Sida, who is a secular member of Syria's minority Kurd community, was elected as the new SNC leader at a meeting in İstanbul on Sunday. Speaking at the Turkish Parliament last week, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the SNC also had Kurdish members, adding that there was a probability that a Kurd would be elected as the new leader. “[Irrespective of his ethnicity] the new elected leader's Syrian identity is enough for us. It is important to see our Kurdish brothers in a management position. Any injustice towards the Kurds will be considered an injustice towards us.
We defended this brotherhood, which has a long history, and will continue to defend it forever,” said Davutoğlu. Agreeing with Davutoğlu, a Turkish diplomatic source told Today’s Zaman that irrespective of the new president’s ethnicity or sectarian background, Turkey would only look at the president’s Syrian citizenship. “The most important thing is that Syrians were deciding their fate.”
The same official added that from the very beginning, the Turkish Foreign Ministry repeatedly called on the SNC to enlarge its council by representing more voices. “In their [SNC members’] latest meeting with Davutoğlu, they underlined the importance of a democratic Syria and added that they would follow a democratic process when electing a council president,” said the official, adding that the election was the council’s own decision.
Sida, who has been living in exile in Sweden for several years, was the only candidate for the three-month presidency to replace liberal opposition leader Burhan Ghalioun, who had presided over the council since it was created last August.
Ghalioun recently offered to step down due to mounting criticism of his leadership by Syrian dissidents, who have quit the group, calling it an “autocratic” organization no better than the authoritarian rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
Fawaz Tello, a prominent dissident who resigned from the SNC last May, told Today’s Zaman that Sida’s election was not an election but a consensus among the members. “Ghalioun lost his position, therefore, he had to resign. Everyone realized that the SNC had started to lose its legitimacy and the support of the international community as well as the people in Syria. So this consensus was to strengthen the SNC’s position,” said Tello.
Syrian dissidents also complained the group was dominated by Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which is the most influential player in the council, had indicated it wanted Ghalioun to remain as president, but started to support Sida after Syrian dissidents raised objections to Ghalioun’s leadership.
The international community has repeatedly called on the Syrian opposition, which has been hobbled by disorganization and disunity, to come together and work as one unit.
“Sida was in exile for 40 years. He is not supported by the Kurdish majority in SNC, including the Kurdish individuals and activists. He is also not supported by the Kurdish majority who are not in the SNC, for instance, the Kurdish political council,” said Tello.
Touching upon the recent resignations of the members in SNC, Tello said that the members’ resignation was due to their dissatisfaction with Sida. “The members who resigned considered Sida as the weakest figure in SNC. They never considered him as a candidate for leadership. According to them, he did not represent the Kurds,” said Tello.
Agreeing with Tello, Oytun Orhan, a Syria expert from the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), told Today’s Zaman that Sida was not the expected candidate for the new leader, adding that he was considered to be weak due to a lack of support. “Sida does not represent the Kurds in the SNC. He is an independent member,” said Oytun.
Oytun underlined that Sida was a compromised candidate, adding there were several aims in electing him as a new leader. “One of the aims of the SNC in electing Sida was to gain the support of the Kurds. From the very beginning, Kurds did not seriously participate to the opposition movement. Secondly, Sida was a name that could be accepted by most members of the SNC,” said Oytun.
Kurdish members of the council have also had open disputes with others within the organization over the issue of Kurdish rights and are deeply suspicious that the Sunni Arabs who dominate the council will be no more likely to provide them with greater rights than what they have under Assad’s regime.
“It is hard to say that Kurdish political parties are satisfied by the election of Sida,” said Oytun, adding Sida was not considered as a person that would support Kurdish rights.
Demonstrations against Assad’s rule have been regularly breaking out in Kurdish regions of Syria but without the intensity of protests occurring throughout the rest of the country. Sida said his priority would be to expand the council and hold talks with other opposition figures to further include them in the council.