Syrian opposition faces fractures, infighting


BEIRUT (AP) — A key activist group threatened Thursday to withdraw from Syria's main opposition umbrella grouping, saying the council has drifted away from the spirit of the Syrian revolution.

A pullout by the Local Coordination Committees from the Syrian National Council would be a blow for the group, which is already facing political and organizational challenges in its quest to oust President Bashar Assad.

And if the SNC continues to deteriorate, it could complicate efforts for the West and others to get behind the opposition.

Fifteen months into the uprising, Syria's opposition is still struggling to overcome infighting and inexperience, preventing the movement from gaining the traction it needs to present a credible alternative to Assad. Its international backers have repeatedly appealed for the movement to pull together and work as one unit.

The SNC, whose members are largely Syrian exiles, has tried with little success to gather the opposition under its umbrella and has alienated minorities inside Syria, including the Kurds and Alawites. Other opposition groups accuse it of trying to monopolize power.

Several prominent dissidents, including Haitham al-Maleh and Kamal al-Labwani, have already quit the SNC, calling it an "autocratic" organization.

In Thursday's statement, the LCC — a network of activists based both inside and outside of Syria — accused the SNC leadership of marginalizing council members and acting alone on major decisions. It threatened to suspend its membership in the council and later withdraw altogether if its concerns are not addressed.

"We have seen nothing except political incompetence in the SNC and a total lack of consensus between its vision and that of the revolutionaries," the statement said.

The LCC said the council has "drifted away from the spirit of the Syrian revolution in its quest for a civil and democratic state based on the principles of transparency and transfer of power."

Earlier this week, Burhan Ghalioun was re-elected to a third, 3-month term as head of the SNC. A Sunni Muslim professor at the Sorbonne in Paris who has led the council since its formation in September, he has been criticized by some opposition figures of being too close to the Muslim Brotherhood and of being out of touch with the reality on the ground in Syria.

Ghalioun ran against George Sabra, a Christian council member seen by many as a better choice to soothe concerns by Syria's religious minorities, some of whom have remained loyal to Assad out of fear for their future in case his regime collapses.

In a televised interview following his re-election, Ghalioun acknowledged divisions within the SNC and said the group was working on a new strategy.

Unlike Libya's National Transitional Council, which brought together most factions against Moammar Gadhafi's regime and was quickly recognized by much of the international community, Syria's opposition has no leadership on the ground and has not been officially recognized by significant powers.

A conference sponsored by the Arab League in Cairo to help unite the disparate opposition was canceled this week, largely because of infighting between various groups.