Syrian opposition figure Moaz Alkhatib (above, center) will address an Arab League meeting in Doha this week, despite announcing his resignation as head of the Syrian National Coalition, Reuters reports.
“The coalition is on verge of disintegrating,” said Amr al-Azm, a professor at Ohio’s Shawnee State University who supports the opposition. “It’s a big mess.”
But the former leader’s presence will complicate the summit’s deliberations, said Michael Stephens, a Qatar-based researcher at the Royal United Services Institute.
“The premise of the summit is to determine whether the opposition has a legitimate right to sit with Arab states,” Stephens said. “While Khatib may have blamed the EU summit, it is well known that the Arab League is meeting today, and his resignation will have a serious effect on the process.”
Alkhatib, who had argued insufficient groundwork had been done to start forming a government, was weakened considerably, along with a moderate wing of the revolution as jihadist Salafists play a bigger role on the battlefield, writes Reuters’ Khaled Yacoub Oweis. The rise of Salafists as the most effective fighting force, and their recent gains on the ground, have contributed to the coalition adopting a more hardline stance in recent weeks, rejecting dialogue with Assad except under strict conditions and ignoring promises to include more women and minorities.
Hitto, whose cabinet is supposed to govern rebel-held areas currently ruled by hundreds of brigades and emerging warlords, was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood and coalition Secretary General Mustafa Sabbagh, who has strong links with Qatar.
“Basically Qatar and the Brotherhood forced Alkhatib out. In Alkhatib they had a figure who was gaining popularity inside Syria but he acted too independently for their taste,” said Fawaz Tello, an independent opposition activist.
“They brought in Hitto. The position of Alkhatib as leader became untenable.”
Alkhatib forced out by Brotherhood
“Some opposition members claim Hitto is strongly backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, a powerful group in both the political and military wings of the opposition that is seen as being in the ascendancy with the civil war now into a third year,” The Guardian reports:
The political bloc, led by Al-Khatib, and now Hitto, was tasked with unifiying civilian and military wings of the revolution, but has made little progress. Rebel groups inside Syria take few instructions from the political body and have little direct contact with its leaders.
In an interview with Al-Arabiya, veteran dissident Michel Kilo (above, right) accused the Brotherhood and Mustafa Sabbagh’s Qatari-backed faction of imposing Hitto in the latest in a series of maneuvers aimed at marginalizing moderate and democratic factions.
“Qatar wanted Hitto…and the Qatari-backed group in the National Coalition imposed Hitto without any political or consensual considerations that considers Syrian interests in terms of a national cause, he Kilo argues that the Hitto election sidelined Muaz al-Khatib and led to his resignation.
It was not clear which of the opposition’s many frustrations Khatib was referring to in his resignation statement, The New York Times reports:
….the reluctance of Western countries to deliver arms that they fear will fall into extremist’s hands, or meddling in the choice of an interim prime minister, or both.
A coalition member who is familiar with Mr. Khatib’s thinking and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss politically delicate matters said that Mr. Khatib resigned because of interference from Saudi Arabia, a key backer of the Syrian uprising. The member said that Saudi Arabia threatened to cut off financing and divide the coalition if its favored candidate for prime minister, Assad Mustafa, was not chosen. That demand enraged coalition members, who responded by quickly choosing Mr. Hitto, who was backed by Qatar and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, the member said.
Mustafa Sabagh, another member of the coalition, denied that the Saudis had interfered, and said that he believed that Mr. Khatib had resigned over Western countries’ conditions for supplying aid the uprising.
”While opposition leaders fiddle, Syria burns. The real story is being fought out on the ground by militia leaders who are becoming the real leaders of Syria,” writes Syria Comment’s Joshua Landis:
The Islam Front and Jabhat al-Nusra are gaining strength. They are flexing their growing muscle after taking Raqqa and clearing out the Deir az-Zur region. Now they are headed down the Eastern highway toward Damascus. The forces around Aleppo and in the Northwest will have to come through Hama and Homs, which is impassable. Already al-Nusra has a strong foothold in the Damascus region in the Palestinian neighborhood of Yarmouk, around the Jabal Druze, and in the Daraya-Adhamiya region of Damascus.
The upheaval is as much an indictment of divisions within the international community as it is of the divisions among Syrians, said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center:
With the United States, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and others each favoring different factions, it is hardly surprising, he said, that the opposition is failing to unite.
“We cannot continue trying to forge these kind of coalitions with these kinds of tactics,” he said. “In this case, it has brought about a very serious crisis in the Syrian opposition.”
Islamist groups that have emerged as the most effective fighters in the battle for control of Syria also are stepping up to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of governance in areas captured by the rebels, a role the West had been hoping the new coalition would fulfill.
“The irony is that it’s the Islamists and the extremists who are assuming more and more control,” Shaikh said.