Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The main opposition Syrian National Coalition is facing a new political divide over the results of the recent election of new president Hadi Al-Bahra.
Following a three-day meeting in Istanbul, Bahra was elected on Wednesday as Coalition president and Nasr Al-Hariri as secretary-general under an accord between former president Ahmed Al-Jarba and a grouping within the Coalition led by Mustafa Al-Sabbagh.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, prominent Syrian opposition figure Michel Kilo accused former president Jarba of seeking to maintain an influential role in decision-making even after his departure. Jarba served two six-month terms as Coalition president; the post has a two-term limit.
Kilo said: “[Jarba] is working to monopolize the leadership of the coalition, although his prerogatives have come to an end. He is trying to do so through exercising power by proxy with the election of Hadi Al-Bahra as head of the coalition.”
“Discussions are being held with political blocs, political and economic national figures and intellectuals, with the aim of establishing a Syrian national grouping with genuine democratic orientations,” he added.
Kilo told Asharq Al-Awsat that he was trying to form a new bloc within the Syrian National Coalition—the main western-backed Syrian opposition umbrella group comprising dozens of different Syrian opposition groups and figures.
“The new body will not operate outside the coalition, but within it . . . [by exerting] pressure on the current leadership to prevent it from monopolizing political decision-making,” Kilo said.
However, other leading figures in the Coalition described Kilo’s planned move as detrimental to the Syrian revolution.
“The step that Kilo intends to take will lead to political subversion within the Syrian revolution,” Bassam Youssef, a member of the Syrian National Democratic Bloc —part of the Coalition—told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“[Kilo] is not able to accept the idea of political defeat, and every time he works toward an opposition bloc, the political function of this bloc comes to an end and he then resorts to establishing a new entity to get new gains,” Youssef added.
The election of Bahra—a member of the Syrian National Democratic Bloc led by Fayez Sara—as leader of the Coalition has split the Coalition’s executive body into two main camps. The first camp backed Jarba’s presidency and is today backing Bahra, while the second camp—led by Kilo—opposes both Bahra and Jarba.
In his statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Kilo described the period during which Jarba was in charge of decision-making within the coalition as “the worst in the life of the Syrian opposition because strategic areas were recaptured by the government forces.”
He also launched a broadside against Sara, holding him responsible for “the division within the Coalition and leading it to the side of Jarba.” He added: “Sara was the sponsor of the deal between Al-Jarba and Al-Sabbagh”.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Sara refused to respond to Kilo’s accusations. He said: “[My] role in bringing closer points of view between any opposing parties in the coalition is a source of honor and pride, particularly as these parties are in agreement over the same political platforms.”
The close relations between Jarba and Sabbagh played a key role in the outcome of the latest Coalition elections and the distribution of the main posts as part of a “consensual” formula.
But Kilo said: “This agreement between the two parties came at the expense of the rest of the blocs inside the coalition, particularly as it was not based on any political platform.”
But Sara insisted that the results of the recent elections marked “the beginning of ending the state of polarization between the components of the Syrian National Coalition.”
“The elected political board represented the various trends and blocs rallying under the umbrella of the Syrian National Coalition,” he said. Sara added that he had no objection to Kilo’s endeavors to form a separate grouping within the opposition body. “[He has] a natural right to express his opinion and launch initiatives to create opposition organizations and structures,” Sara said.