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Terrorism & Security

In bid for unity, Syrian opposition group picks Kurd to lead

The election of Abdelbaset Sieda to the presidency of the Syrian National Council is being held up as a sign that a post-Assad Syria would be a safe place for all minorities.

By Staff writer / June 11, 2012

This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network SNN, taken on Friday, June 8, purports to show a girl holding the Syrian revolutionary flag during a demonstration in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, Syria.

Shaam News Network/AP

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Middle East Editor

Ariel Zirulnick is the Monitor's Middle East editor, overseeing regional coverage both for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She is also a contributor to the international desk's terrorism and security blog. 

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As fighting intensified between the Syrian regime and rebel fighters this weekend, the main Syrian opposition group chose a new president in a bid to unify the fractious organization and thereby gain greater international support.

The Syrian National Council (SNC) has struggled since its inception last year to establish itself as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and thus has failed to secure the kind of logistical, humanitarian, and military support that helped Libyan rebels to oust Muammar Qaddafi.

The pressure is on for the SNC's newly elected president, Abdelbaset Sieda, to unify the council if he wants greater international assistance, writes The Daily Star of Lebanon in an editorial.

… Their disunity and differences have, until now, been the stumbling block in their progress in deposing the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

This fragmentation has served as a key justification for those – whether in the West or in the Arab world – who have claimed that they would otherwise provide greater support, material or otherwise, to the rebels.

The election of Sida comes at a critical time, when violence appears to be intensifying at an alarming rate. Civil war is now in full swing, despite the tendency for commentators, politicians and journalists to define it otherwise.

But the SNC has few ties with the Free Syrian Army, the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad's regime, reports the Washington Post in a piece evaluating the pros and cons of Sieda's election. The SNC has also faced criticism from Syrian activists on the ground that it is out of touch, since it is comprised of Syrian expats and its conferences have all been held abroad.

The SNC's choice of Mr. Sieda, a secular Kurd who has lived in Sweden for the past 17 years, is being portrayed as a bid to broaden the opposition by rallying Syria's 1 million Kurds, Reuters reports. Opposition figures are also portraying his election as a sign that Syria's various minorities, who worry about their safety in a post-Assad Syria run by the majority Sunni population, would be safe. The SNC's three-month rotating presidency had been held by a Sunni since last summer.

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