Coalition has to prove political worth in Syria

Thu, Nov 15, 2012, 00:00

Analysis:The Arab League and the EU, with the exception of the Gulf states and France, have withheld full recognition of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, established in Qatar last weekend. 

To qualify, the coalition may have to prove it represents all Syria's ethnic and religious communities, enjoys support inside Syria, controls rebel fighters and has democratic intentions. The coalition is seen as an improvement on the discredited Syrian National Council, founded by expatriates in Istanbul in August 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood-dominated council restructured itself to retain its former foreign supporters. After eight days, the council appeared to capitulate.

The coalition, which has 65 seats on its executive body, is advertised as containing dissidents who left Syria recently and having wider representation than the council. It was allocated 22 seats - 14 seats went to the provinces, 10 to respected figures and 19 to other factions. However, the council secured at least 10 additional seats by occupying those reserved for other factions. Among the council members posing as independents are deputy head Riad Seif and secretary general Mustafa Sabbagh, a businessman said to be Qatar's man.

The council's heavy and, perhaps, majority representation could anger dissidents alienated by its failure to unify disparate elements.

Other appointments are also controversial. Coalition head Mouaz al-Khatib, a former preacher at the Omayad mosque in Damascus, has spent most of his life in Islamic Dawa, enlightenment, and is the Brotherhood's nominee. He is said to be a moderate on religious matters but does not want a secular democratic state.

Figures named to represent the provinces are contested, while commanders of fighting units have dismissed the coalition as the new face of the rejected council. Furthermore, the coalition was created in Doha by Syrians residing abroad. By contrast, the model the West wants to apply to Syria, the Libyan National Transitional Council, which overthrew the Gadafy regime, was established in Benghazi by Libyans.

Therefore, if the coalition is to command respect, it must set up a provisional government inside Syria, risking attack from government forces. Weapons and money can be used to both secure control over dozens of rebel militias and prosecute the campaign to oust the government. But it remains to be seen if Qatar and Saudi Arabia will channel all arms through the coalition. This would mean giving up influence with puritan Sunni Salafis and foreign jihadis.

Neither recognition nor funds and arms are likely until the coalition drafts a clear strategy, recruits domestic dissidents and rebel fighters and develops a domestic constituency among war-weary civilians who simply want the blood-letting to stop.

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