New Syria opposition leader seeks to
revamp Syrian National Council SNC
New Syrian National Council
president, the Kurdish activist Abdel Basset Sayda,
reaches out to country's minority groups.
The new president of the Syrian National Council
Abdel Basset Sayda (R), a Kurd, talks with former
President Burhan Ghalioun before a news conference
in Istanbul June 10, 2012. The main Syrian
opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National
Council, elected Kurdish activist Sida as its leader
at a meeting in Istanbul on Sunday, a council
statement said. Sida succeeds Ghalioun, a liberal
opposition figure who had presided over the council
since it was formed in August last year. Photo:
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The new leader of Syria's exiled opposition has
called on all members of the Damascus government to
defect amid raging violence that has claimed
thousands of lives.
"We call upon all officials in the regime and in the
institutions to defect from the regime," Abdel
Basset Sayda, who was named Sunday to lead the
opposition Syrian National Council, told a news
conference in Istanbul.
Sayda also reached out to minority groups in Syria,
following criticism of the SNC for failing to
represent the country's full array of ethnic and
religious groups including Arabs, Kurds, Sunni
Muslims, Alawites, Christians, Druze and others.
"We would like to reassure all sects and groups,
especially Alawites and Christians, that the future
of Syria will be for the all of us," he said. "There
will be no discrimination based on gender or sects.
The new Syria will be a democratic state."
Sayda, a Kurdish activist, was elected as the SNC's
new leader at a conference in Turkey, replacing the
opposition's first leader, Paris-based academic
Burhan Ghalioun, who stepped down last month in the
face of mounting splits that were undermining the
Sayda, who has been living in exile in Sweden for
many years, was the only candidate for the
three-month presidency of the SNC at a meeting of 33
members of the councils' general secretariat on
He accused the Syrian government of being on its
"last legs", and that it has lost control of several
"We are entering a sensitive phase. The regime is on
its last legs," said Sayda a few hours after he was
named as the new SNC president.
"The multiplying massacres and shellings show that
it is struggling."
The 56-year-old succeeds Ghalioun, a liberal
opposition figure who had presided over the council
since it was formed in August of last year.
Ghalioun, an exile living in Paris, has come under
criticism for having had his presidency constantly
renewed when the council was supposed to represent a
democratic alternative to the rule of President
Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, reporting from
Istanbul, said Ghalioun struck a "defensive tone" in
his parting remarks.
"He was clear that he was handing the baton to Dr
Sayda, and other members of the council said the era
of Burhan Ghalioun is over," our correspondent said
"What struck out [from Sayda's acceptance speech]
was his inclusiveness. He name-checked all the main
players and paid tribute to the people in jail, the
people who have died. He mentioned these groups and
went on to say their dream of an inclusive Syria was
still alive," said McNaught.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the most influential player
in the council, had initially indicated it wanted
Ghalioun to remain president, but then opted to
support Sayda after opposition activists inside
Syria raised objections to Ghalioun following a
third renewal of his term last month.
Adib al-Shihakly, a founding member of the council,
had also threatened to resign if Ghalioun remained
Opposition sources said the election of Sayda could
help enlist more Kurds, who number one million out
of Syria's 21 million population, behind the
Demonstrations against Assad's rule have taken place
in Kurdish regions of Syria but they have not
matched the intensity of protests in the rest of the
That may be partly because of support by Assad for
the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is
suspected of being behind the killings of several
anti-Assad Kurdish opposition figures since the
revolt erupted in March 2011.
Kurdish members of the council have also had open
disputes with the remainder of the body over the
issue of Kurdish rights and whether a post-Assad
Syria would be built around a federal structure
similar to that in neighbouring Iraq.
Sayda, who holds a doctorate in philosophy, said his
priority would be to expand the council and hold
talks with other opposition figures to include them
in the council,www.ekurd.net
which some have accused of being dominated by
"The main task now is to reform the council and
re-structure it," Sayda said.
Bassam Ishak, a member of the general secretariat,
said Sayda was elected to fulfill demands from
within the council and from the opposition inside
Syria as well as international powers to make the
council more democratic.
Sayda will work on convening a meeting of the whole
council after a month, during which a new general
secretariat and a new president could be elected,
possibly making Sayda a transitional leader, Ishak
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