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The condition of the Syrian opposition after Geneva II

January 24, 2014 at 3:32 am

The Syrian political opposition has various viewpoints on the Geneva II conference. Some are eager to participate and see it as a turning point that will place the Syrian conflict on a new path. Others reject the notion of negotiating with the regime, which has acted horrendously towards its own people and devastated its own country. Both viewpoints are considered to be a form of surrender and betrayal of the values of the revolution.

Several third parties fear that the participation of the opposition in this conference will give the regime more time to continue the killing and violence in its attempt to regain legitimacy. Meanwhile, a fourth party is putting various conditions on the conference, ranging from refusing to recognise the main pillars of the current regime and holding it accountable for its crimes to preventing Iran from participating in the programme. Parties also called for the implementation of the first Geneva Convention in order to bring an end to violence by calling on the army to withdraw its forces and allow for peaceful demonstrations and the formation of a transitional government with broad powers.

Though it is true that the regime threatened to withdraw from the national coalition if the opposition forces participate in Geneva, it is also true that representatives from the Free Syrian Army also announced their refusal to participate in a national coalition with the existing regime. The FSA emphasised the need for military aid in order to be placed on an equal footing with the regime’s armed forces. The National Council threatened to withdraw from the national coalition for the opposition forces of the revolution in Geneva II and they also encouraged key figures in the FSA to reject the imbalanced policies of the conference.

Furthermore, the balance of power must be adjusted not only within the current regime but also within the various Islamist militant groups that are benefiting from the weakness of the national opposition. The main goal of these groups is to mobilise themselves militarily and implement their own agendas, which they believe reflect the laws of God on the ground.

The already weak image of the Syrian opposition has been worsened by numerous distractions and disorder. The opposition did not have a clear policy or idea as to how it would participate in the Geneva conference and this was made clear by the many differences and the statements made by the conference representatives, which often reached the point of accusing and insulting the other party for the lack of progress. The situation was made worse by the lack of consensus on how to form a delegation for Geneva that would represent the numerous groups and sects living in the country and abroad.

One must also point out the coalition’s failure to make the proper sacrifices and decisions throughout the two-year span of the revolution. It failed to show itself as a role model that was willing to make the proper decisions in order to mobilise the popular movement and it failed to demonstrate proper political nous. Perhaps the shortcomings can be explained by the words of UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who described them as an “unconvincing opposition” that complies easily with the demands of the West and the rest of the Arab world. For this reason, the opposition has lost the respect of the Syrian people, who trust in more than one alternative but remain disappointed in the lack of leadership they have had to-date from the opposition.

These facts reveal that the Syrian opposition is not in a good condition and it is standing on the threshold of Geneva II. The opposition is unable to carry out its political responsibilities whether it participates in the conference or not and regardless of whether the conference takes place or not. This claim is based on many reasons.

For a start, the Syrian opposition consists of a diverse group of political parties and factions that do not possess a unified vision of politics and policies. The majority of these parties have a totalitarian outlook on politics and each has a specific way of analysing and implementing policies as well as formulating political tactics.

Popular demands are calling for the complete overthrow of the current regime with all of its foundations and symbols. The decisions of the national opposition coalition are based on these demands. In fact, many of them are seeking a comprehensive, deep-rooted and radical change towards democratic life but with some participation from the current regime or some of its pillars, at least.

Matters were made worse by the lack of prospects for a peaceful solution and the apparent inability to put Syria on the road to political recovery. Thus, the opposition lost the role that was assigned to it, which was initially supposed to be strengthened through its engagement with the popular factions seeking change. The opposition was also meant to answer urgent questions preoccupying the Syrian people related to these potential changes in light of the sensitive regional and global circumstances.

The second reason is due to the opposition’s weak impact on the popular movement because of the differences in foundations, strength and arms between them and the regime. It appears as though the Syrian opposition movement is running fast in its attempt to catch up with the pulse of the street but, with the best will in the world, they are merely an echo of what the revolutionary forces are achieving on the ground.

Unfortunately, in light of the continuous suffering and the heavy burden of bloody sacrifice experienced by the Syrian people, the opposition has failed to remedy these losses. It was unable to achieve any political involvement that interacted successfully with the people and the demands and concerns of the popular movement, especially when it comes to unifying the military ranks. More importantly, the opposition failed to gain the confidence of the people because it failed to convince them that the opposition, with all of its diverse and numerous groups, could provide anything for them.

