to recent reports that Kurds and rebels are fighting with each other in Syria.

Fears of a new front have risen as Syrian fighters reportedly clashed with a group of Kurdish militia members on Oct. 28 in the northern city of Aleppo. Bashar said the situation was unclear and only al-Assad would benefit from these kinds of clashes.

When Bashar was asked the why the cease-fire for Eid al-Adha failed, he said they knew both sides would not faithfully comply as they were fiercely divided.

“There are countless sides in this war. It was already impossible to stick to this cease-fire in the beginning. Both al-Assad and the Free Syrian Army have many parts inside acting without a proper decision-making mechanism,” Bashar said.

The conference, which was organized by the Washington D.C.-based think tank the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies (SCPSS), aimed to provide a space for the Syrian opposition to build a common vision regarding transitional governance and management after “the downfall of the al-Assad regime.”

The Kurdish National Council, the Syrian National Council, the Damascus Declaration, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, the Free Syrian Army and local coordinating committees and administration council leaders from within Syria were among those who participated in the conference.

30 October 2012

Turkish Weekly

Syrian opposition to form government in exile

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Syrian opposition to form government in exile

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – More than 200 members of various Syrian opposition groups, following a three-day conference in Istanbul, issued a general declaration agreeing to form a “government in exile” in preparation for the transitional phase in Syria.

Syrian political and military opposition figures, from inside the country and abroad, responded to an invitation from the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies [SCPSS] to participate in a conference to discuss how to manage the post-Assad transitional stage in the country. This three-day conference, which began on Monday and ended with the agreement to form a transitional government in exile, was entitled “Managing the Transition in Syria: Challenges and a Vision for the Future”.

The participants issued a statement following the three-day conference announcing that “the conference agreed on the need to put aside our ideological differences to agree on creating a government in exile.”

The statement added “it would be in the form of a transitional government to grab more political support from the international and Arab community, in order to support the revolution.”

The declaration was signed by the SNC, FSA, Kurdish National Council, Damascus Declaration, Muslim Brotherhood and Syrian Revolution General Commission, amongst others.

The declaration was read by SCPSS Executive Officer Dr. Radwan Ziadeh. He said “all the attendees, who represent all the political parties of Syria, agreed that a general assembly should be held and from this, the general assembly-in-exile will be elected. Such a general assembly should be held inside Syria in liberated areas, if possible. If not, a preparation committee can look for other options, such as other countries.”

For his part, SCPSS President Dr. Osama Kadi, speaking during the opening ceremony of this conference, asserted that it would not be easy to implement the transition in Syria without working out a clear vision for the future of Syria, placing the country on the path to political change.

The conference attendants focused on the importance of planning for the transitional stage, particularly as major parts of the country have been liberated from the grip of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, most importantly the border crossings, which have high strategic importance, particularly in terms of national sovereignty. The conference attendants agreed that this is something that necessitates the establishment of a central authority that is able to manage the transitional stage on the basis of the two agreements reached by the Syrian opposition during the July Cairo Conference. The July Cairo Conference resulted in two major agreements, namely a national charter, as well as an agreement on the features of a post-Assad transition stage.

Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, SNC-member Luay Safi stressed that “this conference is the culmination of previous efforts to develop a detailed plan for the transitional stage.” He added “the conference’s importance lies in the efforts to reach an understanding among the revolutionary and political forces regarding the broad outlines for this plan, which was developed in Istanbul four months ago and was submitted to the Friends of Syria conference.”

He asserted that “we are focusing on four central points; firstly, how to politically run the transitional stage; secondly, how to achieve transitional justice; thirdly, how to achieve security; finally, how to run the national economy during this stage.”

The SNC member also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “efforts are being made, during this conference, to develop this 16-page plan in a way that satisfies all attendants.”

He added “we will attempt to examine the details of each point and to seek to achieve a political and military consensus on everything.”

For his part, FSA Joint Command spokesman, Fahd al-Masri, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the conference’s main objective is to “seek to expand the consensus on the operational mechanisms for the transitional and democratic stages.”

He also revealed that “there will also be preparation for a future conference, which will be attended by all components of the Syrian opposition, which will be transformed into a revolutionary parliament.”

He added that this revolutionary parliament “will establish a Higher Council to Protect the Revolution…as previously presented in plans put forward by the FSA Joint Command.”

