Can Syria's opposition groups figure out how to pull together? (+video)
At a gathering in Qatar, Syria's opposition groups have been trying to overcome disarray in their ranks – and lay the foundation for eventual post-dictator leadership.
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US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Monday that Washington wants "an opposition that represents more of the groups, more of the geographic representation, more of those who have been involved on the ground with local coordinating councils, with revolution councils."Skip to next paragraph
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But critics of Washington's efforts say the Obama administration was not ready for the Arab Spring and fears the chaos that may erupt in any post-Assad Syria more than it does continued stalemate.
"Deep inside, I think it's like the US wishes Assad to stay," says Shehadi. "The challenge is not with the opposition unifying. The challenge is that they're knocking at a door that won't open, which is American support."
Activists express frustration over what would be needed to gain such the support of the US or Western nations, which some accuse of blaming everything on the opposition to avoid action.
"How much conviction is necessary before something is done? Yesterday there were 240 people killed – so what is the magic number that is going to convince [them] that, 'Hey guys, we need to save a few lives here,'" asks Jouejati.
"In Libya it was far less, and you had NATO and the United States and the whole world trying to save the Libyans from that grotesque dictator, while here it's a far worse situation and [they are] doing next to nothing."
Turning to an 'icon' of the revolution
The Qatar conference is a recognition that the opposition "can do a lot better" and has been "dysfunctional," adds Jouejati. It is still not clear what will be agreed between opposition groups, or how effective it can be, though Jouejati says Mr. Seif – the key player in the US-backed initiative – is an "icon" of the revolution.
"We have to recognize that Syria has been an authoritarian state for almost 50 years, and that organizing one group is not going to be an easy task," says Jouejati. "But this opposition, which is fairly young, needs outside assistance – there's no doubt about it."
"It's the battle of hearts and minds in reverse," notes Shehadi.
"The term started in Vietnam, and later in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the United States wanted to prove to the [locals] that its intervention was for their own good, and that democracy and freedom is something good for them," says Shehadi. "Now it's the other way around, it's the Syrians trying to prove to the United States that they want intervention, that they want freedom, and that they deserve it."