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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.

By Staff writer / November 6, 2012

The logo of the meeting of the General Assembly of the Syrian National Council is printed on a placard at the site of the meeting in Doha, Qatar, Sunday.

Osama Faisal/AP

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Istanbul, Turkey

By almost every measure, Syria's "Arab Spring" uprising has been unlike those before it in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

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AL-BAB, Syria (AFP) - Syrian rebels at the front are turning against their commanders who have fled abroad.

The Syria rebellion has dragged on the longest, at 20 months and counting. The lopsided, David-and-Goliath military fight has also been the most lethal, with a death toll that activists put at more than 36,000 so far.

Compounding problems has been the state of Syria's opposition groups. Largely based outside the country, they have proved to be among the most fractured and least effective of any of their regional counterparts.

Overcoming that disarray is the aim of a US-backed confab in Qatar this week of Syrian opposition groups, which are attempting to create relevance for themselves – and lay the foundation for eventual post-dictator leadership – as hourly news brings fresh reports of battlefield deaths.

At the meeting, the leading but much-criticized Syrian National Council (SNC), which originally enjoyed but then lost US support, voted to broaden its appeal by including more than 200 additional members of other anti-regime groups. But it is also wrangling with other opposition elements for the largest stake in a new US-backed initiative for a 50-member leadership body to establish new military and political councils.

That plan, put forward by prominent dissident Riad Seif, would largely emasculate the SNC by giving it just 15 of the seats and providing more voice for regime opponents inside Syria itself, a crucial element missing from past attempts at forging a legitimate opposition.

Whether either effort can bring more unity to Syria's opposition groups is unclear.

"It is truly a challenge," says Murhaf Jouejati, a Syrian analyst at the National Defense University in Washington, who says he resigned from the SNC in recent days because its expansion plans could exacerbate Syria's problems.

"In order to have revolutionary-scale change, you need an opposition movement that is strongly disciplined, that is organized hierarchically," argues Mr. Jouejati. "But the nature of this is that the SNC – or any opposition coalition – is going to [have] different people, different views, and different ideologies.

"What the revolution needs, of course, is to include those military forces on the ground that are doing the revolution, [but] at the top there needs to be a centralization, so when the top takes decisions, the entire body acts accordingly," he adds.

Hard to develop chain of command

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