Conforming to the wishes of the U.S., which continues to push for “regime change”, the Syrian opposition has recast itself in the hope of toppling President Bashar al-Assad by eroding his support base.
A 60-member National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces was formed on Sunday, after several days of heated negotiations in Doha. The new body effectively diminishes the influence of the Syrian National Council (SNC), which now has 22 members in the coalition. The Americans hope that the set-up, which supposedly better represents the opposition inside Syria, would help remove some of the pillars of social support for Mr. Assad.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had declared that the Paris-based SNC, comprising mainly of expatriates “could no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition as it did not reflect the needs and aims of soldiers fighting on the ground in Syria”. The SNC had condemned the comment then that significantly dwarfed its status, but has now fallen in line by merging with the new organisation.
The coalition has a perceptible Islamist accent, mirroring the sharp contrast with the secular government, rooted in Baathist ideology, of Mr. Assad. Moaz Khatib, a former imam of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus is the coalition’s new leader, in charge of uniting the opposition factions.
Several members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood occupy important positions in the coalition. Riad Seif, a prominent dissident, and Suhair Atassi, a human rights activist, have been named vice-presidents. The opposition hopes that with the show of unity, more funds from the West and the Arab League would flow into its coffers.
Despite the hype that surrounded the Doha meeting, large sections of the opposition inside Syria remain unimpressed. Luai Hussain, head of the opposition Building Syria State Party, said that the broad-based opposition does not have any legitimacy.
“We reject the formation of any transitional government abroad and any other decision and we regard such act as a direct and real aggression on Syrian right to choose their leadership and determine their destinies.”
The National Coordination Body for Democratic Change, a Damascus-based opposition group, also stayed away from the conference in Qatar.
Damascus slammed the Doha conference as a “new form of foreign interference that aims to market an old product in a new form”.
“If there is anyone who believes that the demonstrations and meetings can make a state or a political project and overthrow the government, he is deluding himself and his thinking is nonsense and a kind of political folly,” said Omran al-Zhoubi, Information Minister. He said dialogue “is the sole option in Syria that can succeed”.
Outside the cosy ambience of diplomacy, opposition fighters seemed to have escalated brutal targeted assassinations of pro-government celebrities and professionals. The opposition Free Syrian Army kidnapped and killed on November 2, Mohammed Rafeh, a young and well- known popular actor, who had openly supported Mr. Assad.
Opposition fighters have opened a Facebook page where they have listed names of actors, doctors, engineers and pilots as people who, they say are now on death row.