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Syria: Ghalioun Resigns; Can SNC Recapture Center Stage; Is Shawkat Dead? No Cooking Gas – OpEd


Bourhan Ghalioun has officially resigned from his post, a statement issued by the Syrian National Council said Thursday after a two-day meeting in Istanbul. The SNC “office decided to accept the resignation and to ask the council president to pursue his work until the election of a new president at a meeting on June 9-10,” it said. If the SNC can establish a mechanism for transparent and regular elections, it will have done Syrians a great favor.

Ghalioun has been a success. He represents the best that Syrians living abroad have to offer. He is a deeply cultured and honest man, who could not put his heart into the military option that the opposition is now pursuing. However, he was able to give an inspiring and intelligent face to the Syrian revolution, one that the West and many Syrians living in the West needed to see  in order to get organized and throw their weight behind the international effort to condemn the Assad regime and make the decision to isolate and sanction it. He played a tremendously important role in mobilizing international opinion behind the revolutionary effort. No one can minimize the importance of that achievement.

The fact that Syrians inside distrust those outside the country is perhaps natural, but it is also a product of years of indoctrination, xenophobia and anti-Westernism that has been preached by the Baath Party. It is unfair to blame only the Baath. Arab nationalism as a movement has preached distrust of the West and those Arabs who have lived in the West for decades. That ideology is coming back to haunt the revolutionary movement today.  It will be very hard for Syrians living in the West to gain the trust of those inside the country. The Assad regime has driven or expelled many of the best and brightest from the country. It has then denigrated them as traitors and agents of the West.

The center of gravity of the opposition has now moved to the fighters and coordinators inside Syria. The SNC needs a major overhaul to preserve its usefulness and regain its public support. By stepping down, Burhan Ghalioun is demonstrating that not all Syrian leaders must cling to power in the face of opposition. He should be championed for what he is: a man who has sought to do the best he could in an extremely difficult situation. He has been a beacon of reason and champion of democracy for decades and his is living by his word.

The Assef Shawkat controversy continues to gain traction. Was he assassinated? Not since JR of Dallas fame, has murder been so mysterious and talked about. Chances are, however, that he is alive and kicking. Assef Shawkat’s town-folks deny that he is dead, according to the on-line news site, “Syria Politic.” When their journalist, called people in the town, townfolks laughed at the news, claiming that they don’t even have a tradition of raising a black flag for the dead. Opposition sources claimed that the people of Madhale had raised a black flag for him. The townsfolk interviewed by Syria Politic say the news about his death is bunkum. This doesn’t prove much, but it does suggest that opposition members who write about the assassination are making parts of the story up.

Those who argue that the fact that he hasn’t come on TV to denounce the story is proof of his death forget that the last time there were rumors about Shawkat’s demise – that he was under house arrest and that this wife had fled to Dubai – the rumors were false, but Assef never went on TV to denounce the rumors. The rumors persisted from February to August of 2008. Friends of mine had a chalet on the beach next to his, where he was frequently seen swimming with his wife and children.

Cooking gas is just not available in Aleppo, as I reported a few days ago. The energy minister is finally admitting that sanctions are killing them. For the longest time, they blustered about finding other buyers and sources.

 Antoine writes in the comment section of my commentary of the SNC and external opposition:

Nothing can be more insulting to the “real” Syrian opposition, Dr. Landis. The Syrian opposition, unlike the oppositions of someother authoritarian regimes, is almost totally locally based, with a very, very strong grassroots presence.

The Syrian opposition is NOT the SNC, the Syrian opposition is certainly not the NCB, the Syrian opposition is not some Ahmad Chalabi-like scam artists, the Syrian opposition is not a Masoud Rajavi’s MKO or PLO / PFLP -like external terrorist group.

The Syrian opposition is Abdel Razzaq Tlass, it is Khaled Abu Salah, it is Abdel baset Sarout, Captain Qais Qataaneh, and Lieutenant Khabir. It is the people who bring out every week’s edition of Oxygen ( in Zabadani. It is the thousands of young men and women who chant in Aleppo University, and the millions of faceless individuals who bare their chests to bullets every day. It is the people Martin Chulov writes about in Guardian.

The Syrian Revolution is NOT SNC. Let me say this on record, and this the view of 90 % of the people in FSA and the LCCs. The Syrian Revolution is not even Riad al Asaad and other officers cooling their heels in Turkey.

Dr. Landis pretends as if the LCCs don’t even exist. He only sees suited individuals like Ghalioun and Kodmani and Manaa and Abdulhamid and some other names as “the Opposition.” and most of his posts on SC have a strong bias in showing these individuals as “Opposition” and ignoring to a very large extent the Local Coordination Comittee activists and the FSA foot-soldiers.

Fortunately, the Western media has focused on the grassroots local opposition and not these external non-oppositions….

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Syria Comment - Joshua Landis

Joshua Landis maintains Syria Comment and teaches modern Middle Eastern history and politics and writes on Syria and its surrounding countries. He writes “Syria Comment,” a daily newsletter on Syrian politics that attracts some 3,000 readers a day. It is widely read by officials in Washington, Europe and Syria. Dr. Landis regularly travels to Washington DC to consult with the State Department and other government agencies. He is a frequent analyst on TV and radio.

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