First, let us be clear. The Syrian people have every right to protest, peacefully and violently, against the brutal regime. But let us be clear; the Syrian regime has no right to stay in power, and this was true even before it began using violence to quell the uprising. And let us be clear; the Syrian regime is incapable of reforming itself.
It is rather foolish to wait for a group to ascend to power before criticizing it. There was no mystery as to the intentions and agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis or even the Khomeini movement, before their taking the reigns of power. Similarly, the adversaries of the Ba`ath Party began opposing it long before the former began conspiring to seize power by force. Today, it is imperative that an opposition to the Syrian National Council (SNC) begins (and to the power behind it and underneath it) before they get a chance to rule Syria. This North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-supported movement does not really differ from the NATO-supported movement that served as a tool of NATO in Libya. The writing was on the wall before the Qaddafi regime fell, and those who supported NATO intervention in Libya are now trying—á la Thomas Friedman after he supported the Iraq war in 2003—to rewrite their own political history and to deny that they really had supported the NATO military intervention.
The opposition to the SNC can be predicated on several factors, primarily relating to matters of credibility, consistency, and honesty. The SNC has already lied to the Syrian people repeatedly. There are many examples that can be summarized below.
- The SNC started as a movement that strictly adhered to nonviolent struggle and now it has a military council to coordinate the violent overthrow of the regime by force (and this without in any way detracting from the right of the Syrian people—and all other Arab people—to overthrow it by any means necessary the regime under which they live and suffer). Worse, the SNC now wants violence to be done by Syrians and by whoever else (Israelis too?) interested in overthrowing the regime.
- The SNC first categorically rejected any political preferences in the Lebanese political conflict. Burhan Ghalyun famously said: keep us out of your conflicts in Lebanon. Now, the SNC is a close ally of the March 14 Movement, and it has issued political statements in support of this Hariri movement.
- The SNC said it strictly opposed foreign intervention while it now begs for foreign intervention from any side—preferably allies of the United States and Israel.
- The SNC leadership said on a few occasions that the percentage of the Ikhwan in the SNC is no more than twenty percent. Yet, Ghalyun in several private meetings (including an off-the-record session with an Arab journalist) complained about Ikhwan domination of the SNC and said that he would not agree to serve as another Mahmud Jibril.
- The SNC rightly criticized the regime’s stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict and on the Golan Heights while they have basically maintained the very stance of the regime, which is to wait for the Golan to return, all by itself, to Syria’s lap, and to call for negotiations as the way to liberate the Golan. The SNC adopted the Ba‘athist government’s position before it even had a chance to establish its government. Moreover, the SNC went further and began an unprecedented (for Syrians that is) path of flirtation with Israel. Even after the revelation of Basma Qudmani’s humiliating performance on French television (and after she lied and claimed that it was fabricated—this was after the entire session was found and made available on the internet), the SNC stayed silent.
- The SNC claimed that it would not serve as a tool for outsiders and said that it will only answer to the Syrian people but it has now become a tool of Saudi and Qatari ruling dynasties, among others.
- The SNC rightly criticized the corruption of the Syrian regime but it has failed to share with the Syrian public information about its funding and how it keeps its books. Ghalyun and others timidly talk about funding from “wealthy Syrians,” while other SNC members conceded that some funding from Gulf countries arrived (but they complained about the small amounts).
- The SNC claims to work for a democratic Syria; yet its sponsors in Doha and Riyadh can hardly serve as democratic mentors.
- The SNC claims to offer the Syrian people a vision of a “civil state” (an empty term that is intended to appease both the secularists and the Islamists while it carries no concrete political meaning). Yet SNC Ikhwan and Saudi allies can hardly inspire confidence in that promise. The SNC wants to have it both ways. It very much reminds one of the empty promises of Khomeini before he established his clerical government. Yet this civic-minded council does not speak against its ally, the Free Syrian Army, and against its tendency to endow its battalions with religious and sectarian names.
- The SNC rightly condemns the war crimes by the Syrian regime but it has been silent about war crimes by the Free Syrian Army (as enumerated in the recent UN report on violations of human rights in Syria).
- The SNC first urged for the dispatch of the Arab League’s monitors and then it went against it when the report did not serve its interests and the interests of its sponsors.
- The SNC promises democracy and political transition of power and yet failed to establish such a mechanism for its own leadership. There are various (funny) accounts of the leadership meeting that allowed Burhan Ghalyun (under threats of resignation) to serve for another term.
- The SNC has been ineffective at best and an accomplice at worst in the sectarian killings in areas under the rule of its allies.
- The SNC speaks of democracy. Yet it has already engaged in practices that are rather anti-democratic and bode ill for the future of Syria if the SNC is allowed to take over the government in Damascus. It is not forgotten that SNC goons (and the SNC has goons just like the regime) attacked Syrian opposition figures who live and suffer in Syria when they visited Cairo to meet with the secretary general of the Arab League. The SNC also engages in Ba‘thist style takhwin (declaring all opponents as traitors). The SNC could not even reach an agreement with the Coordinating Committees who represent the internal opposition in Syria. In fact, Ghalyun signed an agreement with Haytham Al-Manna of the coordinating committees, only to rescind his signature a few days later when the Ikhwan protested.
But the SNC is not the entire Syrian opposition. Though it is asking for the right to become officially and internationally the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people” and some protesters in Syria agree. The Assad regime seems to be adept at ruthlessly rooting out the leftist opposition inside Syria (like the Communist Action Party), killing their leaders and arresting or killing their members. The assassination by a regime goon of Husayn ‘Uwaydat is only one example. Many leftist cadres sit in Syrian jails and they could have been effective in organizing the Syrian people along lines different from the agenda of the SNC. The cause of the Syrian people and their legitimate movement against the Asad dynasty is too important to be hijacked by any movement (domestic or foreign, although the SNC leadership is comprised mostly of people in exile).
For some reason (or for several reasons, and one of them is Zionist), people in the West—including in the progressive academic community—are very reluctant to criticize the SNC or even the Ikhwan. Worse, there are some in that community who want to convince us that Syrian opposition is entirely run by "progressives." People’s choices (though whether the SNC is actually the product of such choices has yet to be proven) are not always progressive or desirable. Khomeini had mass support and the left was and is obliged to go after the Khomeini movement. There are Khomeini wanna-bes in the Syrian uprising, and they should be opposed before they do more harm to the cause of the Syrian people. Moreover, there is an attempt by liberal Zionists to promote the SNC and its cause (just as they promoted the Iraqi National Congress and its cause) as a manifestation of a leftist-liberal movement (of course, Ahmad Chalabi is now reduced to ride on the coattails of Muqtada al-Sadr, of all people). It is no coincidence that the Likudnik Senator John McCain—who was the Godfather of the Iraqi National Congress—is now serving as the Godfather of the SNC.
There is war in Syria. And the Syrian people are now left to be victims, but also bystanders. The SNC and its allies have allowed the Syrian cause to become an agenda in the foreign policies of such reactionary regimes as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. The United States and Israel are now engaged in a war that has nothing to do with the aspirations and desires of the Syrian people. The SNC is now on the side of the United States and Israel in their plots against Syria (Syria the country and not the regime) and they have in the past had no problem in doing business with that regime during and after the Hamah massacre of 1982. In this conflict, progressives can’t sit on the sidelines, and they certainly cannot join the joint US-Israeli project. They have to stand opposed to the regime and to the Israeli/US/Saudi plot—that is the obligation for the sake of the Syrian people and not for the sake of those who speak on their behalf, for purposes that are related neither to democracy nor to freedom.