Just like selling the bearskin before catching the bear, the Syrian opposition movements are fighting over the shares while the regime is proceeding down the only path it seems to know, i.e. that of “ongoing killing,” as it was described by Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi while commenting on the mission of the Arab observers.
What are the Syrian oppositionists fighting about? It can be understood from the reports tackling the positions of the National Council and the Coordination Committee that the main points of dispute surround the issue of foreign intervention and the accepted limits for such an intervention to topple the regime. The oppositionists are disagreeing over this issue as though foreign intervention has reached Damascus’ threshold and is merely awaiting their permission to enter, or as though the Syrian regime is about to give away the last keys of power and is awaiting to see to whom it should surrender them.
We all know – as do the Syrian oppositionists – that this intervention is out of the question, at least in the way that is feared by Haitham Manah and his companions in the Coordination Committee, or those who support their opinions among the members of the National Council. Indeed, the states whose intervention they fear announced they were not about to carry out any such step, and that their main concern for the time being was the discontinuation of the killing of the Syrians and the preparation for the transitional phase that will follow the toppling of the regime, whose departure has been demanded by the governments of the Western superpowers such as France, the United States and Britain.
This means that an intervention in the form of an invasion – as seen in Iraq – or in the form of air raids and the protection of the Libyan rebels from the war waged by Gaddafi’s regime against them – as seen in Libya – will not be repeated in Syria, at least based on the way the situation currently appears. The only available measure being tackled inside some Western circles and within the Turkish government is the establishment of one or more buffer zones, in order to protect the civilians seeking refuge and prevent the regime’s forces from pursuing them. If the situation reaches that point, will any opposition faction be able to stand in the face of such a step, whose goal is to protect the Syrian civilians? Would it not be right to say that any position rejecting the buffer zone, by whichever side, will serve the Syrian regime before any other party?
The disputes between the oppositionists are also related to the limits of the backup offered to the Free Syrian Army and the extent of the support provided to the operations carried out by its elements - who dissented from the regular army – against units from this army. The controversy at this level is over the importance of maintaining the military institution’s cohesion after the regime’s fall, considering that the biggest threat which could be faced by this institution is its division on sectarian bases, i.e. with the brigades loyal to the regime governed by the same sect which the regime chose to adopt. But does this justify the non-support of military groups that separated from the army and announced that their operations aimed at protecting the demonstrators against the security oppression machine and at protecting the villages, towns and cities against the raids to which they are being subjected?
Now is not the time for such disputes among the members of the Syrian opposition. At this stage it would be enough for them to agree over the inaptitude of the regime in Damascus to manage the affairs of its citizens. This is due to the fact that the oppositionists’ disputes are theoretical and without any value in light of the ongoing death seen in Syria on a daily basis, which is true whether at the level of the disputes surrounding foreign intervention, the Free Army or the features of the Syria of tomorrow. The Syria which is hoped to emerge tomorrow is one that embraces its entire population, in the context of a democratic process through which they can choose their rulers, system, way of living and relations with their neighbors and the world, far away from any tutelage. All that can be asked from the oppositions – whether domestically or abroad – is to provide the fertile grounds for this transition and offer the Syrian people a less selfish archetype that is more respectful of the people’s free choices than the one displayed by the current regime.
(Elias Harfoush is a frequent writer in the London-based Dar Al Hayat, where this article first appeared on Jan. 4, 2012)