A premature transition
One Syrian opposition group has declared its intention of forming a transitional government, but others have rejected the step, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus
As if out of nowhere, a group of Syrian opposition figures announced in Cairo one week ago that they would be forming a "Board of Trustees of the Syrian Revolution" that would include 15 independent opposition figures and seasoned lawyer Haitham Al-Maleh to head a transitional Syrian government.
Al-Maleh is a well-known figure in the Syrian opposition, imprisoned inside Syria a few months ago. He has said that he now intends to begin consultations with opposition figures inside and outside Syria in order to form a new transitional government.
However, most Syrian opposition forces have criticised the move, saying that they were not informed of the intention to form such a government. They described it as a unilateral move that could further divide the Syrian opposition, which is already suffering deep fractures.
A few days earlier, the joint leadership of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) inside Syria, composed of thousands of defectors from the regular army, also proposed a plan for the transitional phase.
Among the most important features of this was the establishment of a Supreme Defence Council, a Presidential Council, and a Supreme Council for the Protection of the Revolution. These bodies would be accompanied by the formation of a transitional government composed of 31 ministers, eight deputy ministers and one prime minister.
The FSA initiative came in response to calls by European states and the Arab League for the Syrian opposition to form a transitional government that would include representatives of the entire opposition and would be an alternative to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's regime once the latter is overthrown.
However, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) rejected the FSA move, describing it as pulling "new rabbits out of hats for those who want to distract the revolution from overthrowing the regime."
According to the SNC, any transitional government should be led by a figure "chosen by the people" instead of existing opposition figures and it should benefit from international support.
The SNC would not cooperate in forming a transitional government until after the fall of the Al-Assad regime, it said, and any such government would need to include the FSA and the other opposition forces.
Commenting on the Cairo announcement, the FSA leadership abroad said the announcement of the formation of a transitional government was "appeasement to the outside and a blow to the inside, breaking up the striking fist of the people."
Other opposition forces agreed, though their differences with the FSA and SNC are deep on many issues, notably regarding arming the opposition fighters, the nature of the transition and the question of Al-Assad's removal.
Monzer Khaddam, a spokesman for the opposition National Coordination Committee, described the decision to form a transitional government as "a pipedream" that his group did not share.
"The so-called transitional government is nothing more than a formation of the opposition abroad, which has wild ambitions to reach power at any cost," Khaddam told Al-Ahram Weekly. "We are not interested in these fantastical notions and believe that they will negatively impact the popular movement, further dividing the opposition."
"We also reject the transitional proposal by the joint FSA leadership, because keeping the military out of politics remains one of the goals of the revolution. All these proposals are premature and are signs of the political immaturity of the political opposition."
According to Abdel-Razeq Eid, leader of the opposition Damascus Declaration Group abroad, which is to the left of the SNC, his group was more positive about the declaration.
"We generally welcome anything done by the revolutionaries inside the country, and I assume that the leadership of the FSA is in consultation with the revolutionaries inside and is not repeating the mistakes of the political opposition outside by taking decisions on their behalf," he told the Weekly.
"I believe that we need to build a security network that will fill the vacuum after the ouster of Al-Assad's militias. However, this should not be based on the traditional opposition but instead should reflect the will of the revolution inside as a whole, including the FSA and coordination committees."
Independent opposition spokesmen were critical of the new bodies proposed by the opposition, describing them as being out of touch with the movement inside the country.
"The vast majority of the opposition has always relied on trial and error in the practice of politics," Hazem Nahar, an opposition writer, told the Weekly. "This has resulted in slogans that are not always realistic, and as soon as one fails it is replaced by another. Genuine political analysis remains beyond the grasp of most of the opposition groups."
"The SNC has not been able to transform itself into a genuine political front leading the revolution. One reason for this could be the weak abilities of its members in the political realm, many of whom have only been interested in winning applause for their slogans."
"The main goal today is to close the opposition's ranks, because consensus will make it easier to form any transitional government in future. There should also be efforts to organise the FSA, transforming it into a proper military institution with genuine discipline and a unified leadership."
"Once this has been achieved, and there is a consensus that the FSA should be subordinate to the political leadership, it will be easier to choose a military figure to be part of any planned transitional government."
A further task, Nahar said, was to carry out "urgent relief work by mobilising the Arab states and international organisations to assist the displaced and refugees. If the political opposition cannot play this role, what is the point of its forming a transitional government?"
Although Nahar was convinced that the Al-Assad regime was doomed, he said that a transitional government could not be formed until there were "signs that the regime is about to collapse." Figures from inside the country were also currently being prevented from participating in any proposed transitional government, he said.
At present, the Syrian opposition is divided, and it has not yet come up with a joint plan of action to resolve the Syrian crisis. While all agree on the need to overthrow the Al-Assad regime, there are differences about ways and means. It seems unlikely that the opposition will agree on a transitional government at this stage, many criticising the idea as premature.
Meanwhile, observers are concerned that if the disputes among the political opposition groups continue, the armed opposition will take power after the regime is removed, underlining the need to reach agreement if this is to be avoided.