Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

New hope in Syria

A new opposition bloc was formed and is broadly supported on the domestic and
international fronts, but will it avoid the mistakes of the National Council which failed
in both the battlefield and in its public image, asks Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

Following intense effort and extensive consultations under heavy Arab and international pressure, the leaders of the Syrian opposition signed on Sunday an agreement to form a new expanded umbrella for the opposition under the name the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (NCSR). It would form a transitional government to prepare for the interim period after the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is toppled.
According to the deal, the NCSR would seek “to overthrow the regime, all its figures and foundation” and “dismantle security agencies and prosecute anyone involved in crimes against the Syrian people”, as well as pledging “never to enter into dialogue or negotiations with the regime”. The opposition bloc would also “support the joint command of the revolutionary military councils” and will seek “international recognition by forming an interim government”. The mandate of the NCSR and the interim government would end after the overthrow of the regime, the holding of a national congress in Syria and the formation of a transitional government.
The new coalition does not include the opposition inside Syria, most prominently the National Coordination Committee that includes leftist and nationalist parties — essentially because they were not invited as an entity by as individuals to Sunday’s meeting. It was also boycotted by some new political forces inside Syria.
The coalition elected activist Moez Al-Khatib as its leader, a moderate religious figure who is supported by liberals and leftists. Opposition businessman Riad Seif was elected as Al-Khatib’s first deputy. He is an opposition figure who is supported by the Syrian street. Suheir Al-Atassi, a female activist, was elected second deputy and the third deputy will be chosen from the Kurdish bloc.
The NCSR immediately received the blessings of the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council, along with several key countries involved in the Syrian crisis such as Turkey, France and others. More importantly, the coalition was welcomed by the protesting Syrian masses.
Preliminary signs indicate that the NCSR will win Arab and international recognition in the coming weeks as the legitimate and sole representative of the Syrian people. This means that it will take charge of Syrian embassies abroad and have access to Syrian accounts in overseas banks. There are also Western promises that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) will be supported and armed with effective advanced weapons that would enable it to change the balance of power on the ground in a short period of time.
The preamble of the agreement focussed on the fact that this is a deal between the National Syrian Council (NSC) and “other opposition forces attending the meeting”, and its membership is “open to Syrian opposition groups of all stripes”. But in reality, the NSC only has 20 out of 60 seats in the new coalition and neither the NCSR leader nor his deputies are members of the NSC which was created nearly one year ago.
In fact, the new coalition was created as an indirect response to the poor performance of the NSC which was pressured by US, Arab and Western leaders in recent months to perform better but to no avail. NSC leaders monopolised decisions, failed to unite opposition ranks or restructure itself, and was preoccupied with “chasing windmills” as some opposition abroad described it, meaning it was distracted with internal problems and disputes.
The NSC elected a new chairman, George Sabra, one day before the new entity was created, but it had already lost credibility with Washington and other players. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently declared that the NSC does not deserve to represent the Syrian people because it failed to present an alternative to the Syrian regime that is acceptable to the world community, and because it wanted to monopolise representing the Syrian revolution.
The NSC tried to obstruct the creation of the new coalition, but pressure from several of its donor and supporting states forced it to agree to join the NCSR and agree to be part of a greater entity for political opposition forces instead of being its sole representative — as it had insisted for one year since its creation.
The NSC missed several opportunities to pioneer representing the Syrian people and their revolution. The US sponsored two international conferences, one in Tunisia attended by 60 countries and another in Istanbul with more than 110 countries attending, under the name Friends of Syria. It also launched media campaigns to publicise and promote the NSC and convinced many media outlets to work with the Council. But the NSC did not caplitalise on this broad Arab and international recognition and continued operating all year without structure, criteria or regulations.
The work fell into the hands of a few figures who have lived in exile for three decades and refused the delivery of financial deposits to a single fund. It was obvious that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) dominated the NSC and refused to join with the opposition inside Syria. It also blocked two deals sponsored by the Arab League, perhaps because the MB refuses to close ranks with nationalist or leftist forces.
In recent months, the NSC feared that its role would diminish or its influence would evaporate if the opposition is united and became more diverse. Thus, it attempted to sabotage all other opposition currents and parties and used the media outlets under its command for this goal. It succeeded to some extent in tainting the image of other opposition forces, especially those inside Syria, as being covertly allied with the regime.
Because of the NSC’s failure and unsuccessful strategy, several Arab and Western countries supporting the NSC agreed with the decision of some opposition figures and parties to form the NCSR, and invited the NSC to join it. Now, the Council is merely part of the opposition, as it should be, and not the representative of the Syrian people. This has also exposed it as a faction led by the MB — even if a Christian was chosen as its chairman for six months.
Eight months into the revolution, the opposition took the constructive step of creating the NSC to represent a broad political spectrum, since there has never been any political representation of the Syrian opposition for five decades. Although there was some criticism about its composition and how its members were chosen, opposition groups outside the Council hoped that it would in time embrace all Syrians and become a unified voice at this delicate political phase in the insurgency.
As soon as it was formed, the NSC gained broad popular support on the street not because of the political forces within it or their political platforms, but in the belief that — having seen what happened in Libya — the NSC would champion the demands of revolutionaries and be a political gateway to overthrow the regime. However, the Council’s political performance confirmed that it was merely a political alliance of old and nascent revolutionary political forces, and not an inclusive national council.
NSC members viewed the unsubstantiated “welcome” by international media as international “recognition” of it as the representative of the Syrian people, and they operated as if they were an absolute legitimate authority. Contradictions between its demands and those of the revolution gradually began to emerge, and the revolution was not compatible with politics although they share the same goal. Islamist groups were hasty to take the lead on the political scene of the revolution, and a covert power struggle began inside the NSC just like any other political coalition that incorporates conflicting ideologies.
The NSC became bloated and sagged because of internal policies of appeasement, reserving seats for members who had no political experience and who had no role. In time, it became a burden on the revolution, not its advocate, and did not play the needed positive role, whether on the domestic front amidst the masses, in fostering strong foreign ties, or in foreign media.
The milestones of the Syrian revolution over the past 20 months have shown that protesters and revolutionaries do not rely on any political bloc that is not a genuine political umbrella for the revolution and are unable to manage the political, media and military battles in this transitional phase in Syria. The people who rose up against one of the most totalitarian and despotic regimes in the region can also revolt against an opposition that does not achieve their goals and aspirations.
Some Syrian opposition figures are concerned that the NSC would swallow the nascent opposition entity, and warned that this could be a “time bomb” inside the NCSR. They threaten to withdraw at any point and bring down the coalition from within. They recall the actions of some NSC members in the past and fear that there would emerge two battling political bodies who claim to represent the revolution.
Hours after the NCSR was announced, several opposition figures and revolutionary forces pledged their full support if it achieves the goals of the Syrian people. They urged the leadership of the new NCSR not to repeat the mistakes of the NSC and keep the coalition an all-inclusive entity for all Syrian opposition forces and currents, to move from rhetoric to action. They warned it that they would “bury it” next to the NSC if it makes the same mistakes.

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