Syrian Rebels Elect “Unified Command”; Group Dominated By Islamists


Reuters is reporting that Syrian rebels have elected a 30-member unified command on Friday that included many with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and to “Salafists.” According to the report:

Dec 7 (Reuters) – Syrian rebel groups meeting in Turkey elected a 30-member unified command on Friday at talks attended by security officials from international powers, delegates said. The 30 included many with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, and excluded the most senior officers who had defected from President Bashar al-Assad’s military, they said. ‘The command has been organised into several fronts. We are now in the process of electing a military leader and a political liaison officer for each region,’ said one of the delegates who did not want to be named, speaking from the coastal city of Antalya, where the meeting is being held. Another delegate said that two-thirds of the leadership had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood or were politically allied with the group, a composition which resembles that of the civilian opposition leadership coalition created under Western and Arab auspices in Qatar last month. ‘We are witnessing the result of the Qatari and Turkish creations,’ the delegate said, adding that the 30 are a mix of officers who had defected from the military, which is dominated by Assad’s minority Alawite sect, and civilians-turned rebels. Security officials from the United States, Britain, France, the Gulf and Jordan have been attending the talks, which come days before a conference for the Friends of Syria, a grouping of dozens of countries that have mostly pledged non-military aid to rebels fighting to oust Assad. The new military leadership includes Jamal Marouf, an Islamist commander and Ahmad al-Issa from al-Zawiya region in Idlib, as well as Colonel Abdelbasset al-Tawil, who has links with Salafists in the province. At least two figures representing the adjacent province of Aleppo were Salafists, including rebel leader Abdelqader Saleh. They were joined by Colonel Abdeljabbar al-Uqaidi, a non-ideological professional officer, sources at the meeting said. Absent from the group is Colonel Riad al-Asaad, founder of the Syrian Free Army and Brigadier Mustafa al-Sheikh, a senior officer known for his opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood. Asaad and Sheikh were not part of the 263-man meeting in Antalia. Also excluded was general Hussein Haj Ali, the highest ranking officer to defect from the military since the uprising erupted in March last year.

A post from last month reported on the formation of what was described as a new, broader-based Syrian opposition group that included members from the Syrian National Council (SNC).

The NYT had earlier reported on efforts by the Syrian National Council (SNC), a group with heavy Muslim Brotherhood participation,  to resist the unification initiative:

DOHA, Qatar — The Syrian National Council, the largest antigovernment coalition, resisted an initiative on Saturday that would place all opponents of the government under one umbrella — a streamlining sought by foreign backers who fear that the bickering exile movements are being eclipsed by events on the battlegrounds in Syria.  ‘Nobody should be subsumed under anybody,’ said George Sabra, the newly elected president of the council, opening his inaugural news conference here in a combative mood before heading into negotiations over the unification proposal. ‘The S.N.C. is older than this initiative or any other initiative, and it has a deep political and regional structure,’ said Mr. Sabra, 65, a Christian and a veteran leftist dissident. But a group of more than 50 activists of various stripes — backed by the United States, Qatar and other foreign supporters of the uprising — have proposed creating a larger body that would include the council. It would effectively end the S.N.C.’s failed efforts of more than a year to be recognized as the government in exile for all Syrians. Called the Syrian National Initiative, the new group is aimed at incorporating virtually all opposition parties, internal councils and notable figures.

Read the rest here.

post from earlier this month reported that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had dismissed the Syrian National Council (SNC) as no longer the “visible leader of the opposition.”

post from late August reported that a third individual was identified who is tied to the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood and who is also a part of the SNC. Previous posts had noted that the SNC includes at least two other known members of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood- Louay Safi, a leader in the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Najib Ghadbian, a board member of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID). The relationship between the SNC and Global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi should also be noted. The GMBDW notes that the NYT report above failed to mention any of the Safi’s ties to the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood.

In 2007, the Wall Street Journal reported on moves by the U.S. Government to reach closer relations with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

For a BBC guide to the Syrian opposition, go here.

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