The FSA spokesman stressed that “one of the main tasks of this Higher Council will be to restructure the regime’s military and security establishments, with the FSA absorbing all those who wish to carry weapons.”

Al-Masri also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “it would be a grave mistake to wait for the collapse of the regime and then to build these establishments” adding “these establishments should be ready and prepared from the first moment following the collapse of the regime.”

He said “as for the transitional government, it will come to light following the establishment of the Higher Council to Protect the Revolution.”

According to the organizers, the “Managing the Transition in Syria: Challenges and a Vision for the Future” conference was attended by more than 150 Syrian opposition political leaders and activists who belong to various political trends. SCPSS revealed that representatives of the SNC, Kurdish National Council, Assyrian Organization, Damascus Declaration, Muslim Brotherhood, Syrian Revolution General Commission, Local Coordination Committees, Levant Scholars Commission, and others attended the opposition conference. A number of senior political figures who defected from the al-Assad regime, including former Prime Minister Riad Hijab and various former Syrian ambassadors, also participated in the conference in addition to former Syrian diplomats and FSA and opposition brigade commanders.

 

Asharq Al-Awsat

Syrian opposition group tells U.S. to stay out of internal politics

Posted by on Jun 30, 2013 in Press | Comments Off on Syrian opposition group tells U.S. to stay out of internal politics

By Roy Gutman | McClatchy Newspapers

 

ISTANBUL — A U.S. decision to de-recognize a Syrian exile umbrella group and to propose a new political forum – and even who should be on it – drew an angry response from opposition figures Thursday, who charged that Washington was trying to impose its will on them while passively watching the bombardment of cities and towns by the Assad regime.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that the United States would no longer view the Syrian National Council “as the visible leader” of the opposition and said she had “recommended names and organizations which we believe should be included in any leadership structure.”

“The politics of the United States are very, very bad, very stupid,” said Mohammed Sarmini, spokesman for the Syrian National Council, whose 310 members represent most of the major parties and organizations in exile. “This may be an American project, but it is very offensive to the Syrian people. You should support us on the ground, not get into our politics.”

A respected Syrian scholar who heads a Washington think tank was equally critical.

“I think that no country . . . can interfere or can impose the leaders on the Syrian opposition,” said Radwan Ziadeh, executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, who’s also a Syrian National Council member. “I call on the international community to back and support the Syrian opposition groups so they can organize themselves, not to interfere in the different groups.”

The U.S. move came on the eve of a conference in Doha, Qatar, where the Syrian National Council, known as the SNC, plans to elect a new board and restructure itself, then later meet with other groups not under its umbrella and forge a common strategy. The meetings coincide with the U.S. presidential election.

Clinton said she had consulted European allies and members of the Arab League before reaching the decision, but there were signs that the Obama administration may be out of touch with Syrian exile politics.

Just as Clinton was speaking in Zagreb, Croatia, to reporters accompanying her on a two-day swing through the Balkans, Ziadeh was wrapping up a three-day conference in an Istanbul suburb where all the Syrian opposition parties reached accord on a plan leading to a transitional government.

In her remarks, Clinton disparaged the SNC as “people who have many good attributes but have, in many instances, not been inside Syria for 20, 30 or 40 years.” She called for representation of those “who are on the frontlines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom.”

In fact, dozens of military and civilian personnel from inside Syria took part in Ziadeh’s conference, including representatives of “every military command, without exception,” he said. They included Abdel Rizaq Tlass, the founder of the powerful Farouk Brigade in Homs, Lt. Ammar al-Wawi, leader of the Ababil Battalion in Aleppo, and Col. Afif Suleiman, head of the revolutionary council in Idlib.

The three-day conference was said to be the biggest and most inclusive gathering of its kind. There were more than 20 officers and fighters from the armed resistance in attendance, some 70 civilian activists from inside Syria, and representatives of 18 political parties and factions.

They reached accord in four major areas, the most important of which is probably the plan for a transitional government. The accord calls for an assembly of 300 Syrians, to be held inside the country if possible, to elect the government. Most of the participants would be from the inside, intended to give the legitimacy that many transitional governments do not have.

 

One-quarter of the participants would represent the municipal councils set up to run liberated areas, one-quarter from the armed resistance groups, one-quarter of state bureaucrats who have defected to the opposition and one-quarter from the Syrian National Council.

