In Doha today, Syrian opposition groups have finally taken the first real step towards unifying. It has only taken them 20 months, 100,000 deaths and a million refugees to do it. Why? Because it has taken the Obama Administration that long before they finally decided to put some effort into it. At a time when so many opposition members have fallen back onto the habit of brandishing their anti-American sentiments in order to prove their patriotic credentials, it’s America’s intervention that finally helped us take our first serious step towards achieving the long-desired and necessary unity. The world is such a funny place, funny and cruel. Be that as it may, this was a good step in the right direction, but will be good enough to stave off disaster? We don’t have long to wait to know.
Yes, electing a cleric to head the new opposition coalition might seem like step backward. Indeed, some activists have expressed concern over the precedence that this development will set for the future. But things Syrian, as we all must have learned by now, are often not what they seem. Sheikh Mouaz Al-Khateeb, a Damascene cleric and one of the main figures that led the early revolutionary fermentation in the Damascene suburb of Douma and elsewhere, is not only a moderate, but a figure who has long managed to bridge in communications between secular and Islamist groups on the ground. His views on critical issues such women and minority rights have also been reasonable enough to allow for the possibility of actually reaching workable compromises that can satisfy both Islamists and secularists. As such, he is a potentially unifying figure, and his touch will be needed in the days and months, if not years ahead.
More importantly though is the fact that Mouaz will not be in it alone. His deputies include Suheir Al-Atassy, another respected figure from the early days of the revolution, a secular figure, and a staunch woman’s rights activist. His other deputy is Riad Seif himself, the main figure behind the new initiative for unification. The Coalition full name is Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces.
One brave in-country activist described the development on Facebook: Syrian political culture dictated that we put a secular face on what is essentially an Islamist council (i.e. the SNC under the leadership of George Sabra), and an Islamist face on what is essentially a secular coalition. However, I wouldn’t go as far as describing the Coalition as “secular,” if the list of 63 names we have for its members is correct, then Islamists have one third of the seats. With traditional and tribal elements occupying an equal number of seats, secularists, including representatives of minority groups, are actually a minority in the Coalition. But that’s to be expected, secularists in the strict sense of the word, have always been a minority.
Indeed, we should not let our emotions blind us from the truth of it all: in realty, Coalition membership is, for the most part, a virtual who’s who list of the same tired and drab personalities that have plagued opposition work since the beginning of the revolution. So, much work and many pitfalls lie ahead for the new management. The selection of Mouaz, Suheir and Riad is only the beginning of a long, complicated and traitorous process, including the formation of a transitional government and of a military council to unite all major rebels groups inside the country.
The SNC, or rather, the Muslim Brotherhood will continue to play a tough game in the background pushing for greater representation and attempting to manipulate the process. The SNC already have 22 seats, including all eleven members of tis recently (s)elected Executive Committee. The Brotherhood also obtained more seats for itself through people who were included in the Coalition not as MB or SNC members but considered under the rubric of “national personalities” and representatives of local councils.
Gulf States are said to have already recognized the National Coalition and the Arab League will likely follow their lead. Embassies might be handed over to the opposition soon as well, meaning the Coalition will have to start picking its diplomats, a process that promises to turn into another cockfight.
The National Coordination Body has not been included in the new coalition, and dialogue with the regime has been rejected a priori and made a condition for membership.
Meanwhile, the streets of Syria will continue to move to a different beat. The real decision-makers, rebel leaders and local activists, are not involved in the Doha process, and should they decide to support, this will happen for an interim period that will end when they decide it’s time for it to end.
This is BBC’s take on this development:
One source at the meeting told Reuters that the SNC had agreed only under pressure and that it had been given a deadline of 10:00 (07:00 GMT) to sign up or risk being left out.
The new body had been proposed by Mr Seif with the backing of the US, which had signalled its frustration with the SNC.
"We signed an agreement to create [a] coalition of 60 members of the Syrian opposition," he said.
Delegates said the body would carry representation for ethnic Kurds, Christians, Alawites and women. Of the 60 places, 22 will be reserved for the SNC.
More on Mouaz:
Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib, who is 52, left Damascus for Cairo in July after several periods of detention by the Syrian authorities.
As he signed the draft agreement that formed the opposition coalition with Syrian National Council head George Sabra, Mr al-Khatib called on the international community to "fulfil its pledges", the AFP news agency reported.
Last month he called for a political solution to save Syria from further destruction, arguing that negotiation would not "rescue the regime" but enable its departure with the least harm possible.
He had earlier attempted to bring the conflict to an end and in an interview with Reuters news agency in July said: "I want the Syrian people to remain as one hand."
Clashes in Mayadeen, Deir Ezzor Province, between pro-Assad militias and rebels http://youtu.be/gLcg8nL3eW0 Meanwhile, the pounding of Deir Ezzor City continues http://youtu.be/6FdRfU_um0A
Scenes from the clashes in Harem, Idlib Province http://youtu.be/JwL8BK34pZI , http://youtu.be/-Y29ybPaw3A , http://youtu.be/V3Z9dEdz7Dk , http://youtu.be/ZzbpaxeL9qU Clashes took place in Jisr Ashougour as well http://youtu.be/L2AVeaHRMNU
The pounding of Damascene suburbs continues, albeit rainfall led to a decrease in intensity: Daraya http://youtu.be/QtvwNg7IEPw Douma http://youtu.be/fqOSVZ1nMrg Qaboun http://youtu.be/6_RMdCPEIWc