Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1256, (30 July - 5 August 2015)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1256, (30 July - 5 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Syria’s divisive opposition

Syria’s two largest opposition alliances met recently in Brussels, but with far from helpful results, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

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Al-Ahram Weekly

It should be good news when representatives of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) and National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCCDC) meet to discuss a unified plan of action. But when they got together in Brussels last week the outcome was hardly encouraging.

The document approved in Brussels seemed perfunctory, only reiterating the principles of the Geneva Declaration that was passed with the approval of the major powers in June 2012.

It pledged to exclude the top figures from the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad from any future deal, and it blamed the Islamic State (IS) group and the regime for the continued fighting. It also blamed the international community for failing to intervene.

All this was to be expected, and indeed the document bore a strong air of déjà vu.

These things have been said more or less by the same people many times before. They are not essentially different from the points reached in recent meetings in Cairo, and crucial matters, such as consolidating the political opposition and establishing clear links between the political and the military opposition, were left out.

Moreover, only part of the NCCDC attended the meeting, while another part including the NCCDC leaders opposed it. As a result, the Brussels meeting illustrated not only the usual failings of the NCSROF and the NCCDC, but also the frictions that exist within their ranks.

For years, the Syrian people and the international community have expected the opposition to find a way to unite, but this has not happened. The Brussels meeting did not give the opposition the semblance of unity it needed to be credible, if anything only undermining any achievements it may have made in the Cairo talks.

Hours before the meeting, the NCCDC leaders said they would not attend the meeting and that any rank-and-file members showing up in Brussels would be breaking ranks. This was hardly an auspicious start, and, not to be outdone, some NCSROF members also questioned the value of the gathering.

One former NCSROF member who attended the Brussels meeting put a brave face on things by saying that “it demonstrated the unity of the opposition with regard to the terms of a political settlement… This puts the ball in the court of the UN and the international community.”

The differences between the Turkey-based NCSROF and the Syria-based NCCDC also go deeper than their reconciliatory statements suggest. Since its formation in November 2012, the NCSROF has favoured military intervention, a position that its main supporter, Turkey, shares.

The NCSROF has urged the US to agree to form buffer zones on Syria’s borders. It has supported and funded armed groups, including several Islamist factions. It also suffers from administrative and financial corruption, a fact that has undermined its reputation with the Syrian public. It is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The NCCDC, for its part, propagates a peaceful settlement with those members of the regime who do not have blood on their hands, and it is opposed to armed struggle and foreign intervention. It has no militias of its own, and it has not lent its support to any armed faction in the current conflict. It is dominated by leftists, pan-Arabists and Nasserists.

Munzir Aqbiq, a key NCSROF figure, said the principles endorsed in Brussels “are the only practical way to achieve a political solution in Syria involving a radical and true transfer of political power.”

“If the NCCDC leaders refrain from signing the Brussels agreement, this will be a sign of internal differences within NCCDC ranks, which is nothing new. The NCSROF also suffers from differences within its ranks,” Aqbiq added.

Rivalries and jealousies and corruption and backstabbing have long been the Achilles heel of the Syrian opposition. Each group seems to think that it alone has the answer to the country’s troubles, and each seems more interested in undermining its rivals than in achieving the revolution’s goals of freedom and change.

When the NCCDC was formed as the first opposition alliance after the revolution, a Western-backed rival group, the Syrian National Council, held a meeting at practically the same time to undermine it.

Since then, petty rivalries rather than selfless effort have blighted almost every endeavour of the Syrian opposition. Whenever a chance of unity appears, someone turns up to scuttle it. Whenever a reasonable voice tries to speak, discordance drowns it.

Sayed Moqbil, a Syrian opposition figure, is convinced that the main aim of the Brussels meeting was to undermine the progress recently made in the Cairo talks.

“The Turkish-Muslim Brotherhood current in the NCSROF tried to undermine the outcome of the Cairo Conference held last month. It tempted some NCCDC members to come up with an alternative roadmap in order to supplant the Cairo documents. However, they will not succeed,” Moqbil said.

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