Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Failed or thwarted?

While the Syrian opposition has thus far failed to form a transitional government, some believe this may be because the US has not yet decided on what it wants in Syria, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

In response to calls by international parties, the Syrian political opposition last week sought to form a limited transitional government consisting of ministries charged with specific tasks that would lead the transitional phase in the country and manage relief efforts, regulate relations with the outside world, coordinate with the armed opposition forces and manage the affairs of liberated areas until the regime collapses.

These efforts were led by the Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNCF), the largest opposition grouping, whose first priority has been to form a transitional government to manage the period coming after the end of the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

The coalition, formed last November, has been recognised as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people by many countries, but it has only now been able to take steps towards forming an interim government.

The initiative came in response to calls by Western and Arab states to form a transitional government that would represent the opposition and would run the country during the interim phase. This government would also serve as a ready alternative to the rule of Al-Assad, once the revolution has succeeded in overthrowing his regime.

The coalition has justified its failure to form a government up till now by saying that the conditions for the formation of a successful government, such as international recognition and financial support, were not available.

It has said that any interim government would need a daily budget of $40 million to perform its military, humanitarian and administrative duties, but this funding has not so far been available.

Any transitional government would lack impact if it was not recognised by the world community, it has also said, something which is not yet complete. Any government lacking convincing international support would lack a legitimate mandate, it has said, and would accordingly have little influence in Syria itself.

The opposition’s admission of difficulties in forming an interim government has come as another blow to efforts to fill the power vacuum in Syria, and it has undermined the credibility of the main opposition group at a time when Syria is sunk in a conflict that could soon become a civil war.

Coalition member Ahmed Ramadan said that while everyone agreed there was a need to form a transitional government, most preferred not to form one now in the absence of a safe zone in which that government could operate and sufficient international support and recognition.

“Without these things, it would be a stillborn government,” Ramadan said.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the only organised force among the opposition ranks, has also said that it would prefer to postpone forming a government, but that it could change its mind if regional powers supported it, especially Turkey and the Gulf states.

Instead of forming a government straight away, the coalition has accordingly agreed to form a committee of leading figures that will connect with revolutionary and political forces inside Syria.

The committee will also be in charge of contacting friendly states and international organisations to find out their opinion about forming a government and to what extent these parties would support it financially and politically.

Such support would pave the way for an interim government and guarantee its ability to survive once it was formed. For the time being, the committee’s response has also been negative, advising that this step should be postponed.

The coalition’s failure to form a government up till now has also raised doubts about the viability of forming a cabinet for the time being and the obstacles on the way to doing so.

Many have accused the Muslim Brotherhood of causing the delay, since the group does not want to see an interim government headed by figures who have defected from the Al-Assad regime, notably ruling Syrian Baath Party member Riad Hijab, the former Syrian prime minister, who defected several months ago.

Others have stated that the US and European countries are to blame, since these have made promises to the coalition that have turned out to be nothing more than words.

Many members of the international community have pressured the opposition to block or delay the formation of an interim government as part of ongoing efforts to reach a settlement that could result in a joint cabinet shared between the opposition and the regime.

This could mean that some major world powers want to force the opposition to reach a political settlement with at least part of the regime.

Opposition figures have differed in their interpretation of the failure to form a transitional government, and Bassam Jiaara, an independent opposition figure, has downplayed the significance of the coalition. “Ever since its creation, the coalition has not achieved any gains for the revolution,” Jiaara said. “It has been duped, and it should dissolve itself so it does not become a tool for plotting in world capitals.”

Another independent opposition figure, Ghassan Ibrahim, said that “the priority now is to support the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rather than form an interim government. Forming such a government would have no impact on the revolution in confronting the regime’s violence. What is needed is for the coalition to turn its attention to the inside, to the real battle, and support the FSA with weapons.”

However, Said Moqbel, an independent opposition figure, said that “international procrastination on the issue of a transitional government has been useful. The opposition’s failure to form a government is better than forming one unable to perform the minimum duties. This would be a major setback for the revolutionaries in Syria.”

Some coalition circles say that they have little confidence in the promises made to the opposition, and if the transitional government is not recognised by the international community, the opposition should take the initiative by forming a “revolutionary government” in other words a government of revolutionary and political forces that would function as a self-reliant executive power inside the liberated areas of Syria.

The West, led by the US, helped to create the opposition coalition and granted it a political umbrella to operate, but it has not recognised it completely. Instead, it has drowned the coalition in promises, without in fact making good on any of them.

The coalition is under economic strain despite having been promised billions of dollars, and it has been promised humanitarian aid that has mostly been lost or undelivered. It has been unable to play any practical role in the Syrian revolution because of internal inconsistencies and disputes that were nurtured by the West at its formation.

In reality, it is difficult to imagine an interim government under current conditions in Syria. While there are some areas that have been partially liberated, there are no areas that are entirely liberated, and the former are disconnected from each other by areas controlled by regime military and security forces.

There are no guarantees of the safety of transitional government members inside the country, or possible coordination between the coalition government and the armed revolutionary brigades that control the ground and impose their wishes by force.

A government without funds would also be of little use. Since the opposition has been unable to raise the tens of millions of dollars needed for refugees and the wounded, how will it be able to raise the $3 billion, which it says is the minimum amount needed for the government to succeed, many observers ask.

Syrians are also divided about the opposition’s forming an interim government. Some believe it should focus instead on arming the revolution and speeding up the collapse of the al-Assad regime, while others hesitate to support it out of concern for its extensive mandate.

The latter stress that the opposition should not have a mandate to take any sovereign or strategic decisions, which must remain in the hands of a governing council formed of all the political opposition forces, and they warn of the danger of an interim government’s negotiating with the regime or its remnants.

Moez Al-Khatib, head of the coalition, believes that an interim government “is the only way to address the chaos that has included humanitarian aid being stolen or pilfered by gangs taking advantage of the lack of security.”

“Many oil fields are under the control of armed groups, some of them are guarding them while others are robbing them. Some of the oil waste is even being dumped in the water-supply, which could cause a terrible environmental catastrophe,” he said.

The absence of a transitional government in Syria against the background of the chaotic aid, security and administrative situation in many areas of the country could convince the UN Security Council to adopt a plan to resolve the crisis that would include forming a transitional government that combined the opposition and elements from the regime.

The West may be obstructing the opposition from forming a government, in order that it does not need to then dissolve it when that government does not suit its intentions regarding an international agreement to resolve the Syrian crisis.


add comment

  • follow us on