Abdulbaset Seida sounds more resolute than his predecessor and isn't ruling out a UN-mandated military intervention. But the new head of the Syrian National Council faces major challenges.
The main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), displayed a rare sign of consensus when it elected the Kurdish academic Abdulbaset Seida on June 9 in Istanbul to head the organization. The politician is relatively unknown among western observers. In his own ranks, he is considered an independent intellectual and secular member of the Kurdish minority.
Like most SNC members, Seida also lives in exile. Sweden has been his home for almost 20 years. The expert in ancient history, who holds a PhD in philosophy, has resolute words for the situation in his country.
"We are dealing with a revolution in Syria which calls for the complete liberation from a regime which deploys all types of weapons against its own people," Seida said in an exclusive interview with DW. "From the very beginning, the regime only knew one means: killing. We have always stipulated that it should operate in the framework of Arab and international legitimacy. But after the plan by Kofi Annan failed, we demand that the UN Security Council adopt a resolution in accordance with Chapter VII."
This chapter sets out UN action against threats to peace, including sanctions or military force, if necessary.
Ferhad Ahma, a member of the SNC and German Green party politician, said now that no points of Annan's peace plan had been implemented, the time had come to discuss alternatives.
"Abdulbaset Seida is assessing the situation realistically," Ahma said. Should the UN Security Council not reach any resolution because of Russia's and China's veto "then other countries outside of the Security Council have to seize measures which also no longer exclude the use of force," he said.
The international community has thus far ruled out any military intervention in Syria. Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told the weekly Welt am Sonntag that a political solution was still the way forward.
"Whoever gives up the search for a political solution now is giving up the people in Syria," Westerwelle told the paper. "We should by no means do that." But the number of advocates of a political solution is decreasing and the tone against Syrian President Bashar Assad is getting tougher.
Westerwelle's British counterpart William Hague said time was "clearly running short" to implement Annan's plan. He told Sky News that Syria was "on the edge of collapse or of a sectarian civil war so I don't think we can rule anything out."
Challenges for Seida
SNC's new president Abdulbaset Seida is inheriting a difficult situation. The SNC's over 300 members are for the large part at odds with each other. It was precisely for this reason that Seida's predecessor Burhan Ghalioun stepped down. He was accused of giving too much power to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Religious and secular, Arab and Kurd, Sunni, Shiite, Druzian or Alawite members are carefully watching out for their own interests. Seida is supposed to fix this: the Kurd, who would rather see himself as an independent.
"The future Syria absolutely must be there for all of its people," Seida told DW. "Our people want to preserve their national unity and realize completely that the conditions in Syria would not allow any one political or religious group to force its opinion on the remaining groups."
For the SNC, Seida's nomination is beneficial, said Ahma.
"It's a sign that all of Syria's population groups are now taking over the most important positions in the phase of opposition," Ahma said. "It also shows that Syria can look different in the future than now, when just one group, i.e. one single party, has the say."
Seida will not invoke his ethnic affiliation or political party. "This way, the various parties in the executive committee can identify themselves with him," Ahma said.
The disputes in the SNC make it difficult for Seida to work with opposition groups within Syria. A further important task for the new president will therefore be to restart contact to the protest movement.
"The contact to the people and the networks on the ground are missing; they are not represented in the National Council," Ahma said. "We have to develop mechanisms to address them directly. This includes refugees. We have to take care of them more." Seida has therefore promised those people in the affected regions $3 million (2.4 million euros) in humanitarian assistance.
In a month's time, the new president wants to present a plan on how the SNC can be reformed and the cooperation with activists in Syria improved. The alliance in exile wants to seek more international support. Ahma said he above all wants the body to transform into a functioning institution which can tackle and solve future tasks.
Author: Rayna Breuer / sac
Editor: Rob Mudge