View Full Version : Int'l Issues Syria Opposition Sign Unity Deal

11-12-2012, 10:27 AM
One hopes this can be the beginning of the end of Assad's dictatorial rule in Syria, and end the disasterous humanitarian crisis that is reportedly claiming the lives of 200 Syrians a day. Horrific.

This coalition has some immediate implications: now the opposition can start receiving steadier streams of aid and hopefully weaponry and training, from neighbors and from the UN. It also can now be recognized by the UN as representative of Syria, which is a huge diplomatic black eye to Assad, and may end in Assad's own military turning on him. ("May" being the key word there.)

I personally believe that this is the beginning of the end for Assad.

Of course, the long-term implications of this unity deal may be nonexistant. These parties were driven to this agreement based on mass death and displacement of their people. Once Assad is displaced, and the bodycount drops, the squabbling that has thus-far been so detrimental to the popular revolution in Syria will probably return, making the political makeup of a post-Assad Syria potentially disasterous. (Think of how ineffective the Sunni and Shia populations in Iraq have been in negotiating, then add a couple more parties to the mix.)

That means UN and Arab League involvement in keeping an interim government functional while a new form of governing is established will be critical. So in that regard, this Unity Deal should aid Syria's long-term prospects there.


With Eye on Aid, Syria Opposition Signs Unity Deal
Published: November 11, 2012

DOHA, Qatar — Syrian opposition factions signed a tentative agreement on Sunday to create an umbrella organization, paving the way for international diplomatic recognition as well as more funding and improved military aid from foreign capitals.

After three days of haggling at a luxury hotel here, opposition negotiators agreed to the new coalition and then elected as its president Sheikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, a former imam of the historic Umayyad mosque in Damascus and a respected national figure within Syria. “Today in Doha is the first time the different factions of the Syrian opposition are united in one body,” said Riyad Farid Hijab, a former Syrian prime minister and the highest-level defector from the Damascus government. “So we ask the international community to recognize the Syrian opposition as the representative of the Syrians.”

The umbrella organization was designed to subsume the Syrian National Council, a previous attempt at unification that has appeared increasingly marginalized as Syria has descended into civil war. That group’s authority was undercut when it failed to attract sufficient support from key minorities, religious and tribal figures, businessmen, and, most important, rebel units conducting the fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

The hope among Western countries is that the new coalition, called the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, can give local opposition councils the legitimacy to bring fighters under their authority. That would give an important countervoice to the well-armed jihadist commanders who in many places have set the pace of the fighting and created worries that Islamists will gain a permanent hold.

An important change in the new agreement is that revolutionary councils from 14 Syrian provinces now each have a representative, though not all live in Syria. The hope is that will bind the coalition to those inside the country.

Perhaps the most important body the new group is expected to form is a Revolutionary Military Council to oversee the splintered fighting organizations and to funnel both lethal and nonlethal military aid to the rebels. It should unite units of the Free Syrian Army, various militias and brigades in each city and large groups of defectors.

Before the ink was even dry on the final draft, negotiators hoped that it would bring them the antiaircraft missiles they crave to take on the Syrian Air Force. The United States and Britain have offered only nonmilitary aid to the uprising.

A similar attempt by the Syrian National Council to supervise the military never jelled. Organizers said funding was too haphazard. Eventually foreign governments like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are financing and arming the rebels, found their own favorite factions to deal with.

Foreign leaders — notably including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — urged this unification largely so they could coordinate their efforts and aid through a group of technocrats. Once it receives international recognition, the coalition is supposed to establish a temporary government.

Burhan Ghalioun, a former head of the old Syrian National Council, praised the coalition as a vital step toward getting the world more involved with Syria.

“I think the difference will start to show right away on the ground as the people will feel that there is a political power that represents them, and one body that unites its opposition,” he said. “We expect international recognition in regional and international forums.”

He described Sheikh Khatib as an important rallying figure for the new group: “He’s a national figure and symbol since the beginning of the revolution.”

The delegates elected as vice presidents Riad Seif, 66, a Syrian businessman and dissident who organized the unification effort, and Suhair Atassi, a descendant of a famous political family and a woman who held one of the last open political discussion groups in Damascus. Moustafa al-Sabagh, a businessman who helped the diaspora organize a considerable humanitarian relief effort, was named secretary general.

As it begins to engage with the opposition group, the international community is expected to follow a pattern of “sequencing” — steps to ensure that the coalition lives up to its promises as foreign backers offer incentives of increased aid. But such a relationship involves a kind of Catch-22 that damaged the Syrian National Council: The foreign backers want to see the new organization functioning almost like a government in exile before they extend it the money and weapons promised, but coalition members said they needed at least some of that aid to function.

For example, the coalition was promised that if it created the institutions entailed in the agreement, it could assume the Syrian seat in the Arab League. An international conference in Morocco by mid-December will be the first test for wider recognition.

“In a way, the hard work starts now, to agree on all the details and the structures of this coalition,” said Maurizio Massari, Italy’s Middle East envoy.

A raft of Western and other diplomats, who had been sitting around the hotel lobby over long lunches as the negotiations dragged on, expressed relief that an agreement had been reached. “We have crossed the Rubicon,” said Jon Wilks, the British envoy to the Syrian opposition.

