Syrian opposition coalition elects new president in win for Jarba

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The Syrian National Coalition has elected Hadi al-Bahra as its new president, but former head Ahmad Jarba will maintain influence.

The status quo remains within the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. The Qatari-Saudi settlement spared both factions of the coalition fierce phantom battles, as supporters of the Saudi wing and Ahmad Jarba obtained the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) presidency, in return for the Qatari-sponsored Mustafa al-Sabbagh’s faction receiving all other posts, comprising the external broader framework of the Syrian political opposition.

Nasr al-Hariri was elected secretary-general, while the first vice president's post went to Abdulhakim Bashar, to placate the Kurdish National Council and provide the coalition with a Kurdish quorum, as Noura al-Amir was elected second vice president, and Mohammad Qaddah third vice president. The latter two, as well as Hariri, are considered to be closely associated with Sabbagh and Qatar.

Hadi al-Bahra received 62 votes, and led his closest rival, Mowafaq Nayrabiyeh by 20 votes, while the third candidate, Walid al-Omari, only managed to secure three votes cast in his name in the coalition’s ballot box.

Michel Kilo came out the biggest loser in this competition after backing Nayrabiyeh for the leadership of the coalition. His Democratic Bloc, which he formed last year, suffered great divisions, with the Saudis deciding to marginalize him. This came following their decision to back the reorganization of the coalition and their attempt to take the control thereof from the Qataris a year ago, by forming an alliance that brought Kilo together with Jarba.

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That all three candidates belonged to the bloc that Kilo established last year to control and reform the coalition was proof that said bloc was irrevocably broken. Jarba preferred to work with the remnants of the Democratic Bloc, minus Kilo, despite the fact that he had used Kilo for one full year to reach the coalition’s presidency.

In this context, the Democratic Bloc suffered a major setback due to the lack of homogeneity in its original ranks, the membership of which were only united by their all receiving Saudi funding though the Shammari tribal descendant, Jarba, and his Saudi connections, as well as in their opposition to Qatar’s domination of the external Syrian opposition and its establishment of the competing National Council. Hostility to this domination reigned supreme a year ago among backers of the plan to reform the Syrian opposition, at a time when the Saudis launched their offensive to grab control of the Syrian external opposition and scale down Qatar’s role therein.

The Muslim Brotherhood also came out a loser in the elections as a result of Jarba’s agreement with Sabbagh to undermine the Brotherhood’s presence, as well as that of the Damascus Declaration group, or whatever remained of it, and the faction led by Damascus businessman Riad Seif in the coalition.

It would seem that the agreement between Jarba and Sabbagh, and between Saudi and Qatar, revolved around giving the faction affiliated with Doha a larger number of the coalition’s seats, even if at the expense of those close to Jarba. This was a rapprochement toward Qatar that excluded the Brotherhood.

It now is obvious that the coalition’s leadership is more homogeneous, with the Qatari faction choosing to sacrifice the Muslim Brotherhood and the Democratic Bloc, which was torn between Jarba and Kilo.

In this regard, a coalition opponent said that the external opposition would be unable to undertake new major initiatives because its membership was not comprised of leadership figures but of technocrats who did not possess the required political vision, and were incapable of taking decisions, but were subservient to their “master” and their master’s decisions.

Bahra’s experience is primarily as a negotiator, following his leadership of the coalition’s delegation to Geneva, and as a result of his academic formation in public relations and communications acquired from Wichita State University in Kansas.

The most likely scenario is that the leaders’ names — from Bahra to the vice presidents and the secretary-general — were chosen pursuant to Jarba’s personal strategy. Jarba remains the primary decision maker in the coalition, because he controls Saudi funding to the group and is in charge of the funds' disbursement. Furthermore, the Qatari-Saudi agreement played a role in sparing the coalition additional schisms by marginalizing the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is unlikely that Jarba will relinquish his leadership of the opposition, even if he surrendered its presidency to Bahra. Opposition members claim that Jarba is endeavoring to maintain his decision-making role within the coalition, despite the marginal role and decreased importance thereof, by instating a position that merges military and political leadership.

Toward that end, it is expected that Jarba will, with the help of dissident officers in Jordan and Turkey, bolster the role played by the Free National Army. This would be done through the establishment of new brigades and a new general staff that would replace the current one, with him assuming the leadership of that new military command. Thus, he would be taking control of the political and military decision making process, as well as the funding of the coalition, which he receives from Saudi Arabia and distributes among those loyal to him inside and outside the coalition.

US State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki welcomed the election of Bahra as president of the coalition and stated: “We look forward to working with him and to continuing to build our partnership with the coalition. We applaud coalition president-elect Bahra's longstanding efforts in support of the Syrian people and his distinguished service to the coalition. We look to president-elect Bahra and other new leaders to reach out to all Syrian communities and to strengthen unity amongst moderate opposition institutions.”

She added, “As Secretary [of State John] Kerry reaffirmed when former coalition president Jarba visited Washington earlier this year, the coalition has given a voice to all Syrians who have been oppressed by the regime for decades. We remain committed to supporting the coalition as it continues working on behalf of the Syrian people to fulfill the Syrian revolution’s goals of freedom and dignity for all Syrians.”

In addition, the spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, Romain Nadal, said, “France congratulates Hadi al-Bahra for his election as president of the Syrian National Coalition. We expect that the new president will continue to bolster the coalition’s commitment to a free and democratic Syria.” Nadal also affirmed that Paris “would maintain its full support in the fight against oppression and terrorism; in the context of France providing civilian and non-lethal military aid aimed at allowing the moderate opposition to protect inhabitants from attacks by the regime and terrorist forces, as well as provide essential public services in liberated areas.”

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Found in: syrian conflict, syria, snc, opposition
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