Syrian Opposition Seeks One Political Voice
November 3, 2012
A large meeting of Syrian opposition representatives kicked off in Qatar, with a search for unity.
The disparate elements of the people opposing President Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime hope to find some common ground, including possibly a single national figure to lead them through what they hope is a transitional government process. To that end, one proposal on the first of the four-day conference in Doha was a 50-member leadership team made up of members of all groups, dedicated to forging a common voice against Assad.
The leadership committee idea was put forward by Riad Seif, a prominent dissident, and would be in direct conflict with how the Syrian National Council sees itself. The SNC, mostly a foreign-backed political group, has so far been ineffective in providing a united approach, or in providing a military solution. The head of the SNC, Abdelbaset Sieda, did not dismiss Seif's proposal out of hand but insisted that the SNC should have the lion's share of representation on such a committee. Representatives of three other political organizations, the Damascus Declaration for Democratic Change, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, and the Muslim Brotherhood, are also attending. (The Brotherhood is nowhere near as large or influential in Syria as it is in Egypt.)
The opposition to Assad is in its 20th month, with peaceful protests long forgotten in the wake of violence against protesters and civilians now being met with strong armed opposition from increasingly well-supported rebel forces. The most well-known group has been the Free Syrian Army, which has recently returned its operations within Syria, after a time in Turkey. But other rebel groups have gained stature and continued backing after some key military successes, including seizing key cities, towns, and positions across the country. (Prominent members of the FSA are attending the Doha conference.)
Assad continues to enjoy a large advantage in military numbers, both troops and weaponry, but a stiff oil import ban by several countries, notably the U.S., is taking its toll on Syrian money reserves. Russia, long a Syrian supporter, continues to ship weapons into the country on the side of the government, but it remains to be seen how long the government is able to by those weapons.
The opposition, meanwhile, has found monetary support from Qatar itself and from Saudi Arabia, so far the only two countries to declare themselves openly in support of rebel groups. Western nations have formed a loose diplomatic alliance, called the Friends of Syria, but have so far refrained from implementing many of the measures that helped lead to the defeat of Libya's Col. Moammar Gadhafi: a no-fly zone, airstrikes, and support in the form of weapons.
Such support into Syria is still a no-go for most Western nations, not the least because they are all facing tough economic times at home, but also because even U.N. sanctions have not been implemented because of Chinese and Russian support for Assad in the Security Council. (China, however, has recently called for an end to the fighting without supporting either side.)
Two separate cease-fires, brokered by two successive U.N. special envoys, have been agreed to and then ignored. Meanwhile, the death toll continues to rise, with conservative human rights estimates placing the number at more than 35,000, with the number of refugees who have fled the fighting in the hundreds of thousands.