An element driving the changes, diplomats said, is the desire of Mrs. Clinton to consolidate the opposition before she leaves office, expected by January. It was Mrs. Clinton who inaugurated the unusually public showdown with the Syrian National Council, announcing in late October (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/01/world/middleeast/syrian-air-raids-increase-as-battle-for-strategic-areas-intensifies-rebels-say.html?_r=0) that it should be replaced.

Given the distrust and ancient feuds among members of the Syrian opposition, there was no guarantee that the agreement would hold. But the fact that the death toll of the civil war has reached almost 200 Syrians a day was an important factor. As a reminder of that, the Qataris decorated the massive meeting hall with huge pictures of Syrians, some wounded, standing in the rubble of their homes and neighborhoods.

“The people meeting here and serving the revolution with negotiations should go inside and bow to the people serving the revolution with their blood,” said Adnan Rahmoun, a fighter with the Free Syrian Army who slipped out of Idlib to attend the meeting. The agreement “meets the aspirations of the Syrian people,” he said.

But not all activists were convinced.

“Even the Baath Party itself is great when you read its program,” said Omar Badran, an activist from northern Syria, referring to Syria’s ruling party. “But then you come to the application of it and the reality of it. That’s what matters.”

Some of the last holdouts said they suspected that the agreement was a sly way for the international community to negotiate with Mr. Assad about a transition to a new government. So one clause in the agreement specifically bars such talks.

That would seem to put the emphasis on a military solution to the crisis. But one aim of Western capitals is to create an opposition that has more of a critical mass to put pressure on the Assad government to stop fighting. In Geneva in June, at least some key countries — the United States, Britain and France — signed off on an agreement (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/01/world/middleeast/future-of-syria-on-agenda-as-countries-gather-in-geneva.html?pagewanted=all) that speaks to a negotiated transition.

Over all, the coalition broadens the opposition’s base, with officials saying it represents about 90 percent of opposition groups, up from an estimated 70 percent behind the old council. It is to include an assembly of up to 60 members, with major opposition figures filling at least nine seats. Up to five are reserved for Alawites, a crucial constituency because they are from the same Shiite Muslim minority as President Assad and the core of the military. The Muslim Brotherhood officially has only one seat.

Those who helped negotiate the agreement said that they were keenly aware of the failings of the Syrian National Council, and that the reality of Syria would make this experience different.

“There is a realization that the situation inside Syria is reaching a point of no return,” said Yaser Tabbara, a Chicago lawyer who helped negotiate the coalition agreement. “This whole situation of controlled chaos cannot be sustained.”

La literatura
11-12-2012, 10:41 AM
Mostly ignorant question: Do the good guys outweigh the bad guys in the opposition?

11-12-2012, 10:45 AM
Mostly ignorant question: Do the good guys outweigh the bad guys in the opposition?

I don't know what that means, I really don't. I don't know who the good guys are supposed to be, or the bad guys, in your question.

I know that you do have a brutal dictator in Assad. That's a pretty bad guy.

Edit: I'll wager an answer. A Syrian government, based on this coalition, would not be that much different than, say, the Iraqi coalition. Full of infighting, largely motivated in squabbling over power, and interested mostly in just establishing a working government. Much like you have in Iraq, Egypt and Libya. It's probably not terribly concerned about going and getting Israel, although there will undoubtedly be factions, or despising America, although there will undoubtedly be factions.

Mostly, it will be a government concerned with self-determination, internal politicking, infrastructure, and international standing at the UN.

Much like you're seeing out of Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt.

La literatura
11-12-2012, 10:48 AM
I don't know what that means, I really don't. I don't know who the good guys are supposed to be, or the bad guys, if your question.

I know that you do have a brutal dictator in Assad. That's a pretty bad guy.

The good guys are those who oppose Assad and don't want to butcher kids with machetes. And the bad guys are those who oppose Assad and don't mind butchering kids with machetes.

Aren't there opposition groups who are butchering kids with machetes? If not, I warned you it was mostly ignorant.

11-12-2012, 10:52 AM
The good guys are those who oppose Assad and don't want to butcher kids with machetes. And the bad guys are those who oppose Assad and don't mind butchering kids with machetes.

Aren't there opposition groups who are butchering kids with machetes? If not, I warned you it was mostly ignorant.

I am not an authority on the matter, but I've read more than most. As of now, I am 100% unaware of any opposition groups responsible for maiming women and children. I would wager it is not happening.

Assad's troops, on the other hand, have extensively tortured and murdered children during this uprising.

Now, I do want to warn you that Syria is more ethnically diverse than Egypt and Libya. It's much more diverse than even Iraq, which saw a bout of ethnic cleansing.

Iraq's ethnic cleansing was largely predicted, however. There are no predictions that the same thing would occur under a post-Assad power struggle.

11-13-2012, 10:23 PM
Outstanding news. The Syrian opposition council selected a moderate to act as its head.

I'm a believer that democracies will always moderate. But to start out so soon with one is extraordinary.


Syria: Will new opposition leader bring unity?
Mouaz al-Khatib, a religious leader and a voice of moderation, has been chosen to lead the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces. Supporters hope the new coalition can provide a conduit for foreign aid.
By Zeina Karam, Associated Press
November 13, 2012

Syria's political opposition has struggled to prove its relevance amid the civil war under a leadership largely made up of academics and exiled politicians. With its relaunch as a new organization, it has taken a different tack: choosing as its head a popular Muslim cleric who preaches sectarian unity and can fire up a crowd.