Syria's opposition groups convene in Qatar – can they build a unified front?
The opposition's Syrian National Council began a conference in Qatar yesterday to overhaul its structure. Many, including the US, have lost confidence in the fragmented group.
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Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor. He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog. He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.
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Sharp divides among Syrian rebel leaders are already apparent after the first day of an opposition conference in Qatar, casting doubt on US hopes that the meeting will result in a unified opposition to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Syrian National Council (SNC), the opposition's primary political group that many, including US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, have called dysfunctional and unrepresentative of rebels on the ground in Syria, began a four-day conference in Qatar on Sunday aimed at overhauling its structure and representation, reports BBC News. The group is under intense international pressure to reform itself, writes the BBC's Jim Muir.
The Syrian opposition is well aware that it is widely regarded as fragmented and ineffective, and that this is becoming more and more an issue as events on the ground gather pace.
The coming days will see the most concerted effort so far to pull the bulk of the opposition together and to create effective and credible structures that the outside world can work with in trying to bring about a transition in Syria.
Secretary Clinton said last week that "the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition. They can be part of a larger opposition. But that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice that needs to be heard."
The Associated Press adds that at the top of the agenda is a US-supported proposal by prominent dissident Riad Seif to set up a new leadership council with some 50 seats, 15 of which would go to current SNC leaders with the remainder being held by Syrian local leaders and rebel commanders who currently have no political say in the SNC but are actively involved in opposition on the ground. SNC chief Abdelbaset Sieda told AP that he believes the SNC should hold 40 percent of the council seats.
Joshua Landis writes on his blog Syria Comment that the political situation is "nearly identical" to that of 1950s Syria, when the US and Britain tried to rally a Syrian opposition against Syria's Baathists, allied with the Soviet Union and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, but with no success.
[President] Eisenhower and [British Prime Minister] Anthony Eden did everything they could in 1956 to force Syria’s urban elites to cooperate in a pro-Western coup, but to no avail. The two largest parties in parliament – the People’s Party of Aleppo and the National Party of Damascus [–] refused to cooperate among themselves in order to avoid revolution. Pro-Western Syrian politicians insulted and fought amongst themselves with such ferocity, that Western diplomats pulled their hair with despair as they sought to keep Syria from going “commie.”