Much discontent is present within the SOC, after 18 of its members were expelled in early April. The changes were conducted under the banner of “reform”; SOC head Salem Muslet purportedly intends to replace departing members with representatives from local councils and Syrian organizations in Syria and diaspora—although a month on, these steps are yet to materialise. And while such reforms are arguably badly needed within the SOC, it was the way in which they were conducted that stirred such controversy—having occurred without transparency and very suddenly, leaving affected members surprised to discover they would lose their seats without warning. The SOC justified its tactic saying that this was the only way in which reforms could be made without encountering obstacles.
Changes were also made to the coalition’s by-laws that reduced the number of component groups within the SOC from 25 to 12. The Muslim Brotherhood bloc was reduced to two members with key Brotherhood figures Ahmad Ramadan and Nazir Hakim losing both their positions and their allies. The new by-law extended the term of the coalition’s president, the deputy president, and the secretary-general from one to two years, with the possibility to serve to consecutive terms. The SOC president will now also be able to nominate candidates to the Syrian Interim Government (SIG)—previously the SOC’s general assembly was tasked with this job.
The departed members immediately formed a new bloc headed by Ahmad Ramadan which they called the “Syrian National Coalition – Reform Movement.” They described what had happened as a “coup” and threatened to expose corruption and other nefarious activities within the SOC. The Reform Movement (RM) has moved quickly on a campaign to set out their political platform, conducting visits to northern Syria to explain developments and reach out to the Syrian people for support. The SOC is seriously concerned about this break-away group, in particular their vigorous campaign approach and their outreach to the diplomatic community. Despite this vigorous initial campaign, without regional or international support, which looks highly unlikely, such efforts cannot be sustained.
ETANA conducted a brief online survey of Syrians’ views on this issue, targeting participants from civil society, intellectuals, and opposition backgrounds. The survey question was: “Do you follow what is happening with reform in the ranks of the Syrian opposition coalition?” Of 82 participants, 83% said “No, I am not concerned at all”; 17% said “Yes, to some extent”; and only one person (0.01% of all participants) answered “Yes, pretty much” while no one said “Yes, it matters very much.” A Syrian political expert commented on these results saying: “It demonstrates how Syrians pay little attention to the battles within the SOC; they see it as irrelevant. The representation the SOC claims is not real, it has zero legitimacy.”