- By Sophia Jones<p> Sophia Jones, a former editorial researcher at Foreign Policy, is an Overseas Press Club fellow and freelance journalist based in Cairo. Follow her on Twitter: @Sophia_MJones. </p>
Over the past six months, Syria has erupted into chaos. As protesters took to the streets to demand the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian army and police responded with deadly force: The United Nations now estimates 2,600 people have perished in the violence.
But what the protest movement has lacked so far is a unified front that could express the Syrian opposition’s vision for the country’s future, and press for international action against the Assad regime. While Syria’s historically fractious opposition groups have been unsuccessful in overcoming their differences, a new coalition has an opportunity to establish a united front. On Thursday, a group of 140 dissidents announced the establishment of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the first organized effort to challenge the ferocity of Assad’s "killing machine."
Foreign Policy exclusively obtained a document that lays out the SNC’s structure, membership, and goals. It also received the SNC’s "National Consensus Charter," which describes the principles that will guide the council’s actions.
The first document says that the council is currently made up of 140 members. It provides the name of 71 members, but states that the rest have been kept secret "for security reasons." 60 percent of the SNC’s membership resides inside Syria, while 40 percent lives abroad. A slim majority — 52 percent — of the council’s membership is made up of representatives of the grassroots movements that have driven the recent protests, while the rest includes members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, the Kurdish National Bloc, the Damascus Declaration group, and other prominent opposition figures. The SNC will be divided into eight main offices, including bureaus to undertake tasks such as media relations, policy planning, and legal affairs and human rights.
SNC’s charter describes the formation of an anti-Assad umbrella coalition as "a pressing necessity and its absence is an offense against the revolution." It details three main principles: a unified effort to overthrow Assad’s regime, the desire to maintain the peaceful nature of the revolution, and a national initiative to create a democratic state that respects the equality of Syria’s diverse ethnic and religious groups. The council also asserted its aim to develop a roadmap for democratic change within Syria.
Ausama Monajed, a member of the newly created council and the executive director of the Strategic Research and Communication Centre, detailed what the council hopes to accomplish in a conversation with FP.
Foreign Policy: What message do you want to send the Syrian people, and the rest of the international community?
Ausama Monajed: The Syrian National Council aims to present the reality of Syria to international media outlets and policy makers, to be able to have an impact on global policies by providing governments with the right information and analysis; to draft roadmaps for a just Syria; and to boost the morale of Syrian demonstrators by presenting them with a unified body that will support their activities.
FP: Why does the council oppose military and foreign intervention in Syria?
AM: Syrians oppose military intervention because of the negative experience countries in the region have had. The council only reflects the demands of the Syrian street.
Assad’s regime is built on self-interest, not on a minority, as perceived. Alawites [Assad’s religious sect] are starting to peel away from the regime and many are starting to oppose it, realizing that Assad will flee, leaving them to deal with the aftermath of his sectarian actions. A coup is a possible scenario, a sudden collapse is also a possibility.
FP: What groups are represented in the council? How will the council, made up of so many voices, effectively form a united oppositional front to Assad?
AM: All Syrian groups. The differences in views of the council members are insignificant at this time, as all parties involved – or actually all Syrians — agree on certain principles, such as that the Syrian revolution should remain peaceful, national unity is to be stressed and all sectarian or exceptionalist tendencies are to be extricated, while foreign military intervention will be rejected.
The charter added that all minorities and parties in Syria will have their rights guaranteed without any discrimination — and that includes recognition of the Kurdish identity, and reaching a fair solution to Kurdish issues within the scope of national unity.
FP: Who will lead the council? Will the names of the council members still within Syria be released? Is there a formal list of the dissident members residing outside of Syria? Will more members be chosen in the near future?
AM: Leadership elections will take place in a few days. While the names of some of the members have been revealed, we did not reveal the rest of the names for security reasons.
FP: Ahmed Ramadan, a council member, has spoken of the possibility of a TV channel being launched to address the demands of the Syrian people. Is this true?
AM: Everything is possible.
This interview has been condensed and edited.