Shane Farrell

Has the SNC lost its voice?

Bassma Kodmani

The Syrian National Council suffered yet another blow on Tuesday with the resignation of the head of its Foreign Affairs Bureau, Bassma Kodmani.

The Paris-based academic, one of the few female members in the body, told Reuters on Wednesday that “the SNC was not up to facing the increasing challenges on the ground and was not up to the performance I would have liked it to be.” Kodmani also accused members of the organization of focusing on their own partisan and personal agendas to the detriment of the organization as a whole.
These criticisms are nothing new. A number of other members, including Haithem al-Maleh and Kamal al-Labwani, who resigned in February, leveled similar charges at the organization. The SNC has also been criticized for having a strong Muslim Brotherhood leaning and for being out of touch with anti-regime demonstrators and rebels on the ground inside Syria.

Some commentators, such as SyriaComment author and Oklahoma University Professor Joshua Landis, believe that this is further proof of the body’s irrelevancy. “No one cares about the SNC anymore,” he told NOW Lebanon by phone, noting that while French President Francois Hollande said earlier this week Paris would give official recognition to a Syrian provisional government, which would likely include the SNC, no other leading European capital has followed suit. Landis believes the main problem is a point Kodmani expressed “between the lines” following her resignation: “No one believes that the SNC has any support on the ground.”

A survey of Syrian refugees who arrived in Lebanon during the conflict, carried out by the International Republican Institute, would appear to reflect this. The SNC ranked only sixth when respondents were asked to name the top opposition groups they were most familiar with. The overwhelming majority of respondents came from the Homs Governorate and were interviewed between May and June, 2012.
Lebanon-based Syrian activist Maher Esber is even more disparaging of the SNC. When asked about the importance of Kodmani’s resignation, he replied, “Of course it’s a blow, but after all this time [the SNC] has nothing left. It has already lost everything.”

He believes part of the reason for Kodmani’s resignation was her being sidelined within the council. Under former leader Burhan Ghalioun, Kodmani was appointed the council’s spokesperson and a member of its Executive Committee. But following Ghalioun’s replacement by the SNC’s current leader, Abdelbaset Sayda, in June, Kodmani’s role in the SNC was greatly reduced, Esber said. “Lately, she has been under a lot of attacks and so that is why she left,” he added. Kodmani could not be reached for comment on the particular circumstances of her resignation.

In her interview with Reuters, however, she said she believes the SNC had served its purpose. She said she believes a new political body with other opposition groups and the Free Syrian Army, a loose umbrella term encompassing the majority of rebel military units, should be created. "I think the FSA is willing to be under the control of a political authority, and my view is that we did not do enough to make this happen,” Kodmani told Reuters.

But according to associate fellow at UK-based think-tank Chatham House, Nadim Shehadi, Western nations should also shoulder some of the blame for the failings of the SNC. He feels that the West let the SNC down by not conferring it with legitimacy and not providing it with suitable logistical support.

In a phone call with NOW Lebanon, Shehadi stressed that after over 40 years without political representation, it is understandable that Syrian opposition groups remain divided. He feels the West adopted double standards by recognizing Libya’s National Transitional Council as the sole representative of the country’s people, but for not doing the same for the SNC because it simply has no appetite to intervene in Syria—and a divided opposition is one extra reason to justify inaction.
For the SNC, the biggest challenge since its inception has been securing legitimacy, both domestically and internationally. With the resignation of Kodmani, securing this legitimacy will prove more elusive than ever.

Assem Bazzi and Luna Safwan contributed reporting.

Former Syrian National Council (SNC) member Bassma Kodmani giving a speech during a press conference in Istanbul on June 17, 2012. She has since resigned. (AFP Photo)

The SNC ranked only sixth when Syrians were asked to name the top opposition groups they were most familiar with.