Other points agreed to at the meeting were to build a new constitution, based on the 1950 constitution, which put heavy stress on civil rights; to institute an election law that provides for multiple parties and a parliamentary system; to institute a new national security administration and to make it a constitutional requirement that the military stays out of politics.

Based on the conclusions reached by Ziadeh’s group, which were to be ratified by the SNC and the other groups next week, there is now a question whether the action announced by Clinton will unite the opposition – against U.S. pressure – or carve a new fissure.

For months, as the bloodshed continued in Syria, American officials have been elusive and avoided media inquiries.

Haynes Mahoney, the former deputy chief of mission in Damascus, who closely follows Syrian refugee affairs from Istanbul, attended part of the first day of the Ziadeh conference but was otherwise absent. Mahoney told a McClatchy reporter Monday that he is under orders not to talk with the news media, except off the record and then only with express permission from the State Department. McClatchy requested a talk with Mahoney in early October but was turned down three weeks later.

Similarly, Robert Ford, the former ambassador to Syria and now the main point man in Washington, has declined to give interviews to a McClatchy reporter for several months.

But it appears that the U.S. officials also don’t have a lot of contact with respected opposition figures. Ziadeh said he was not sure whether the United States had actually drafted the plan for the opposition or had bought into a new plan drafted by Riad Seif, a prominent dissident who left Syria earlier this summer after a decade of house arrest and jail.

Seif’s plan is to create a council of 51, which might turn into a transitional government, Ziadeh said.

The humanitarian situation in Syria is now one of if not the worst crisis on Earth. Officially the death toll is stated at 30,000 to 35,000. But a European diplomat in Istanbul who closely monitors the war and humanitarian aid efforts estimates the actual death toll at more than 100,000, a number with which reputable Syrian opposition figures agree. U.S. officials say they wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers are higher than 30,000.

The 100,000 figure is based on an estimate of the number of people who have been forcibly “disappeared” and on the existence of what the European diplomat said were believed to be mass graves.

Reputable opposition groups say the Syrian government has arrested 92,000 people on political charges.

The U.N. High Commission for Refugees on Thursday estimated that 360,000 Syrians had fled abroad and sought to register as refugees, but the real number is more than double that, more than 700,000.

No international organization seems to have a handle on the internally displaced, that is, civilians either living in the open or forced to live in the dwellings of friends or relatives. The official U.N. estimate is 1.2 million, but a respected Syrian diplomat, who defected to the opposition, says it could be as high as 10 million.

Email: rgutman@mcclatchydc.com

Experts divided on number of Syrians in need of shelter, food

Posted by on Jun 30, 2013 in Press | Comments Off on Experts divided on number of Syrians in need of shelter, food

Experts divided on number of Syrians in need of shelter, food
By Roy Gutman | McClatchy Newspapers

ISTANBUL — Syria’s humanitarian crisis is rapidly worsening and may be much larger than the United Nations. and major governments are describing it, according to diplomats and officials of U.N. organizations.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the organization’s refugee agency, estimated last week that 360,000 Syrians had fled the country, but a UNHCR official told McClatchy that the number may be double that, more than 700,000, including 150,000 Syrians who’ve sought refuge in Egypt, a nation that shares no borders with Syria.

After months in which international aid groups wondered why there were so few refugees, the numbers are increasing fast. As of Friday, 280,000 Syrians had completed the registration process with UNHCR, more than 10 times the number on April 1.

How many people are displaced in Syria remains uncertain, bedeviling efforts to plan to assist them. In addition to those who’ve fled the country, the U.N. estimates that 1.2 million Syrians are in camps or other people’s homes, but still in the country. The Syrian government estimates the number at 3 million, and a respected Syrian opposition spokesman says it could be three times that.

The United States has offered no estimate of its own, saying it’s taking its lead from the United Nations.

“The crisis in Syria in humanitarian terms is very, very serious, certainly one of the top humanitarian priorities we have in the world,” Kelly Clements, a deputy assistant secretary of state, told McClatchy.

Clements said the administration hadn’t asked U.S. intelligence agencies to come up with an independent assessment of the humanitarian crisis. Producing a U.S. estimate “would not be something we’ve done in any crisis over decades of experience,” she said. ”We back up the (U.N.) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.”

