New Syrian Opposition Group Formed : MICHAEL KILO & KAMAL LABWANI

Al Arabiya – 29.5.2013 – A group of prominent Syrian activists who favor a civil, democratic state have formed a new opposition group, a member said Tuesday, in a further fragmentation of President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents.

The new grouping, called the Union of Syrian Democrats, includes heavyweight activists such as Michel Kilo, a Christian writer and human rights activist. It appears to be an attempt to counterbalance the influence of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood inside the National Coalition, the country’s main opposition bloc.

The 250 “members of the group, who come from different political streams, are united on the principal of democracy,” one of its members, Kamal Labwani, told AFP. He declined to say directly that the group intended to challenge the Brotherhood’s influence, but said it would focus on creating a civil state.

“If the Muslim Brotherhood are opposed to the construction of a civil state, this group is directed against them. If they support this project, they are our allies,” he said.

“Our problem with the Muslim Brotherhood is that they say one thing and do another… they say they want a civil state, but in practice, they don’t.” The Muslim Brotherhood is the best organized of the groups arrayed in opposition to President Assad’s regime. But it has been criticized by activists for trying to dominate the opposition, boosted by the support of Qatar. The group rejects the accusations, but they have only grown since the election of Ghassan Hitto, reportedly the Brotherhood choice, to the post of rebel prime minister. The Syrian Brotherhood has also been accused of being controlled by Islamist extremeists. “It is not true that extremists are in charge of liberated lands,” their leader Mohammad Riad Shakfa said at a press conference in Istanbul in April. “The land … belongs to a united front of the opposition.” Speaking in Arabic, he added: “As far as I know, there is no extremism in Syria.” The new opposition group, launched in Cairo, will hold a series of meetings in coming months to discuss their structure.