Kurd favorite as Syria opposition bloc chooses new chief
The opposition Syrian National Council meets in Istanbul to choose a new leader this weekend with insiders saying Kurdish activist Abdel Basset Sayda has emerged as a consensus candidate.
The SNC, the main group bringing together opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, has struggled to unite regime critics ranging from liberal academics to Islamists, or to gain full legitimacy with activists and rebels inside the country.
The meeting on Saturday and Sunday follows the resignation of Burhan Ghalioun as the SNC’s leader last month, after local activists accused the SNC of monopolizing power and allowing the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood to play too strong a role.
Several leading sources in the SNC said there is a clear consensus for the leadership to go to Sayda, an academic and independent activist born in 1956 in the mostly Kurdish northeastern city of Amouda and currently living in exile in Sweden.
He is a member of the SNC’s executive board, which will vote to choose the new leader, and heads the council’s human rights department.
“I think he can win the agreement of all the component parts of the SNC—he has good relations with everyone,” Paris-based academic George Sabra, a member of the SNC’s executive board, told AFP.
Ghalioun had led by consensus rather than through election since the SNC’s founding last year.
He resigned after the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a network of activists on the ground, threatened to pull out of the SNC over its “monopolization” of power and the Muslim Brotherhood’s strong influence.
“The Brothers remain in favor of Ghalioun but given the evolution of the situation and that the LCC are absolutely opposed to Ghalioun, it is unlikely that some will be able to use their influence so he can keep his post,” said Monzer Makhous, coordinator for the SNC’s external relations in Europe.
“Sayda does not have a lot of political experience, he doesn’t have a long history in the opposition. But someone must be found whom everyone can be happy with,” he said.
Insiders said Sayda’s lack of ties to any particular group and his reputation as a moderate would help him win the post. The nomination of a Kurd would also help the SNC prove it has broad appeal within Syria’s diverse ethnic groups.
“He will profit from his independent status. He is very loyal to Syria and to the Kurdish question, but he is a moderate. It is therefore a message sent to the Kurds and all the minorities,” said the SNC’s external relations chief, Basma Kodmani.
The SNC has been criticized for not representing the full diversity of Arabs, Kurds, Sunni Muslims, Alawites, Christians, Druze and other ethnic and religious groups in Syria.
The group’s next leader will face reforming the council to give it more credibility with domestic opposition activists, the Free Syrian Army and other armed rebels and the international community.
Most opposition forces agreed in March, after difficult negotiations, that the SNC would be the “formal representative” of the Syrian people, despite calls for its restructuring.
The international Friends of Syria group, which seeks to co-ordinate Western and Arab efforts to stop the violence in Syria, has also recognized the SNC as a "legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”
But the group’s leaders admit that much more must be done to cement its legitimacy, with Ghalioun telling AFP last month the SNC was riven with divisions, in particular between Islamists and secular activists.
“We were not up to the sacrifices of the Syrian people. We did not answer the needs of the revolution enough and quickly enough,” Ghalioun said.
“We have to enlarge the SNC’s base... we must work as a team and listen to those inside Syria who want to have more impact on the SNC’s decisions,” said Sabra, who is considered close to domestic opposition activists.