Syria’s opposition has been receiving “significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States,” the Washington Post reports. But some observers fear that the supply of arms will boost radical factions at the expense of pro-democracy groups still committed to non-violent strategies.
The militarization of the conflict also coincides with further splits within the Syrian National Council which boycotted a planned opposition unity conference in Cairo this week. The group this week re-elected Barhoun Ghalioun as its president, a move that appears likely to prompt further resignations rather than cement unity.
“Across the country for weeks, some activists have brandished signs saying ‘The SNC does not represent me,’ criticizing the political infighting that has seen some of Syria’s top dissidents walk away from the group,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“The SNC is a corpse, which the entire international community is desperately trying to resuscitate,” said Fawaz Tello, a veteran opposition figure who left Syria to work with the Istanbul- and Paris-based group:
He planned to resign from the council, saying it had failed to restructure to become more inclusive, transparent and democratic.
The SNC’s fragile standing has hurt international efforts to mold the body into the type of transitional council with accountable leadership and street credibility that governments would feel more comfortable supporting. The perceived leadership gap has allowed for other networks of both peaceful and armed activists to develop across Syria, with their own patrons abroad.
Some members who have split from the council protest what they call a monopoly on influence by the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the SNC’s seven political factions. The Brotherhood is allied with Mr. Ghalioun in a power-sharing agreement that these critics say places Mr. Ghalioun as the secular, liberal front for an Islamist-dominated opposition.
“Despite administration hopes that the Sunni-led Syrian National Congress would become an umbrella organization, it has failed to win support from minority Syrian Christians, Kurds, Druze and Assad’s Alawite sect,” the Post reports. “All have resisted what they say is the group’s domination by the Muslim Brotherhood.”
The Syrian opposition should look to the country’s east if it wants to “forge a truly inclusive national movement,” writes Hassan Hassan:
Known as Al Jazira, the eastern part of Syria consists of three provinces and makes up over 40 per cent of the country. ….Al Jazira is populated by Arab tribes and Kurds; both have historically suffered from the Baathist regime in Damascus. The area is also economically vital for the regime, as it accounts for 70 per cent of Syria’s oil and gas output and is a main source of agricultural and livestock products. If the Assad regime lost control here, it would suffer a heavy blow.
So why hasn’t Al Jazira shifted fully against the regime? The reasons for the relative quiet can be attributed to the nature of the area and its residents but, more importantly, to the opposition’s failure to cash in on a coalescing disdain for the Assad regime.
The “stagnant” SNC “cannot forge a country-wide movement if it does not represent all society’s sectors,” says Hassan.
“Nowhere is this more obvious than in Al Jazira - home to Kurds and Arabs alike. Reassuring religious minorities, on which the council’s efforts have focused so far, has miserably failed. But appealing to a broader cross-section of Syrians is essential to remove the regime. “