Syrian opposition group leader says he'll resign to stem rifts
BEIRUT -- The head of Syria's main government-opposition alliance announced Thursday that he would resign after members accused him of "political and organizational failure" and threatened to withdraw from the group.
Burhan Ghalioun, who was reelected as head of the Syrian National Council on Tuesday despite rifts within the group, said he did not want to be divisive and would step down as soon as a successor was named either through elections or consensus.
"I am announcing my resignation as head of the council," Ghalioun told the pan-Arab TV station Al-Arabiya."I call on the Syrian opposition to break the cycle of conflicts and preserve unity."
The announcement came after the activist group Local Coordination Committees threatened to withdraw from the alliance in a statement accusing Ghalioun of failure and saying the council was drifting away from "the spirit and demands of the Syrian Revolution."
The council, a group mainly made up of Syrians living in exile, was established as an umbrella group of several organizations with the aim of presenting a united front for Syria's opposition and an alternative to Syrian President Bashar Assad. But infighting and divisions appear to have left some members disillusioned, and some have left the alliance while citing undemocratic processes.
Rafif Jouejati, a spokeswoman for the Local Coordination Committees, said the group was frustrated with the council's inability "to move forward" and to effectively represent the people.
She said that the council needs to undergo some major restructuring, including how key decisions are reached within the bloc.
Ghalioun, a secular 67-year-old Sunni Muslim professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, has been accused by some opposition members of trying to monopolize power and having too close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Some activists inside Syria expressed disappointment when his reelection was announced Tuesday.
"There is a feeling of frustration regarding Ghalioun's reelection," said Talhat, an activist from Tal Kalakh in the province of Homs, over Skype. "There is also a sense that the Muslim Brotherhood is controlling the council, and I have nothing against them but they are acting on their political interests -- not in the interest of the country."
Ghalioun ran against George Sabra, a Christian member of the council viewed by some as a better candidate to calm worries among Syria's religious minorities, some of which have stood by Assad out of concerns for what the future holds for them if the regime is overthrown.
"If you ask me, George Sabra should be elected," said an activist reached in the town of Rastan in Homs."There are accusations that Islamists are controlling the SNC, and George Sabra is a Christian, so it would solve the problem."
The U.N estimates that more than 9,000 people have died across Syria since an anti-government uprising began in March 2011.
-- Alexandra Sandels. Rima Marrouch in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.
Photo: Burhan Ghalioun, head of the Syrian National Council, in Tokyo on May 11. Credit: Everett Kennedy Brown / EPA