The justifications for the indifference of the world to the massacre in Syria over the past 20 months are no longer applicable. There have been two important developments.
One of the reasons for the prolongation of the crisis was the presidential election in the U.S. The U.S. had to take a more proactive stance because China and Russia sided with the Bashar al-Assad regime in the U.N. Security Council in the Syrian crisis, which has claimed the lives of 36,000 people so far. However, U.S. President Barack Obama, who should have taken a stronger position on this matter, was preoccupied with the election for over a year. Obama, who took office by promising that he would end the wars from the Bush era, believed that he would lose the election if he brought the U.S. into another war at a critical juncture. For this reason, he adopted a low profile on the Syrian crisis. All the stakeholders acknowledged this, even though it was inhumane. However, this most critical pretext is no longer applicable after Obama’s re-election.
The second important reason for the reluctance of the world was the structure of the opposition which was staging a war against the Baath regime. It was unlikely that an opposition which was suppressed for four decades in a country governed by intelligence services could stage an effective opposition. That the Syrian social structure is fragmented along religious, ethnic and sectarian lines made such an opposition even more difficult. The leading figures of the opposition have fled the country. It was hard to maintain communication between external and internal opposition actors.
The Syrian National Council (SNC) has tried to raise the voice of the opposition. However, both the SNC and the overall Syrian opposition have failed to convince the world that a more active approach should be adopted to deal with the Baath regime.
The weakness, lack of dynamism of the SNC and its inability to represent different groups in Syria has constantly been criticized. The opposition, on the other hand, blamed the countries defining themselves as Syria’s friends for not honoring their promises and not supplying arms whereas these aforementioned countries argued that some of the arms, if supplied, may be seized by radical groups.
The merger of all the opposition groups under the name of the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces after lengthy deliberations which took weeks in Doha suggests that the reason I cited above is no longer applicable. The former imam of the Damascus Umayyad Mosque, Moaz al-Khatib, an engineer who was jailed and later fled to Cairo in July for his criticisms against the regime and who is deeply respected by all the opposition groups, including Christians, was elected as head of the 60-member new structure. The alliance, which also hosts 22 members of the SNC which elected Christian activist George Sabra as its new head in its meeting in Doha, also includes civilian representatives of the cities, including Damascus, and military groups.
The initial expectation is that the new opposition that will form an interim government will be recognized as the legitimate representative of Syria by the actors in the region, including the Arab League. In addition, they also asked for the transfer of Syrian funds and monies held in Syrian missions abroad, Qatar, Britain and Switzerland. They will further work to merge all the military groups fighting against Assad, and conduct works on the judiciary in a post-Assad era as well as coordinate the humanitarian efforts.
I spoke to two Syrian opposition members, one Christian and one Sunni. Both held positive views about the new structure of the opposition. The opponents, who stressed that the new group now represents 90 percent of the opposition groups after receiving the support of the Kurdish National Council, are pleased that the international community has no other excuse to remain indifferent. It is important to note that after the meetings in Doha, France, Italy and Turkey recognized the new opposition as the only legitimate representative of Syria. Let us hope that this new momentum will not end with another disappointment.
(This stoery was published in Today's Zaman online on Nov. 17, 2012.)