Syrian Opposition Names Transition Council

Syria's opposition movement now has a transitional council similar to the one in Libya that's been working to defeat the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. The Syrian council is to be headed by a sociologist who lives in Paris.

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And now to Syria, where opposition leaders seem to be taking a page from the Libyan rebels. After weeks of deliberations, Syrian opposition leaders have named their own transitional council. The idea is modeled after Libya's self-appointed Transitional National Council. The Syrian group is to be headed by a sociologist who lives in Paris. And to update us on this, we've reached NPR's Kelly McEvers who joins us from Beirut. Kelly, good morning.

KELLY MCEVERS: Good morning.

GREENE: Why is this Syrian transitional council significant?

MCEVERS: Well, mainly because it's been a long time coming. I mean, you have had this massive street uprising in Syria thats been going on, now, for more than five months. Every day protests calling for the downfall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. And you have diplomats and officials in the international community saying OK, that's fine, but, you know, then what? If he falls, who's going to govern the country?

And the answer they've been getting over these months is: well, it's complicated. First you have the street movement, you know, the angry youths, the very decentralized organization of protesters, very spontaneous; then you've got what's called the inside opposition, the transitional opposition, the Syrian intellectuals who've long been trying to fight against Bashar al-Assad.

And then you have the, you know, what's called the outside opposition, the Syrian dissidents who live in Europe and the U.S., who've also been working against the regime. So this council's mainly a way to try to take a step toward unifying all these groups.

GREENE: And who is it heading the council? It's a sociologist in France?

MCEVERS: Yes, his name is Burhan Ghalioun. The council's 95 members, about half of these are from outside Syria and half of them are from inside. One of the main criticisms is that the whole process was shrouded in secrecy from the start. I mean Burhan Ghalioun didn't even know that he was the president until the list was published.

GREENE: Did you just say the person who's supposed to be leading this group didn't even know that he was going to be leading it?

MCEVER: Exactly. He saw the list and said, oh, OK, well I will accept the role. You know, so there's a lot of criticism, like why to shroud it in so much secrecy and I think the response is well, look, they're throwing opposition leaders in jail. They're either jailing us or they're detaining us, they're torturing us, and sometimes they're killing us. So I mean there has to be a level of secrecy here. I think some of the other main criticism though, especially from inside Syria among the protesters and some of the traditional opposition, is just we don't know who these people are.

GREENE: Well, if people aren't rallying around this group, does that show there's tension among a lot of the opposition groups in the country? You say they're in all different places, all different backgrounds.

MCEVERS: This has defined the opposition movement in Syria for years. Anyway, I mean, for one thing, it's hard to operate under so much repression. But the Syrian opposition right now looks at the leader of the Libyan council, you know, how he's taking a real, you know, sort of, public role, and to some degree everybody, you know wants to be that guy, wants to be the person who's going to lead the country in the future.

GREENE: I know it's early, but any sense if this group, largely made up of people from the outside, if they have a plan to run the government should the regime fall?

MCEVERS: Well, what I'm hearing from some of the more reasonable people inside the opposition, is like look: at least we've this is a good first step. It doesn't matter who's on what committee and who's heading what, at least we have a list. At least we have a way forward. But yeah, what I'm also hearing is there is a lot of paper lying around. Everybody's got his own plan. But it seems like the focus, right now, is on the issues facing Syria, in particular, once the dictator falls. How to help the economy recover, how to have an inclusive government. You know, you've got a lot of different sects inside Syria, and how to deal with security if, you know, big swaths of the army have been purged. You know, like with all of these countries where the dictator falls, day one is the regime falls, and day two is when the hard work begins.

GREENE: All right, we've been talking with NPR's Kelly McEvers in Beirut. Kelly, thank you.

McEvers: You're welcome.

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GREENE: This is NPR News.

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