Others question the U.N. estimate of internally displaced, noting that such people traditionally have been undercounted in conflicts because many stay in the homes of relatives and friends or in isolated areas. The U.N. now has a special rapporteur for internally displaced people and it makes use of assessments from a special monitoring group in Geneva. But with limited or no access, it can only make an educated guess.

 

“How can anyone come up with a figure in the country as it stands?” said Frank Smith, a spokesman for the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, the group that helps the U.N. count such populations.

“We looked at patterns of movement, at population densities, and extrapolated from that. It is a soft figure,” he said. He called the U.N. figure of 1.2 million low and said his group now used 1.5 million. But that number, too, is likely to be inaccurate and a new assessment is under way, but it won’t be complete until early next year.

He said his organization had asked the Syrian government how it reached its estimate of 3 million.

“Winter can be quite cruel in parts of Syria,” he said. “People who have lost all their possessions, whose livelihoods are gone, will be increasingly beholden on humanitarian aid. The death toll from bombs and bullets is one thing. The death tolls from chronic diseases, child mortality, lack of prenatal and postnatal care, the old and the vulnerable, who won’t have access to the necessary warmth – it is a terrible situation.”

 

A prominent opposition spokesman, Mohammad Bassam Imadi, formerly the Syrian ambassador to Sweden, estimates the internally displaced as high as 10 million. Imadi, who stays in close touch with the rebel leadership in Syria, said he’d reached that figure by looking at the populations of major cities under bombardment and trying to guess how many residents remained.

In Aleppo, he said, only 500,000 of the city’s former population of 4 million remain in their homes. He estimated that half of the 6 million residents of greater Damascus have fled and that the population of Homs had been reduced to 100,000 from 1 million. In many other cities, he said, no more than half the inhabitants remain.

Imadi launched a new organization early this month to funnel aid to municipal authorities, making a presentation Oct. 2 before senior U.S. and other diplomats in Istanbul. He and several colleagues described the situation as catastrophic.

Other respected Syrian human rights figures, such as Radwan Ziadeh, of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said Imadi’s figure showed “some exaggeration.” Ziadeh estimated the displaced at 2.5 million.

Clements said the number of internally displaced people was “very dynamic,” and she preferred to focus on a U.N. estimate of the number of civilians it’s trying to reach, some 2.5 million, both displaced and just those in need of assistance.

“We tend, for inside Syria, to use the U.N. figure as definitive for now. That doesn’t mean it will not change,” she said.

Email: rgutman@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @RoyGutmanMCC

Syrian rebels launch initiative for a general assembly

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Syrian rebels launch initiative for a general assembly
Erdem Güneş
erdem.gunes@hdn.com.tr
 

More than 200 members of Syrian opposition groups issued a declaration today in Istanbul promising “a general assembly” to rule liberated areas of Syria.

“We announce here that revolution will no doubt succeed with all the sacrifices the Syrian people have made, despite the fact that they are being let down by the international community. But we believe in our ability to liberate most Syrian areas; we have already managed to liberate many areas, including the countryside of Damascus. From there arose the need to administer those liberated areas; to provide civilians security and stability and to provide their basic needs. Therefore the conference agreed on the need to set aside our ideological differences to agree on creating a general assembly-in-exile. It would be in the form of a transitional general assembly to grab more political support from the international and Arab community, in order to support the revolution,” the declaration read.

The declaration was written by consensus between the Free Syrian Army, Syrian National Council, Kurdish National Council, Damascus Declaration, Muslim Brotherhood and Syrian Revolution General Commission. Local coordinating committees and administration council leaders from within Syria participated in the conference.

The declaration was read by Radwan Ziadeh, the head of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies (SCPSS).

“All the attendees, who represent all the political parties of Syria, agreed that a general assembly should be held and from this, the general assembly-in-exile will be elected. Such a general assembly should be held inside Syria in liberated areas if possible. If not, a preparation committee can look for other options, such as other countries,” Ziadeh said.

The opposition has already formed a preparatory committee to investigate the feasibility of an election.
Ziadeh said many countries, including France, some Arab countries and others, have called the Syrian opposition to form a transitional general assembly to be recognized. “That’s what we are trying to do.”

Syria’s defected ambassador to Belarus, Farouk Taha, told the Hürriyet Daily News that 300 representatives from all Syrian provinces are expected to attend that assembly. “We hope to do it inside Syria.”

Dr. Osama Qadi, another official from the think tank SCPSS, said the timing for launching the assembly was unclear.

