Sunday,15 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013
Sunday,15 July, 2018
Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013

Ahram Weekly

Syria’s rudderless opposition

As the international community plans another conference on Syria, the country’s opposition is having difficulty putting together a credible delegation, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

Now that the US and Russia have agreed to hold an international conference, slated for June in Geneva, to explore a negotiated settlement to the crisis in Syria, unity among the country’s opposition is more needed than ever. However, the task of forming a unified delegation to the conference may be proving too much for the fractious opposition.

Unifying the opposition to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is not only necessary for the Syrian nation, but it is also something that is being demanded by the international community.

The nearest the opposition has come to unifying its ranks was when it formed the Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (CSROF), which secured a fair level of international recognition, but even this was unable to step into its designated role as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

Bickering now seems to have become endemic among the opposition’s ranks, and as new offshoots keep springing into life the picture is becoming murkier than ever. 

Two weeks ago, a “Democratic Axis” was formed in Cairo, which, led by activist Michel Kilo and including key secular and liberal figures, announced that it intended to fight for a free and democratic Syria.

It seems likely that the Axis is aimed as a counterbalance to Syrian Islamists, mainly the country’s Muslim Brotherhood, which seem to have dominated the CSROF.

On 20 May, dozens of Syrian opposition figures met in Spain to announce the formation of another bloc pledged to fight until the regime in Syria was overthrown. Meanwhile, a few days ago in Istanbul CSROF held a meeting aiming to elect new leaders and stake out a policy for the upcoming international conference.

However, the tenor of the meeting was acrimonious, and the Syrian government has also given the forthcoming conference its preliminary stamp of approval.

The National Coordination Committees of the Forces of Democratic Change (NCCFDC), generally viewed as the most influential current of the Syrian opposition at home, have not attended the meetings in Egypt, Spain, or Turkey, and also absent have been the National Kurdish Council, a grouping of mostly Kurdish opposition parties, and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the military wing of the opposition.

Attempts to enlarge CSROF and keep the rising power of the Islamists in check have thus far failed, and the group has largely shown itself to be incapable of taking the lead on crucial issues.

Since it was created nearly six months ago, it has continued to act in the same fractious manner as the Syrian National Council that preceded it. Members focus their efforts on outside audiences rather than their home constituency, and they sometimes seem more interested in personal gain than in the long-term future of the country.

Aside from the fragmentation of the opposition, the Geneva conference is also likely to run into other obstacles. Among these are the actions of the Syrian regime, which on previous occasions has successfully stalled for long enough to void Arab and international overtures of their substance.

Samir Eita, a Syrian opposition member, said that he was pessimistic about prospects for the conference due to divisions in the ranks of the opposition.

“One cannot say that the CSROF is the only existing group, even if it manages to expand its base ahead of the conference. The US doesn’t recognise the CSROF as being representative, and nor do the Russians. All shades of opposition should take part in the conference, but someone should play a reconciliatory role so that divisions and bickering don’t undermine it.”

“There are also other problems with regard to the armed opposition. The political opposition doesn’t fully represent the armed opposition, and it is the latter that should agree with the regular army on a ceasefire, something which is crucial in any negotiations. The armed opposition is also divided among rival segments,” Eita said.

Eqab Yehia, a member of the CSROF political bureau, admitted that there were problems inside the organisation. Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Yehia said that “there are many things that hamper the institutional and active work of the CSROF. One is that the groups that form it haven’t been integrated fully into this body and some of them are still promoting their own agendas.”

Yehia did not rule out that the CSROF may yet develop into a credible organisation, but in order to do so “it must include real forces on the ground, such as the youths who believe in the revolution, the opposition political forces, whether parties or individuals, including some members of the NCCFDC, the Democratic Forum, and similar bodies,” he said.

“When the CSROF turns into an active and well-organised body, and when we have a homogenous working team, then we will have a real and legitimate representative of the Syrian people and an organisation capable of unifying and controlling the military operations.”

The Syrian uprising, which began with one or two political groups and a massive popular movement, has spawned dozens of political factions that lack a unified command or clear and common objectives towards the regime and the future of the country post Al-Assad.

The groups are often disconnected, and they may have little in common with each other. Some of them are even more hostile to each other than they are to the regime.

Inside and outside Syria, there are 12 active opposition groups and a large number of less influential ones. Abroad, the most important groups are the CSROF, the Syrian National Council, the Democratic Forum, the National Change Current, the Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Syria, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

At home, there is the NCCFDC, the State Building Current, the General Agency for the Syrian Revolution, the Kurdish National Council and the Turkman National Council. None of these factions have real links, and they have not come up with any unified programme for their actions.

Sometimes, it can seem that each of these groups speaks only for itself, regarding itself as the nation’s one and only saviour. The groups can also refuse to coordinate, even in the face of a cruel regime that has no mercy for innocent civilians, but instead savours the destruction of cities and villages.

Each of these factions indulges in criticising the others and levelling the worst accusations against them. They may charge each other with being agents of the regime or of Arab or foreign countries. They lash out at the leaders of other factions and try to tarnish their reputations, a tactic that succeeds only in tarnishing their reputations and depriving them of public support.

Most of the existing factions have no power base, though some of them have inherited their ideologies, whether pan-Arab, religious, or leftist, from earlier times. Some capitalise on the personal histories of their leaders, emphasising how these spent years in prison, or how they suffered at the hands of the regime.

In brief, the Syrian opposition is splintered, divided and rudderless, and it is incapable of fielding a unified team at the negotiations. Over the past two years, the opposition has proved itself to be more skilled at infighting than at leading the struggle against the regime, and it has failed to come up with a leadership that can bring the nation together and work in a systematic manner.

The opposition is also still divided between the opposition abroad and the opposition at home, though neither seems capable of grasping the changes on the Arab and international scenes. Taken together, these things mean that the course of the Syrian revolution is likely to be harder and more tragic than it needs to be.

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