The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces was unveiled Sunday in Doha, Qatar. The coalition aims to unite the various factions that seek to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
This move comes at a very important time, as Israel fired across the Syrian border into the Golan Heights on Sunday, which was the first such salvo in nearly 40 years. Such action is a reminder of just how regionally explosive the situation in Syria has the potential to become.
The Syrian National Council (SNC) had previously been the dominant opposition umbrella group but it has been widely viewed as being divided, ineffective and unable to credibly represent the Syrian people. Will the new National Coalition fare any better?
Before the coalition can move forward to actively oppose the Assad regime, it must achieve what the SNC was unable to do – gain the endorsement of both the Syrian people and the international community.
The U.S. and the Gulf states had largely sidelined the SNC and urged that a broader, more representative group be established. The new National Coalition has seemingly achieved this. While the SNC will control 22 of the 60 seats, there will also be representation from ethnic Kurds, Christian, Alawites and women. There is also expected to be a military council that will reportedly include the Free Syrian Army (FSA). This new composition suggests a positive composition and force to oppose Assad strongly and firmly.
Moaz al-Khatib will be leading the new coalition, al-Khatib was formerly an imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus who fled from Syria earlier this year. He is seen as a moderate which may be the best option to bridge the different opposition groups. Furthermore, the National Coalition will have two vice presidents – prominent dissident Riad Seif and the leading female secular activist, Suhair al-Atassi. A third post has also been left vacant for a representative of Syria’s Kurdish minority.
Since its formation six Gulf states have recognized a new Syrian opposition coalition as the country’s “legitimate representatives.” In a statement by Gulf Cooperation Council’s President, Abdulatif al-Zayani, he declared the council’s “recognition of the Syrian national coalition ... as the legitimate representative of the brotherly Syrian people.”
Western states have also come out in support of the move, following failed efforts in the UN Security Council as a result of Russian and Chinese oppositions to any resolution to intervene.
A U.S. state department spokesman said: “We look forward to supporting the National Coalition as it charts a course towards the end of Assad’s bloody rule and the start of the peaceful, just, democratic future that all the people of Syria deserve.”
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague recognized the move as an “important milestone in forming a broad and representative opposition that reflects the full diversity of the Syrian people.”
France’s Foreign Minister, Lauren Fabius, said it would “work with its partners to secure international recognition of this new entity as the representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people”.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu stressed that the international community no longer had an excuse not to support the opposition.
Until the new group receives broader international recognition and endorsement, it’s unlikely that it will announce a provisional government.
Russia and China are not likely to change their stances, nor should the National Coalition be waiting for them to do so. Moscow gave a cooler response to the new coalition, saying “such alliances must act on a platform of peaceful regulation of the conflict by Syrians themselves, without interference.” This only confirms that the new coalition must seek to overturn the Assad regime without the assistance of the UN Security Council.
Observers have cautioned that the current enthusiasm surrounding the new coalition could run into difficulties, as there has been so little consensus amongst the Syrian opposition previously. Distrust and ancient feuds must be put aside, yet the death-toll continues to reach almost 200 Syrians a day in the civil war.
While it will be no easy task to gain the endorsement and trust of the Syrian people, it has the potential to do so due to the coalition’s widely inclusive composition.
Essentially, the survival of the new coalition will hinge on its ability to achieve what the SNC as unable to do — secure financial and military support and aid for the rebel fighters. No external state has yet openly pledged its support in this way, especially of lethal aid, but as the new National Coalition proves its strength and potential as a provisional government, external states may have a change of policy.