As official violence increases due to the Assads ongoing attempt as stirring up sectarian hatreds and their plan to transform the revolution into a confessional conflict, protest leaders continue to affirm their commitment to national unity and the peaceful nature of their movement.
The real lesson emerging from Hama, Deir Ezzor, Albou Kamal and before them Deraa and Banyas is that the Syrian people are very capable of managing their affairs without involvement of the regime or the opposition groups. This includes maintaining law and order and preventing any kind of communal strife from taking roots. Given the chance, protesters can provide both security and freedom. The Assad regime provides neither. Meanwhile, the traditional opposition continues to struggle to get their act together.
The international community wants an alternative to the Assads, but it’s looking in the wrong direction for that: it’s the Syrian people who can provide the alternative, and they are indeed doing so whenever they get the chance. They simply cannot do so openly in the presence of tanks and snipers. With the Assads out of the way, and the army and security forces neutralized, it will be a different story. Communities will elect their local leaders who can then interact with each other to launch the larger process of forming a unity government and supervising the transitional period.
The role of traditional opposition groups and figures in this process will be limited and they might indeed emerge more as spoilers than facilitators or saviors, unless, of course, they are willing to play by the new rules, to be team players, to leave behind old party loyalties and lines, and learn how to listen to and follow the people rather than insist on dictating the terms, because this is an essential part of democratic leadership. The old political dogs who can actually learn new tricks in the face of all odds could still be relevant. Otherwise, they can follow the regime and be consigned to that good old dustbin of history.
As such, the international community does not have to wait for the opposition to unite before beginning to engage army generals and call on the Assads to depart. Protest leaders might be unknown, but their ability to fill up the void left by the withdrawal of Assad officials and forces has been amply demonstrated. What the international community needs from the Syrian opposition is not to provide the political leadership for the Revolution, but to field a group of interlocutors and facilitators who, through their contacts with some protest leaders and their ability to track and explain the rapidly changing situation on the ground can serve as interim spokespeople for the revolution, and who one day can become viable partners in the transitional process, but necessarily its only leaders.
Pushing for opposition unity in these circumstances comes as an unwitting attempt to set up another group of usurpers of popular will. This is at least how the protesters on the ground see things, and this is why most of whom rejected the idea of having the opposition form a transitional government or a shadow cabinet. The failure of the Salvation Conference in garnering their support means that protest leaders now consider themselves to be the more legitimate leaders, and that their political vision for the future assigns little role to traditional opposition figures and movements.