Syria: New Developments and End Goals

DATELINE LONDON

There are new developments in the ongoing saga of the new Syrian opposition coalition.  On the positive side, the French government recognized the new group as the “sole legitimate” representative of the Syrian people. This makes it the first European country to formally recognize the newly formed coalition.  The French president Francois Hollande said at a press conference:  “I announce … that France recognizes the Syrian National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people and therefore as the future democratic government of Syria.”

As noted in an earlier post, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — were the first to recognize the opposition coalition. They declared it as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” Further; GCC Secretary General Abdul Latif al-Zayani said “the GCC will offer support and assistance for the Syrian coalition in order to achieve the hopes and aspirations of the Syrian people.”   Later, the Arab League recognized the opposition alliance on Monday as “the representative of aspirations of the Syrian people” and “legitimate representative” of Syria’s opposition.  But the Arab league seemed short of giving it full recognition as the representative of the Syrian people.

The new coalition largely is composed of opposition groups outside Syria as well as activists from inside the country and some rebels’ commanders.  It is reported that once the new coalition wins international recognition, its members will form an interim government in exile.  It will then call for a national conference as soon as the current Syrian administration is ousted, according to a draft of the Coalition agreement. They will also form a new supreme military group to organize its combat activities. It is looking for material support from abroad on an urgent basis. The head of the new coalition, a former Muslim minister Mouaz al-Khatib, called on the international community to provide major arms to the rebels on the ground to tip the balance in Syria’s 20-month-old crisis. There are reports that the United States also recognized the coalition as the legitimate representative of Syrians but indicated that the group must first prove its ability to represent Syrians inside the country.

Both the Assad regime and apparently some opposition Syrian groups within the country said they rejected the formation of the coalition and the idea of an interim government in exile. The Syrian regime also is saying that the recognition will undermine the mission of the UN-Arab League joint representative, Lakhdar Brahimi. According to press reports, the first official Assad regime response to the new coalition came from Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mikdad, who said the new coalition is “an American and Qatari project used by foreign powers to destroy Syria.” “We think that the opposition is not made in Syria, and as you have noticed it’s an American and Qatari made.”

It is clear that the problem of Syria remains confused and that there is much that needs to be done before qualitative and quantitative support is provided to the new coalition, but it appears that action towards greater support  by the NATO powers and specifically by Britain, France,  and even the U.S. is accelerating. The real question is to what end, what are the barriers to success, and how can one overcome these barriers and also mitigate any spread of this conflict beyond the Syrian borders?

As I have long urged, we need a post-Assad strategy which immediately puts in place multinational constraints on any revenge killings and restrains further ethnic conflict as new government forms.  My own view is that there is need to introduce a robust international peacekeeping force and an expert observer team who would have full authority to act, if necessary with force, to stop major acts of communal conflict, even by rebel groups, and can help work at reconciliation of all factions.  The alternative to this is likely added tragedy and a breakdown in civic order and responsible broad based governance.  That would be a true catastrophe for all. This post-Assad peacekeeping effort should be agreed as part of any assistance package.

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