Thursday,23 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Thursday,23 November, 2017
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

Moving to plan B

Will the formation of the coalition of revolutionaries and opposition forces mark the beginning of the end of the Syrian crisis? Omayma Abdel-Latif seeks answers

Al-Ahram Weekly

Unlike the euphoria which accompanied the formation of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the first and only opposition coalition group in exile, well over a year ago, the repackaging of the Syrian opposition under a new title — Coalition of Syrian Revolutionaries and Opposition Forces — has been met with scepticism, anticipation and rising expectations.
There are a number of reasons why the international actors, particularly the US and France, pushed for a new opposition front with a broader representation (Alawites and Christians whose conspicuous absence was sorely felt in the SNC composition). During the past few months, the SNC has been rendered completely irrelevant to the course of events taking place in Syria. The front which is composed of 35 revolutionary groups and 24 political parties appeared to have lost touch with the situation on the ground and was plagued with differences and personal feuds among its members.  
Second, the mushrooming of jihadi groups connected to Al-Qaeda and their taking over the situation on the ground and controlling the battlefield raised alarm bells across many parts of the world. But a third and more important reason has to do with what many analysts believe was a deal being cooked up behind closed doors to put an end to the Syrian crisis.
This explains the flurry of diplomatic efforts made in haste to declare the new coalition and offers indication of international blessing for such an entity. So the UK foreign secretary speaks of the necessity to provide the Syrian opposition with what he described as non-lethal weapons. This is followed by a donors conference due to be held in London this Friday and will be followed by a Friends of Syria conference which will be held in Marrakech in a few weeks’ time and which is expected to witness international recognition of the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. On Monday, the Arab League recognised it as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
The formation of a united opposition front with international recognition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people was the opening statement in what many analysts described as plan B for Syria. The British foreign secretary made no secret of the fact that the coalition formation “would prepare the ground for the much needed political transition in Syria”.
Put another way, it appears that both international and regional actors were moving to plan B for Syria. This plan aims to move fast to a transitional period in Syria. For this to happen, the all too fragmented opposition had to unite its ranks and form a body with broad representation of the multitude of opposition forces both inside and outside the country. According to this plan, President Bashar Al-Assad, weakened by the ground battles as more and more areas fall outside his control, will eventually surrender to any face-saving settlement.
One point of contention, though, among the key international actors centres around Al-Assad’s place in any foreseeable deal. In other words, would his departure be one of the conditions for the political settlement (the view of the US, Gulf and Syrian opposition) or would he remain until the end of the transitional period, then disappear from the scene through elections (the view of Russia, Iran and Al-Assad himself)?
The events of last week suggested two courses of action as the most viable. The first scenario would be to bring down the regime by military force; be that internally through the armed opposition or externally through a foreign military intervention. But this option has been completely exhausted during the past months. The Free Syrian Army does not have the weapons (anti-aircraft missiles) to claim total control and many countries are hesitant to supply more arms in light of the proliferation of jihadi groups who are taking over the battle ground.
The balance of power on the ground still remains in the regime’s favour. Added to that, Syria’s neighbours, particularly Jordan, are beginning to feel the heat of the presence of jihadi groups, particularly those linked to Al-Qaeda. Mohamed Abu Rumman, professor at the Jordanian University, pointed out that Jordan was alarmed by the mushrooming of jihadi groups in Syria and considered them a threat to Jordanian national security. He explained that Jordan’s fast move from a neutral actor in the Syrian crisis to being heavily involved in plan B was to accelerate the move to a transition period and have jihadi groups under the control of a united political front.
A second scenario for the increasing efforts to unite the opposition was to have a body that could sit at the negotiation table to reach a political settlement. This body could form an interim government which takes over after Al-Assad’s departure.
There is, nonetheless, a third scenario which has to do with who controls the ground and enjoys a heavy presence inside Syria; that is the jihadi groups who — incidentally — were not represented in the Doha meetings and who until now have not commented on the formation of the coalition.
Many questions arise regarding whether or not such groups could actually commit to any deals or even be subservient to this new opposition front and work under its umbrella and at their instructions.
The biggest challenge facing the coalition was whether or not it will be able to impose its will on the countless jihadi and armed groups controlling the ground now. The coalition seeks to impose itself as the sole channel for financial aid but first it has to prove itself as a unified and powerful leadership. According to Moez Al-Khatib, the new head of coalition, they are studying arrangements for relief efforts and setting up a unified military command. This will be the most difficult test for the success or failure of the new opposition front.

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