Former SNC leader explains decision to withdraw from coalition

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Former Syrian National Coalition Secretary-General Mustafa al-Sabbagh explains why he and some other members withdrew from the SNC ahead of Geneva II.

It’s been a very critical phase for the Syrian revolution, as the complexities of the internal situation have overlapped with the calculations of regional and international powers. As Syrians, we have been through decades of tyranny, under which many forms of political, intellectual, social and economic repression were practiced. Moreover, this repression was accompanied by means of oppression, exclusion and harassment. All that has created a culture that cannot contain the major roles and functions required to serve and manage the revolution. Yet, the experience in political action, accumulated during the past three years under very hard circumstances, has required all of us to rise to a higher level of stances and political action that befit the great Syrian revolution and sacrifices of the Syrians.

There is much misunderstanding regarding the reasons why 44 members withdrew from the Syrian National Coalition, and others — including those associated with the main parties and blocs that took part in the coalition’s foundation — are ready to follow suit.

For our part, as a large group of members of the National Coalition, we conducted a series of deep and comprehensive reviews of the revolution’s situation and all of the circumstances surrounding it. [These circumstances include] parties influencing the revolution at the domestic and external arenas, its actual sources of strength and weakness, and the nature of roles and functions that need to be assumed to effectively serve the revolution.

We have developed an integrated vision on the current composition of the Coalition, regarding whether or not it has the ability to act. In other words, what the Coalition can and cannot do. In addition, we reconsidered the future milestones and scenarios and how to handle them — most notably the Geneva II conference — as well as the rise and development, both at the political and military levels, of the revolutionary forces on the Syrian territory and the clear division within its ranks over the loyalty to the revolution and its goals.

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The mentioned vision led us to realize a set of facts. The current composition of the Coalition no longer enables it to play its required role. The random decision making mechanisms are limited to a specific number of members, particularly those regarding key political and military issues. Moreover, there were no discussions about meeting with the National Coordinating Council (NCC) to form a so-called “unified opposition position,” nor about the decision taken by the president of the Coalition to communicate with Russia, or on how to spend the money allocated to the Coalition.

The unsound situation was reflected by a cracked and paralyzed Coalition, including the movement leading it. Thus, it failed to make any progress, particularly in the highly important political and military files, not to mention its complete failure in relief efforts. Meanwhile, the Syrian people were going through what can be described as the harshest stage of the revolution at various levels. [These relief efforts] were supposed to be free from any politicization.  

The formation of the interim government reflected the statesmen’s short sight regarding its formation and programs alike. It even seemed as if the Coalition’s leadership was deliberately causing it to fail, and not assisting it (instead marginalizing it) while it assumes its role, with the significant negligence over its formation.

The big disaster is represented in the Coalition’s inability to find a common language with the revolutionary forces at the domestic scene, to communicate with them on a serious level and to grant them the right of representation and participation. The Coalition actually lacked the will to achieve such communication in the first place. Thus, it was natural for the head of the interim government — which is supposed to operate within Syria — not to be able to get anywhere near the Syrian border. As a result, both the [transitional] government and the Coalition turned into a body that is entirely separate from the Syrian domestic arena.

Although the deadline set by the international community for Geneva II, scheduled for Jan. 22, is drawing near, the leadership of the Coalition remained unable to seriously prepare for the conference. All they did was send some members to the sessions held by some European countries here and there to practice negotiating.

In other words, there were poor preparations for a diplomatic battle that may be more aggressive than the military one. Also, the leadership made the decision to go to Geneva II without consulting the Coalition’s General Assembly. This contradicted the claims made by Ahmad Jarba in a letter he sent to the United Nations on Sept. 19, 2013, in which he accepted to attend Geneva II, but said that all of the Coalition parties must agree. The leadership even went over the head of the General Assembly, being the only decision-maker in the field. As a result, it has become too dangerous for the leadership to exclusively make a surprising decision to attend Geneva II, while there are no signs of readiness for taking such a serious step.

We found — on the basis of this vision — channels of communication with the internal opposition, in an attempt to understand its requirements and make it feel that it is a genuine partner (a basis and a reference) in the decision-making process, as well as to convince it of the need for integration between what is political and what is military. All the while, dialogues should be conducted to instill greater knowledge among foreign politicians about the domestic conditions and peculiarities, as well as among the revolutionary forces in Syria about the outside world and its complexities.

We have tried many times to make the current leadership of the Coalition realize the magnitude of the problem the coalition is facing. We tried to convince them of the need for radical change when it comes to structures, methods of approaching things and the decision-making process, so as to correct and adapt the situation to the new changes and circumstances, but to no avail.

We were hoping to correct the situation through the last election. But holding the elections ​​under abnormal conditions made us miss that opportunity, and it recreated the previous situation in all its details.

The bottom line is that we found ourselves, as a team, forced to withdraw. We reject the continued acceptance of such practices and are not satisfied with an honorary membership, in which we cannot carry out our moral and national duty as individuals and coalitions.

We are sorry to have had to do this, but we firmly believe that this decision may have protected the revolution from other complications and scenarios. Full alignment with the actors on the ground, away from political maneuvering, is what gives these actors confidence in the political actors and assures them as far as their actions and decisions are concerned. It is this alignment that ensures — in our opinion — the interests of a revolution whose sons did not spare sacrifices, and the least they deserve is alignment and emphasis on the necessity of having them play a key role in everything that determines the fate of the revolution at all levels.

Those are the reasons behind the decision to withdraw from the coalition, a decision that was neither emotional nor reactional, but built on motives, whose credibility and practical positive yield will hopefully be felt by all of the Syrian people.

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Found in: syrian opposition, syria civil war, geneva ii, bashar al-assad
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