Middle East

Topple Ahmad Jarba? Not so fast ...

Focusing on a single person isn't the answer, some activists say. (Facebook)

BEIRUT: Activists have called for nationwide demonstrations Friday against the head of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Jarba, as a strong “message” to signal disappointment with the opposition-in-exile’s catalog of political failures.

But the divisive move, which some observers attribute to the struggle between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which backs Jarba, for primacy in the ranks of the backers of the opposition has prompted other activists to reject focusing on a single person when it comes to responsibility for the setbacks.

The Facebook page of the Syrian Revolution 2011, which selects the slogan for the weekly protests, said it did not favor focusing on a single individual, despite the slogan “Friday of Toppling the Head of the Coalition.”

“The name of this Friday ... is a message to the head of the National Coalition, in his professional and not personal capacity, along with all of the politicians in the coalition and other organizations,” the activists said.

“This Friday reminds us of the principle of accountability, as a fundamental principle of our revolution. All politicians and activists should periodically review [their performance],” it added.

Jarba and the coalition have come in for increasing criticism in recent days – last weekend saw the fall of the rebel-held town of Yabroud to regime forces and Hezbollah fighters, with many blaming the opposition for failing to send enough material support to the rebel groups.

And while many rebel groups on the ground have repeated their pleas for immediate assistance, coalition figures have also been locked in a struggle to reorganize the rebel Free Syrian Army by removing its leader Gen. Salim Idriss.

Idriss and other rebel commanders have rejected his ouster.

The campaign against Jarba was initiated by activists establishing several Facebook pages to gauge support for the call, and enthusiasm quickly spread.

Getting an early jump on the weekly Friday protests, people photographed themselves holding placards with the slogan, from inside and outside Syria.

But the Union of Revolution Coordinators, another leading activist group, has rejected the idea. It called instead for the adoption of the slogan “Mothers of Martyrs and Detainees,” as March 21, Friday, is celebrated as Mother’s Day in the Arab world.

The group acknowledged the need to correct what has gone with the civilian uprising-turned-military insurrection but said that it did not want to see “the revolution of dignity and freedom become a revolution of infighting, when all of the errors are the fault of a [single] person.”

It said that by focusing on Jarba, the “negative” performance of the coalition as a whole would be ignored. “The post of president has become the focus of infighting and friction among countries that call themselves ‘friends of Syria,’” it added.

Over the last several years, Friday protest slogans have addressed and criticized the international community for not doing enough to help the armed opposition, demanding moves such as instituting no-fly zones, providing anti-aircraft weapons and expelling the ambassadors of countries that support the regime of President Bashar Assad.

But Friday’s protests would mark the first time that their overarching slogan has taken aim at an opposition politician and some of the social media imagery promoting the campaign against Jarba, such as picturing him side-by-side with Assad with both placed inside the international symbol for “forbidden,” was apparently too much for some opposition enthusiasts.

The slogan against Jarba has gained the support of thousands of people online, but the campaign hasn’t appeared to catch on among the multitude of Facebook pages representing activists in various provinces of Syria.

A media official and activist based in Turkey told The Daily Star that it was no time for a “divisive” slogan.

“I have strong reservations about tomorrow’s Friday protest name, because it will only increase divisions in the Syrian opposition,” the official said.

“It will make the revolution a prisoner of the agendas of regional powers, which don’t want what’s good for the Syrian people.”

The answer, he continued, lay in convening a national opposition conference that establishes a new political organization “that represents the Syrian people.”

Friday will likely see a split in the streets over the slogan, which won’t be the first such instance of multiple slogans, although they have been rare.

Leading anti-regime politicians and activists have in recent weeks stepped up their complaints about the lack of leadership in the uprising, although many people complain that opposition supporters are too quick to launch vicious attacks and slander campaigns against most of the figures who have assumed leading roles since it erupted more than three years ago.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 21, 2014, on page 8.




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