News

    Syria Opposition Struggles to Overcome Rifts

    Human rights activist Haitham al Maleh reluctantly concludes there is no choice but to arm the rebel Free Syrian Army, in Cairo, Egypt, March 6, 2012.
    Human rights activist Haitham al Maleh reluctantly concludes there is no choice but to arm the rebel Free Syrian Army, in Cairo, Egypt, March 6, 2012.
    Elizabeth Arrott

    Members of Syria's opposition are downplaying a rift in their ranks, but acknowledge problems within the Syrian National Council. Some of the main opposition group's more outspoken members have been talking about the ways they think are best to proceed.

    Main Opposition Groups

    • Syrian National Council: Established in Istanbul in October 2011. Members include Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, pro-democracy group Damascus Declaration and Local Coordination Committees.
    • Syrian Patriotic Group: Formed in February 2012 by disaffected SNC members. The group seeks to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad's government.
    • National Coordination Body for Democratic Change: Established in Syria in June 2011 to promote "peaceful" departure of Mr. Assad's government. Members include Arab socialist parties and Kurdish parties.
    • Free Syrian Army: Formed in July 2011 by military defectors. Group initially focused on protecting opposition protesters from attacks by pro-Assad forces but later shifted to offensive operations against government forces.

    Much of the opposition within Syria is fragmented, struggling simply to survive against the onslaught of the Syrian army. Those abroad have for the most part coalesced under the umbrella of the Syrian National Council [SNC], led by the Paris-based academic Burhan Ghalioun. Late last month, however, several prominent SNC members appeared to split from the group over military support for the rebel Free Syrian Army.

    The leader of what was dubbed the Syrian Patriotic Group, long-time human rights activist Haitham al-Maleh, said he did not abandon the SNC, but that the time has come for military action. He argues any healthy opposition has a multitude of voices.

    “The opposition is not one body, one union. But we have one view for the future, so this is very important," said al-Maleh. "Inside the Syrian National Council, there is also some different ideas. In my opinion, Burhan Ghalioun doesn't want to take the hard step to support the [rebel] army by weapons. He doesn't want to play this side, maybe he is afraid. I don't know what his idea is."

    Days later, despite an announcement by Ghalioun that he had formed a military council to work with the rebel army, the SNC leader's intentions remained unclear. The head of the Free Syrian Army said he was not consulted, and other factions of the armed opposition said they would continue to work independently.

    Long-time political activist and SNC member Walid al-Bouni said Ghalioun's move was disingenuous.

    “When you make a military council without making any discussion with other people inside the SNC. All of us, we heard this from the TV.  Do you think that such kind of man is serious for support this Free Army? No, I don't think so,” said al-Bouni.

    Al-Bouni believes the SNC needs a more charismatic leader, and that the group must make more of an effort to bring a broader spectrum of prominent dissidents on board. He said it's “our fault” they have not been able to enlist such figures as Michel Kilo, Aref Dalila, or Suheir Atassi.

    But al-Bouni argues that internal divisions are not so profound as to justify the lack of help and recognition the SNC is getting from the international community in the fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    “They didn't act against him not because the Syrian opposition is not united. I'm not convinced that because of disunity of the Syrian opposition they didn't act until now. They didn't act because they didn't want to act,” said al-Bouni.

    The United States and European nations have been strong in their condemnation of Assad, but like President Barack Obama said again Tuesday, unilateral action against him would be a mistake. With Russia and China opposed to military force, international efforts have been stymied.

    The geopolitics of Syria are far more complex than that of Libya, where NATO played a decisive role. In addition, fears of what could replace the Assad government - from militant Islamists to sectarian strife - also have dampened enthusiasm for intervention.

    Al-Bouni argued that not supporting the Free Syrian Army, though, all but guarantees such an outcome.

    "By saying, like what the United States is saying and others, 'we will not support the Syrian [Free] Army. We will not arm it' -  what we will have? We will have that every Syrian group could have some money from other place, who supports one kind of militia and after Bashar al-Assad, then will be a very big chaos,” said al-Bouni.

    Advocating armed insurrection, even under the unified command of the Free Army, is not something either man takes lightly. Both al-Bouni and al-Maleh have spent decades speaking out for reform and human rights - peaceful ways to ensure human dignity - and have spent years in Syrian prisons for their efforts.

    But al-Maleh sees no other choice.

    “Now we have only one way: to fight, because you know, all the world, the international community, did not do anything until now for Syria," said al-Maleh. "Do we have to stay and wait for more people to be killed for nothing? We know this is the tax for free[dom], but this is a really high tax and the people of Syria want to pay."

    They will not stop, he argued, and neither will the Syrian government.

    Join the conversation on our social journalism site -
    Middle East Voices
    . Follow our Middle East reports on
    Twitter and discuss them on our Facebook page.
    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Igor
    March 07, 2012 7:56 PM
    The rebels are armed gangsters wearing the so-called coats "Freedom fighters" given by the West. They have killed thousands of innocent people and blamed the gorvenment for the killings with the support of Westen media.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora