Syria’s Opposition: Get Your Act Together or We Won’t Help
UPRISINGS are a messy business, but Syria’s has been messier than most. As the bloodshed covers ever more of the country and the hold of President Bashar Assad’s regime weakens, the opposition seems only to grow more fractious. Syrian politicians in exile remain disconnected from local activists inside. While rebels of a moderate, secular bent warily eye Salafist fighters, emerging civilian and military leaders tussle over who should administer liberated towns and villages. With Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN’s peace envoy, pleading that Syria risks becoming a “new Somalia” unless there are negotiations, outside powers are having another go at unifying Mr Assad’s opponents.
In Doha, Qatar’s capital, a gathering of them is being prodded into backing a plan proposed by Riad Seif (pictured), a prominent ex-member of parliament and veteran opponent of the Assad regime who is, unusually, respected both inside and outside Syria. The Syrian National Initiative is his blueprint for a new, 50-person body to include more young leaders on the ground and to act as a sort of proto-government, planning for a political transition and serving as the sole channel for funding local civilian councils. It would also set up a body to liaise with military groups.
Unsurprisingly this has disgruntled the Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella grouping that has hitherto posed as the opposition’s main representative but which would have just 15 seats in the new body. The SNC’s leader, Abdulbaset Sieda, insists that his council should remain the cornerstone of any new arrangement. But its record of political naivety and bickering and the poor representation within it of anyone inside Syria (though more on-the-ground activists were recently added in a last-ditch effort to give the SNC more heft), has dismayed impatient foreign governments as much as Mr Assad’s assorted Syrian opponents.