Syrian National Council (SNC) is an alliance of Syrian opposition groups, and a member of the Syrian National Council for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces. Its inclusiveness reflects the depth of opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: Islamists, secular intellectuals, Kurds and young activists all rub elbows in the 350-member body. However, internal fighting in the SNC, and its troubled relationship with other opposition groups, also speak volumes about the fragmented nature of the Syrian opposition as a whole.
Who Are the Members Of the SNC?
SNC was launched in late September 2011, roughly seven months into the Syrian uprising. That the disparate opposition leaders managed to come under one roof was in itself no small feat:
- Secular intellectuals: This is the old school of Syrian opposition politics. Mostly exiled liberals, such as the SNC’s first chairman, Paris-based academic Burhan Ghalioun, and life-long activists for a democratic and secular Syria.
- Islamists: Muslim Brotherhood is the best organized group in the SNC, believed to have good links in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Many secular members feel uneasy about its influence.
- Kurds: The Kurdish minority is itself divided between different groups and individuals, only some of whom have joined the SNC. Others doubt SNC’s commitment to awarding Kurds more cultural and political rights in post-Assad Syria.
- Activists inside Syria: The grassroots organizations behind anti-Assad protests, such as the Local Coordination Committees, are formally part of the SNC, but they continue to work independently.
Does SNC Lead the Syrian uprising?
The answer is an emphatic no. SNC is run by exiles, based mostly in Turkey and France, with little actual control over the events on the ground in Syria. SNC has managed to position itself as the first point of contact for the US government, but it doesn’t direct the protests, nor does it command the armed struggle against the regime.
Moreover, some of the other opposition groups do not trust the SNC and its foreign connections, and many activists inside Syria have been disappointed with the lack of support from the body and what it has achieved on the diplomatic front.
- Read this investigative report by Charlie Skelton on the links between SNC and US establishment, published by The Guardian.
What Exactly Does SNC Want?
Don’t confuse SNC with a political party. It remains what it was set out to be: an umbrella group for various opposition currents to come together and work on removing Assad. As such, SNC struggled to put together a coherent political program, and the statement of principles posted on its website has been quite flexible in practice:
- Foreign intervention: SNC’s manifesto still speaks against military intervention in Syria. In practice, however, the SNC has been skeptical of peace efforts led by ex-UN head Kofi Annan, and has called on the UN Security Council to threaten Assad with the use of force.
- Armed struggle: While initially insisting on peaceful protest, the SNC now gives verbal support to Syria’s armed opposition. However, the rebels in the Free Syrian Army have refused to coordinate or submit to SNC control.
- Democratic Syria: What next for Syria after Assad? There is no real agreement on the role of Islam in the constitution, the rights of the Kurdish minority, changes to the presidential system of government, let alone a blueprint on how to salvage the economy, crippled after decades of mismanagement and corruption.
Can SNC Replace Assad?
Divided by rival personalities and disputes over tactics, the SNC never established itself as the government-in-waiting. The US recognized SNC as the “representative of the Syrian people”, but remains privately wary of whether the body could form an interim government if Assad’s regime fell. This has in turn limited the SNC’s ability to deliver something tangible to Syrians suffering from regime violence and oppression, making its grassroots support inside Syria difficult to gauge.
Conferences are held periodically to unite the Syrian opposition, but rival groups such as the National Coordination Committee have balked at the idea of letting the SNC’s 10-member Executive Committee to speak in the name of the entire Syrian people. Many members of Syria's minorities, such as the Christians and Alawis, see SNC as a body dominated by the Sunni majority, with a conspicuous Islamist presence (read Reuters report on divisions at the July 2012 opposition conference in Cairo).
This lack of trust leaves current SNC chairman Abdulbaset Seyda with plenty of outreach work and house-cleaning before he can claim national legitimacy. At present, there is little that unites the SNC except for the common goal of removing Assad.Go to Current Situation in the Middle East / Syria / Syrian Opposition