The three-day conference focused on “transitional governance and management after the downfall of the [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad regime.”

October/31/2012

Hürriyet Daily News

Istanbul meet urges unity

Posted by on Jun 30, 2013 in Press | Comments Off on Istanbul meet urges unity

Istanbul meet urges unity
By Erdem Güneş
erdem.gunes@hdn.com.tr
 

Nearly 150 members of the Syrian opposition met in Istanbul yesterday for the beginning of a three-day conference to focus on “transitional governance and management after the downfall of the [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad regime.” The members, from many different rebel groups, emphasized “the need to stand together against the al-Assad regime,” during the meeting in Istanbul.

Abdul Hakim Bashar, the head of the Kurdish National Council of Syria, said the meeting was part of an unarmed struggle against al-Assad to act in accordance with the Syrian National Council.

“We Kurds are against al-Assad two times more than the opponent Syrian Arabs since we faced his atrocities for being Kurds and for being opponents. But al-Assad is trying to divide the opposition movement in this manner by using this ethnic and religious diversity in the country. He is trying to use Kurds as a trump card,” Bashar said in reference to recent reports that Kurds and rebels are fighting with each other in Syria.

Fears of a new front have risen as Syrian fighters reportedly clashed with a group of Kurdish militia members on Oct. 28 in the northern city of Aleppo. Bashar said the situation was unclear and only al-Assad would benefit from these kinds of clashes.

When Bashar was asked the why the cease-fire for Eid al-Adha failed, he said they knew both sides would not faithfully comply as they were fiercely divided.

“There are countless sides in this war. It was already impossible to stick to this cease-fire in the beginning. Both al-Assad and the Free Syrian Army have many parts inside acting without a proper decision-making mechanism,” Bashar said.

The conference, which was organized by the Washington D.C.-based think tank the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies (SCPSS), aimed to provide a space for the Syrian opposition to build a common vision regarding transitional governance and management after “the downfall of the al-Assad regime.”

The Kurdish National Council, the Syrian National Council, the Damascus Declaration, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, the Free Syrian Army and local coordinating committees and administration council leaders from within Syria were among those who participated in the conference.

October/30/2012

Hürriyet Daily News

Syrian opposition to form gov’t

Posted by on Jun 30, 2013 in Press | Comments Off on Syrian opposition to form gov’t

Syrian opposition groups on Wednesday issued a declaration during a conference in Istanbul to form a government in exile.

The government will be established to rule the areas of Syria under its control and to win support from the international community.

More than 200 members has participated the three-day conference.

The conference focuses on transitional governance and management after the downfall of the al-Assad’s regime.

The head of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies (SCPSS) Radwan Ziadeh says civilians in “liberated areas” inside Syria are in great need of a government to provide basic needs.

And he adds a general assembly-in-exile will be elected.

SOUNDBITE: (ENGLISH) RADWAN ZIADEH, Head of SCPSS:
“All the attendees, who represent all the political parties of Syria, agreed that a general assembly should be held and from this, the general assembly-in-exile will be elected. Such a general assembly should be held inside Syria in liberated areas if possible.”

Meanwhile, a preparatory committee has been formed to investigate the feasibility of an election.

He also adds that France and some Arab countries have urged the Syrian opposition to form a transitional general assembly.

However, another official from SCPSS says it is still unclear when the assembly will be launched.

———————

CNC report from Silivri, Turkey

US seeks more inclusive, effective opposition as step toward a democratic Syria

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US seeks more inclusive, effective opposition as step toward a democratic Syria

The United States is withdrawing its support for a leading Syrian dissident group in an attempt to forge a more to a more representative, inclusive and effective opposition coalition.

The Istanbul-based Syrian National Council is too dominated by exiles and expatriates, while endemic factionalism has undermined its credibility, administration officials suggest.

“We’ve made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition,” said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “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.”

Washington wants to see a more cohesive opposition movement that better represents the country’s diverse ethnic and confessional groups and includes more of the rebel combatants confronting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on the ground.

“This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but have, in many instances, not been in Syria for 20, 30, 40 years,” said Clinton. “There has to be a representation of those who are on the front lines fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom.”

Analysts believe that the Obama administration is “laying the groundwork for international recognition of an opposition government,” The Washington Post reports.

But a senior U.S. official said that “we’re still quite a ways from that.” Instead, the official said, the new group will have a “political outreach function,” to build “basic credibility” among Syrian fence-sitters and regime supporters, and an “administrative function,” including the provision of services such as electricity, organized with U.S. and other outside help.

Some might say that “it is too late in coming,” the senior U.S. official said. “A lot of people have been killed, and it’s tragic. But the Syrian revolution itself is changing,” as territory has been overtaken by rebels, indigenous local leadership has developed, and opposition has grown against “a regime that has decided to shoot at unarmed civilians and now uses indiscriminate air power.”

“Would it have been nice if the opposition was more organized four or five months ago? Yes,” the official said. “But what’s going to stem the violence is when those in Syria who still support the Assad regime tell it this isn’t working and it has to go.”

Administration disenchantment with the SNC grew in the summer, the official said, when it became clear that the exile-dominated group was more interested in its own leadership squabbles than in building support inside Syria.

A strategic reorganization may benefit those moderate opposition factions who are at risk of being marginalized by Salafist and violent takfiri elements, according to an analyst who attended a recent Istanbul conference on “Managing the Transition in Syria,” which was attended by more than 80 rebel commanders and in-country civil society activists, and sponsored by the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a think tank headed by activist-intellectual Radwan Ziadeh (above, far left).*

“Developments in the coming week may, I repeat may, finally produce a leadership council composed largely of internal activists that could overtake the SNC and be recognized internationally as a transitional government,” writes Trudy Rubin,  who recently returned from the meeting.

Following this weekend’s SNC forum in Doha, Qatar, a further meeting will include delegates from revolutionary councils and coordinating committees in liberated areas, she notes, while expressing concern that pro-democracy factions are losing ground to radical Islamist elements as a consequence of Western democracies’ reluctance to provide more substantial assistance to the opposition:

“If the Americans and the West won’t help us with humanitarian aid, medicine, and setting up new institutions, the Salafis and al-Qaeda will be shored up,” I was told by Ali Badran, a lawyer and human-rights activist from Tal Rifaat, a suburb of Aleppo that has been bombed and shelled by the Assad government. “The Salafis have money and provide services,” he continued, “so the Syrian people will be sympathetic, and this will be a very big threat.”

The U.S administration’s fresh attempt to engage provincial and community opposition leaders within Syria is “a big step that they should have been doing a long time ago,” Andrew J. Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, tells the Post:

But he and others said they remained skeptical that the still-fractured Syrian opposition could work in unity.

Another “big question,” Tabler said, is whether military and political opposition factions inside Syria have melded to the point that they can no longer be separated to conform with U.S. policy needs. Rebel military leaders are not invited to the Qatar gathering.

“They are drawing a distinction between unarmed and armed opposition,” Tabler said, “and it’s harder to draw that distinction any longer.”

Other members of the Friends of Syria group, including Qatar and Turkey, will continue to recognize and support the SNC as the leading opposition group, while Washington’s initiative has come under fire from SNC officials:

SNC foreign policy spokesman Radwan Ziadeh, who heads the Washington-based Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, called it a “wrong initiative” and said the “United States is systematically trying to undermine the SNC.”

Leaders at the SNC-supported meeting, said Ziadeh, in a telephone interview from Turkey, agreed Wednesday to hold a “national assembly” within two months inside Syria. He said the SNC was still debating whether to support, or even attend, the U.S.-backed gathering in Qatar.

“The lack of a [US] commitment to military intervention – such as a no-fly zone or airstrikes, but not foreign boots on Syrian soil – is maddening to pro-intervention Syrian opposition figures such as Ammar Abdulhamid, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies,” McClatchy reports:

While Abdulhamid said the Obama administration’s involvement in the Arab protests was “overall a positive one,” Syria is “a nightmare scenario” that was facilitated by government officials’ “lack of resolve, leadership and vision.” Syria, he and other activists say, could end up as a stain on the administration’s otherwise sensible response to the Arab uprisings.

“If they make it through this coming election, I just hope they have plans to give this tragedy the time and resources it requires to be brought to resolution in a manner commensurate with the aspirations of the pro-democracy activists who started this whole thing and were, in effect, betrayed,” Abdulhamid said.

*A former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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Democracy Digest

Mideast poses a big challenge for next president

Posted by on Jun 30, 2013 in Press | Comments Off on Mideast poses a big challenge for next president

Mideast poses a big challenge for next president
By Trudy Rubin, Inquirer Columnist

This week I set off for Turkey, the Turkish border with Syria, and – depending on circumstances – to rebel-controlled areas in Syria. I will continue on to Egypt, where a Muslim Brotherhood president is in charge.

