Trying to mold a post-Assad Syria from abroad

The New York Times reports: Emad ad-Din al-Rashid, a former assistant dean at the Islamic law college of Damascus University, opened his MacBook Air laptop and flipped through spreadsheets detailing the unmet needs of seemingly every besieged neighborhood across Syria.

From his spare office in a fifth-floor walk-up on a drab Istanbul street, Mr. Rashid spends eight hours a day calling into Syria, mostly to lobby hundreds of his former theology students to join his new Syria National Movement, patiently building a network that he hopes will one day become the Islamist movement’s power base.

While opposition groups are mostly concentrating on ending the brutish rule of President Bashar al-Assad, they are also positioning themselves for the longer-term question of who will rule in a post-Assad era. For that, they know from watching what happened in other Arab countries like Tunisia and Egypt that they need a good ground game.

“The Syrian people don’t want to hear about politics right now, they want to focus on toppling the regime,” said Mr. Rashid, 47, an amiable man with a neatly trimmed, salt-and-pepper beard. “But you have to be present politically before the system falls.”

A broad spectrum of political organizations outside the country are jockeying for position, anticipating a new, democratic government in Syria for the first time since a 1963 military coup established the supremacy of the Baath Party and emasculated the rest.

The jockeying has alienated many Syrians, particularly those inside, who complain that members of the fractious opposition exile group, the Syrian National Council, are fixated more on grabbing appointments that they can leverage into domestic influence later than on forging the unity needed to defeat the government. The wrestling continues nonetheless. It remains unclear which group, if any, will emerge the dominant player.

Given the triumphant sweep of Islamist parties across North Africa, Syria’s Islamist leaders itch with anticipation that this is their moment, too. The Muslim Brotherhood is the dominant actor, but two other Islamist organizations, the National Action Group and Mr. Rashid’s Syria National Movement, are vying for influence. All are based abroad.

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