by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
On October 31, I wrote, Who is the Syrian Opposition?. Less than two weeks later, a new coalition of opposition figures was born in Qatar, underscoring the erratic composition of the groups fighting to oust Bashar Assad from power.
|Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, Riad Seif, Suhair al-Atassi, |
and Mustafa al-Sbbagh
The Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces (SNCORF; also conveniently abbreviated as SCARF) is not entirely a new opposition group. Rather it is a new umbrella organization intended to replace the Syrian National Council (SNC) criticized last week by Secretary Clinton for not being inclusive enough. The U.S. administration does not seem interested in representative groups as much as it is interested in political organizations that are actually capable of exerting control over armed groups. Understandably, the U.S. administration is concerned about sophisticated weapons falling in the hands of terrorist groups threatening U.S. security and interests. These concerns were heightened in September when some rebel group in Libya attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and killed the Ambassador and members of his security detail.
Members of the SNC resisted the unification plan and was said to agree only when Qatar and other Gulf States threatened to withdraw financial and political support. In the end, instead of a birth of a more representative opposition, the old body was re-created with a new name.
The new entity is headed by a president, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, a Sunni preacher from Damascus and two vice presidents, Riad Seif and Suhair al-Atassi. A Syrian businessman based in the Gulf, Mustafa al-Sbbagh, was appointed general secretary. A third vice president post reserved for a Kurdish representative remained vacant. The SNCORF will consist of 60 seats, 22 of which are reserved for the SNC. The rest of the seats are divided among the Local Revolutionary Councils (14), the National Kurdish Council (3), Turkmen community (3), major opposition figures (9), and other organizations (9). How much sway do these individuals exert over armed militias is unknown at this point.
Members of SNCORF claim that they represent 90% of the Syrians. Evidently, that is a highly exaggerated number and there is no reliable way of ascertaining that that number is true since these persons were not elected. Having Kurdish and Christian persons on this board does not necessarily mean that they actually represent those communities. The SNC was portrayed as an inclusive opposition group until Sunday; they too, had a Kurd and now a Christian serve as presidents of the SNC. Many Kurdish, Christian, and other minority groups were not represented in the SNC and are not represented in SNCORF. Another opposition coalition representing 13 leftist and centrist political parties working under the banner of National Coordination Committee for the Forces of Democratic Change, which includes the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, is not included in SNCORF.
The creation of SNCORF could be a step in the right direction if the opposition forces were to adopt a strategy that will result in ending violence. However, the platform adopted immediately after the formation of SNCORF states that the central conditions for joining the organization are: commitment to overthrowing the regime, refusing to negotiate with the regime, and planning to dismantle all state institutions including the security and military forces. These conditions echo the deba`thification policy in Iraq, which caused more instability and security risks despite the presence of more than 160,000 U.S. troops. To refuse to talk to Assad is one thing, but to refuse to talk to anyone from the current regime is to embrace the military solution to the exclusion of any political settlement. Short of a decisive military intervention under UNSC resolution, most likely to be blocked by Russia and China, arming the rebels will only prolong killing and destruction.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.