I want to write about some of the toughest foreign-policy challenges facing the next U.S. president. No question, many will originate in Middle Eastern countries. That fact was self-evident at the final presidential debate, where the sparring largely focused on how to handle the negative fallout from the Arab Spring.

Two years on, the demise of Mideast dictators and rise of “democracy” have produced a handful of elected Islamic governments with harder-line militants pressing from the right. Meanwhile, the Syrian uprising has deteriorated into an ugly sectarian war that is spreading across the region, drawing in Sunni jihadis along with Iranian weapons and fighters.

Casting a shadow over it all, the nuclear program of Iran’s ayatollahs could suck us into another Mideast war. On the other hand, if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad falls, it could undermine his closest ally – Tehran.

So the next president will have to manage a bad Mideast situation and try to prevent it from deteriorating further (in hopes that the region will settle down over the next decade). On both counts, U.S. policy toward Syria and Egypt will be key.

Egypt is the test case on whether Washington can work with newly elected Islamic governments, whose outlook and values differ from ours, but with whom we do share some key interests. It will also test whether we can help disorganized Arab democrats without nurturing illusions about our capacity for social engineering. These are questions I’ll be asking members of President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, as well as unhappy opposition activists, who fear the Islamists will produce a new variant of authoritarian regime.

In Turkey and along the Syrian border, I’ll be looking at what can (or can’t) be done to bring the Syrian civil war to a quicker and less disastrous conclusion. Can we help the more pragmatic Syrian factions shape the transition that will follow Assad’s fall?

I’ll be attending an opposition conference in Istanbul run by the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, headed by intellectual and activist Radwan Ziadeh. Its goal: to encourage a wide spectrum of civilian and military activists from inside and outside Syria to hammer out a plan for how to lead Syria through a transition to a new era.

The failure of the fractious and divided opposition to unify around one set of political leaders has complicated the task of aiding them. Despite continuous U.S. pressure, exiled leaders were slow to reach out to rebels on the ground, which prevented the establishment of a government-in-exile.

The Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on nonviolent protesters spawned a military rebellion that has produced hundreds of Sunni village militias that are now pitted against thuggish militias from Assad’s Alawite (Shiite) sect. Into this maelstrom have rushed Sunni jihadis from other countries, including elements of al-Qaeda.

The war will end, the Obama administration says, only when a credible opposition leadership reaches out to key Syrian communities that still support Assad – such as Alawites, Christians, and wealthy Sunni merchants. U.S. officials believe those communities might withdraw their support, precipitating Assad’s fall, if they were assured they’d have a future in a post-Assad Syria. Right now they fear they’d be driven out (or worse) by leaders of a new Islamic state.

With its focus on a political strategy, U.S. aid to the opposition has been limited to nonlethal assistance (such as communications equipment) to nonviolent groups within and outside the country.

President Obama contends that giving the rebels antitank or antiaircraft weapons risks having those weapons fall into the hands of jihadi militias. To create a no-fly zone over rebel-held areas, as demanded by some Republican hawks, would require massive use of NATO airpower to suppress extensive Syrian air defenses – something neither presidential candidate wants to do.

Obama’s critics argue that the administration should have put more effort, earlier, into identifying which groups it could work with, and given them the heavy weapons they needed to fend off Syrian planes and tanks that massacre civilians. This would allow the rebels to create a de facto no-fly zone.

Otherwise, argue Syrian activists, weapons supplied by Gulf states and private Arab businessmen will flow primarily to hard-line Islamists, who will be in position to take control once Assad falls.

I’ve made the latter case in my column. So I’m eager to test it in conversations with militia leaders and members of civilian councils in areas along the Syrian border with Turkey, where Assad has lost control. I recognize the limits to what can be learned from talking with rebels in one area of the country. But I’m still eager to observe the relative strength of pragmatists and hard-line Islamists in the “liberated” belt of northeastern Syria.

After all, one of the first tests a new president will face will be how to speed the end of a Syrian crisis that could further radicalize the whole region – and whether it’s possible to prevent Syria from becoming yet another troubled Islamic state.

 


E-mail Trudy Rubin at trubin@phillynews.com.