Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1139, 14 - 20 March 2013
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1139, 14 - 20 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Slow politics, fast military

The Syrian opposition has been dragging its feet in forming a transitional government, but the armed revolutionary groups have been progressing in leaps and bounds, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Although the Arab League has been urging the Syrian opposition to form a transitional government, the Syrian National Coalition of Opposition and Revolution Forces (SNCR) has decided to postpone any such step for the second time without giving any reasons or a deadline.

The coalition, the largest opposition group, was supposed to meet in Istanbul a few days ago in order to accomplish the task in response to an invitation by the Arab League to form an “executive body” or “interim government” to take over Syria’s seat in the League.

The new government would then be asked to participate as the representative of the state of Syria at the Arab summit scheduled to be held in Qatar at the end of March.

Observers believe that the coalition’s failure in this task is another setback denoting internal disputes amongst the opposition or a lack of confidence in its ability to administer the liberated areas and take charge of domestic and international affairs.

It is likely that both things are true, but there are also other more substantial reasons why the coalition has been botching the step each time.

There are domestic and foreign stumbling blocks. Domestically, a large sector of the opposition inside Syria does not want to partner with the SNCR, though foreign parties are demanding that all the opposition forces should participate in the transitional government.

Some opposition forces believe that the prerequisites for forming an interim cabinet are not yet complete, and forming a transitional government under present circumstances could even delay finding a solution to the Syrian crisis and block the road to any negotiated solution with the regime.

The armed opposition, which is not part of the SNCR, has adopted much the same position, and it seeks to play a key role in any future interim government, especially in the military and security ministries.

Foreign factors include the hesitation of some countries in supporting the opposition, led by the US, and their scepticism about forming a transitional government at a time when the armed opposition and the revolutionary brigades are starting to overturn the military balance on the ground in Syria and take control of nearly 50 per cent of the territory.

The transitional project is also stumbling because of the desire of some Arab, regional and world countries that support different opposition groups to ensure that their allies are prominently represented in the next government.

The opposition agrees that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad must be removed and its leading figures prosecuted, with Syria being transformed into a pluralist and democratic state with rotation of power, but it disagrees on the means to this end.

 One camp, represented by the SNCR, believes that a military solution is the only way towards achieving it, and it views its recognition by dozens of countries as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people as giving it the green light to becoming the alternative to the incumbent regime.

The second camp, represented by the Syrian National Coordination Body (SNCB), believes a solution can be reached via negotiations with some members of the present regime who are not involved in the killing, according to last year’s Geneva Declaration.

It adds that this could be a possible solution if the international community pressures the regime into accepting such a transitional phase.

George Sabra, chair of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) which is an integral member of SNCR and is in the first camp, believes that giving Syria’s Arab League seat to the coalition “could occur in the coming weeks.”

Sabra added that this would be “a positive step for the Syrian people and their true representatives”, and he played down any inter-opposition disputes.

“Our Syrian society contains multiple affiliations,” Sabra told Al-Ahram Weekly. “There are Islamists, nationalists, secularists and liberals, and therefore it is natural for all these to exist. But we are experienced enough to regulate our differences and to forge ahead towards building a democratic regime.”

Walid Al-Boni, a SNCR spokesman, said that the Arab League’s decision was one step in the direction of asking for Syria’s seat at the UN and handing over Syrian embassies to the opposition.

Haitham Manaa, the head of the Coordination Committee overseas which is in the second camp, said that “we will not support a coalition government, even if one is formed. We believe the solution is to create a transitional ruling body composed of those loyal to the state and the most efficient elements of the opposition.”

“This government would have a full mandate on administrative, security, military and economic matters. It would lead the transitional phase in two stages. First, the current constitution would be suspended and a temporary constitution enacted, along with the overhaul of the military and security institutions, the passage of laws for parliamentary elections, and the starting of the reconstruction of the country.”

“In the second phase, a new constitution would be written, laws and legislation would be passed to lay the foundations of the separation of powers, and there would be the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections.”

The call for the opposition to form a transitional government is also not the most significant decision taken by the Arab League, which has now allowed member states to voluntarily provide military assistance to the opposition, the first time the League has allowed such public and direct military assistance to the revolutionaries in Syria.

In the past, it had insisted that assistance should be limited to humanitarian and emergency aid.

The call has gained more weight because it has coincided with a regional tour by US secretary of state John Kerry, during which he announced that Washington was confident that weapons being sent by other countries to the opposition were going to moderate forces and not extremists.

Kerry noted that Al-Assad “has lost legitimacy in ruling his people, and there is no way to restore his popularity”.

It also coincides with the announcement by British Foreign Minister William Hague that the EU would be ready “to move” if a political solution is not reached and the Syrian crisis continues.

Hague said defensive weapons had been sent to the opposition, including armoured vehicles, bullet-proof vests, and technical and training assistance. He also indicated that the opposition could receive advanced weapons.

Meanwhile, for the first time an official from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been received in international circles. General Salim Idris, the FSA’s chief of staff, gave an address to the EU in Brussels and met senior European officials.

During his trip, he asked western countries to supply the opposition with weapons and ammunition, asserting that the revolutionaries would overthrow the Al-Assad regime “within a month” if they received the military assistance they needed.

Some European countries agreed to train revolutionaries and promised to look into the request for arms.

The Syrian regime appears to be distant from the recent developments, and it has turned its back on what has been happening around it. Its only response has been to “condemn” the Arab League’s decision, saying that it is biased towards the Gulf states and rejecting any role for the League in resolving the Syrian crisis.

Meanwhile, it has continued business as usual by bombing cities and towns with highly destructive Scud missiles. Warplanes are carrying out air raids and attacks on cities, while helicopters and artillery on the ground continue to bombard large areas of the country.

Meanwhile, Al-Assad has been reiterating that he will reject any political solution that robs him of his powers.

Despite the regime’s violence, popular support has been growing for the FSA as it has grown more organised. This has been illustrated in the progress its combat units have achieved on the ground.

The Al-Raqa governorate in northern Syria has now fallen into the hands of the revolutionaries, and most of the north of the country is now outside regime control. The FSA has also restored control over parts of Homs that were previously controlled by the regime.

It has taken control of a military contingent in the north and of brigades in eastern and southern Syria, including heavy artillery, and it has now reached the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus.

Forming a transitional government now will not change the facts on the ground, and on the eve of the third anniversary of the Syrian uprising, Syrians are more worried than ever about what the future may hold.

For the time being, they see two paths for the revolution, either continued military conflict until the regime is overthrown by force, which is most likely and will leave much destruction, death and displacement in its wake, or a political solution, which is unlikely as long as the regime insists on using all its destructive capabilities and the revolutionaries insist on arresting and prosecuting Al-Assad.

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