An official from the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition group seeking the ousting of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has denounced the formation of a new political coalition outside Syria that plans to establish a transitional government, calling its leaders conservative Salafis who do not represent the majority of the Syrian opposition.
Haitham Al Maleh, a lawyer and human rights activist, said on Tuesday that he had been tasked with forming a government-in-exile based in Cairo, an announcement that the main opposition SNC and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have denounced.
“I have been tasked with leading a transitional government,” said Maleh, adding that he would begin consultations with the opposition inside and outside the country.
Bassam Ishak, a senior member of the SNC, argued in remarks to Today’s Zaman that the government -- announced by Maleh and a group of Salafi Islamists -- was very limited in its representation, adding that it was a one-sided declaration by a very small group that does not reflect the majority of the Syrian people.
Maleh -- known for his Islamist and Arab nationalist leanings and arrested several times during Assad and his father’s era -- said he was named by a Syrian coalition of independents with no political affiliation.
“It is nothing but a comedy show,” said Ishak. “A board of trustees dominated by Salafis nominated Maleh. They are trying to reflect it as a big coalition, which includes the majority of the opposition. But it is an exclusive coalition with basically very conservative and Islamist figures who have been living in exile for decades.”
In a phone interview from Egypt, Ishak said the new coalition does not even represent the majority of the Muslims in the country, adding that they were financed by Salafi Syrian businessmen working in Saudi Arabia.
“They don’t reflect the majority of Syrians as there is no socialist, Christian or Alawite among them. They are mostly conservative Islamists,” said Ishak.
Eighty-one-year-old Maleh, a conservative Muslim, said they did not want to find themselves in a political or administrative vacuum after the fall of Assad, calling for cooperation from all sides.
Meanwhile, Abdulbaset Sieda, the head of the SNC, said on Tuesday that it was too early to form a government-in-exile and that a leading dissident’s announcement was damaging.
“The formation of a government-in-exile was a hasty decision, and we wish it had not happened,” Sieda told reporters, adding that the announcement weakened the opposition.
“We need to take our time to form a transitional government. Such a government should reflect the situation on the ground and the diversity of Syria’s population,” added Sieda.
The announcement of the new coalition came during Sieda’s efforts to unite the opposition. The SNC’s head said last Saturday that he would discuss with rebel groups in Syria the creation of a transitional government, adding that the SNC established two committees tasked with consulting with the rebel Free Syrian Army, as well as other opposition groups both inside and outside the embattled country, with the aim of forming a transitional government.
“The SNC was working behind the scenes last week negotiating with different opposition groups in order to establish a transitional government that would sail the boat immediately after Assad’s fall. This announcement took place as the SNC started the process of forming a transitional government,” said Ishak.
While Maleh said the new coalition would have members from the FSA, the head of the FSA, Col. Riad al-Asaad, dismissed on Wednesday the formation of the new coalition, calling its leaders opportunists who seek to divide the opposition and benefit from the rebels’ gains.
Asaad said the new coalition aimed to trade the blood of Syrian martyrs, accusing the new coalition of taking over the revolution.
“The announcement of plans to form a transitional government is mainly aimed at pleasing the outside [world], while making the internal [groups] fight against one another to destroy the unity of the people which the Free Syrian Army stands for,” Asaad told the Al Arabiya news channel.
“It is time to work and bring the people together. It is not the time to establish a body which does not represent anyone,” said Ishak, agreeing with the remarks of the FSA.
Western and Arab states have for months been urging the Syrian opposition to unite, but the attempts by the opposition to prepare for a post-Assad future have not achieved a consensus among rival factions.
Meanwhile, the Syrian military has stepped up a military campaign to drive rebels out of Aleppo, the country’s biggest city, using helicopter gunships and other heavy weapons.
Touching upon the violence in Aleppo, Ishak stated that what was happening in Aleppo would be the key for the success of the revolution. “If the regime loses the battle in Aleppo, then its fall will be hastened,” concluded Ishak.