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Syrian Opposition Attempts to Unite Amidst Growing Chaos

The U.S.-supported move has some success, but questions remain going forward.

by
Jonathan Spyer

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November 18, 2012 - 11:29 pm
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A U.S.-supported move to create a single united framework for the Syrian revolution’s leadership has belatedly met with success. The new group, bearing the unwieldy name of the “National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces,” will be headed by an Islamist cleric from Damascus, Sheikh Mouaz al-Khatib.

He will be backed by two deputies: businessman and veteran democratic oppositionist Riad Seif; and women’s rights activist Suhair al-Atassi.

The emergence of the National Coalition is an achievement for the Syrian external opposition. It came about as a result of massive pressure from the U.S. and Qatar on the Syrian oppositionists, after a gathering of the latter in Doha threatened to produce only another display of squabbling and disunity.

Many questions remain regarding the new coalition and its chances for really bringing about a unified movement capable of replacing the brutal Assad dictatorship.

In the first place, the forces that are actually carrying out the rebellion against the regime and who now hold power in considerable parts of the country were not involved in the Doha meetings. These are the disunited, fractious, but growingly effective armed rebel battalions.

The new coalition is expected to form a Revolutionary Military Council, which will bring together existing military councils inside the country. This framework could then be used for funneling arms to rebel battalions approved by the coalition and its backers.

With many powerful Islamist units operating outside of the framework of the local military councils however, it is not clear that the new coalition will succeed in uniting and overseeing the military effort against the dictatorship. This will be the most important task now facing it.

An additional question concerns the make up of the new coalition itself, and the extent to which it really differs from the Syrian National Council which it supersedes.

A list of 65 members of the new coalition has been released. Of these, 22 are members of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated SNC. Another third consist of traditional and tribal representatives, some of whom are themselves Islamists and Muslim Brothers. Veteran Syrian oppositionist Ammar Abdul-Hamid described the list as consisting in essence of “ … the same tired and drab personalities that have plagued opposition work since the beginning of the revolution.”

Despite the fanfare that has announced its creation, it is, to say the least, doubtful if this body will prove up to the difficult task of creating a unified leadership for the rebellion which is now making significant advances inside Syria.

Meanwhile, inside Syria itself events are on the move. While many still speak of a stalemate, the reality on the ground is that the regime is slowly growing weaker. The failure of Assad’s forces to quickly retake the city of Aleppo in September was testimony to the declining strength of the government side.

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