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Friday, September 23, 2011     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

New secular opposition group in Syria opposes Islamist rule

LONDON — Syria's opposition has formed a secular wing in an attempt to counter domination by the Muslim Brotherhood.


Hundreds of Syrian exiles have formed an opposition group that envisioned a secular state to replace President Bashar Assad. The group, Coalition of Secular and Democratic Syrians, marked the first secular opposition group since the revolt against Assad in March.

"We are all against totalitarianism in any form, and that includes Islamist rule," Randa Qassis, a spokeswoman of the group, said.

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The group, which included representatives of Syrian minorities, was formed on Sept. 17 during a convention in Paris. The platform of the coalition called for a separation of religion and state as well as democratic guarantees.

Opposition sources have acknowledged that the Syrian opposition was dominated by the Brotherhood, which helped establish the Syrian National Council, based in Istanbul, Turkey. They said the Brotherhood has been working with Muslim allies in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey for funding and weapons to attack the Assad regime.

"Islamist rule is a real danger," Ms. Qassis said. "As a result, religious minorities have been wary of taking part in the revolution."

The Paris convention included representatives of Christians, Kurds and Sunni Muslims. Opposition sources said several European Union governments, particularly France, have encouraged secular activists to form an alternative to the Brotherhood in any post-Assad Syria.

"If we want Syria to enjoy a prosperous future, there must be a separation between religion and state," Mashouq Khaznawi, a Sunni cleric, said.

The Reform Party of Syria has estimated that the Brotherhood represents no more than five percent of Syrians. RPS, based in Washington, said up to 29 percent of the leadership of the Turkish-based Syrian National Council, formed in September 2011, consisted of Brotherhood members.

"Given that the other political groups are fragmented and represent multiple political ideologies, the Muslim Brotherhood, therefore, has secured control of the future of Syria using what looks like the absolute majority," RPS said.

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