It now appears as though the people of Syria are going around in a vicious circle and are unable to fill the political void in their urgent need to continue the revolution. This challenge makes us question whether any party is truly seeking to implement change efficiently. It seems as though everyone is trying to ride the wave, to buy and sell as they see fit, at the expense of the blood and sacrifice of the popular movement.

We must recognise that the same factors that determine the continuation and development of the Syrian revolution must reflect the goals and tasks of the political opposition and outline its responsibilities. These conditions cannot be ignored or avoided. We do not know if these demands have reached the ears of those who consider themselves as leaders of the revolution abroad. It is now important for them to come home and appease the concerns of the people who are waiting desperately for proper leadership.

More importantly, an effort must be made to organise the way of life in areas that are no longer under the control of the authorities. In this way, these areas will pay tribute to the revolution as opposed to placing more burdens on it. It is also important to confront the presence of jihadist extremism, which has succeeded in imposing a strong presence on the ground and, as such, has given rise to a new social reality that threatens democracy and the values of the revolution.

Thirdly, the international community played a large role in other national crisis and regional issues when it reported the results of crises in the region. As a result of this, outside forces now appear to have played an effective role in other conflicts in the eyes of the Syrian people.

What this means is that the Syrian opposition no longer possesses any strength that could be equivalent to the power of an external force aiding the revolution. This point of view is now prevalent even among the most adamant supporters of internal change. This is due not only to the fact that it has been revealed that the regime receives a large amount of foreign aid, but also because of the severe suffering experienced by the victims of the conflict and the many refugees. This reality requires a great deal of international intervention and attention from international relief agencies.

There remain a number of disagreements among the ranks of the opposition, which often lead to contradictory statements about the nature and boundaries of foreign intervention. Some parties prefer any such intervention to be limited to placing economic and political pressure on the regime, while others prefer military intervention by establishing a no-fly zone over the country or providing the opposition with sophisticated weapons. Others prefer intervention to occur under the umbrella of the United Nations and the Security Council and believe in the ability of the UN to put an end to the violence, protect civilians and enforce a political plan that will place Syria on the road to recovery.

As I have already said, we must recognise that the same factors that determine the continuation and development of the Syrian revolution must reflect the goals and tasks of the political opposition and outline its responsibilities. These conditions cannot be ignored or avoided despite what the goals and interests of the opposition may be and even if a clear and unified opposition were to be formed. In other words, the Syrian opposition cannot avoid facing the truth of this matter whether it chooses to participate in Geneva II or declines to, because there are many obstacles that stand in its way. If it is to succeed in its efforts it cannot overlook these obstacles but should reflect upon the complexities of the Syrian situation especially because the regime is now at an advantage after it was successful in preventing a Western military strike, with the help of its allies. The opposition’s inability to have any impact on the ground is hindered by the rise of extremists groups, which reject the concept of a political recovery to begin with.

The success of the conference is tied to a political game of nations and interests. Arab and western powers are currently too preoccupied with recording potential victories and losses to choose a decisive moment to end the tension in a country that is tied to many important issues in the region. The country’s fate has fallen victim to the strategic interest of countries such as Russia and Iran (a supporter of the Assad regime along with Lebanon and Iraq), in addition to Israel and decision-makers in Europe and the United States.

However, regardless of the conditions that dictate the efforts of the opposition and regardless of its controversial decisions and stances during the Geneva conference, no one can deny that the opposition was formed to stand against the regime and hold it accountable for the atrocities that it has committed in the country. The opposition was also formed based on the support it received from the popular movement and all of its peaceful protests. It renounced sectarian violence by any party and refused to take revenge or consider any partial solutions to the conflict.

Consequently, the main goal of the Syrian people is to transform the country from one that is based on tyranny to one that is based on the values of democracy through the construction of a modern civil state. They seek to build a state based on a social contract that will be embodied in a new constitution guaranteeing pluralism and the distribution of political power; and which respects the intricacies of Syrian society with all of its national and sectarian differences on the basis of citizenship and equal rights.

It is true that the Syrian opposition is currently suffering from many diseases; some of them are old and some of them are new and have resulted from the new burdens it is facing. There are many obstacles that require urgent changes among the ranks of its top members as well as a consensus on a unified position. There are many problems hindering the opposition that cannot be ignored or denied but that does not acquit it from the responsibility of finding a solution that will alleviate the incredible suffering of the Syrian people.

The cries of the Syrian opposition, which have been echoing in every valley, have been calling for international support for the Syrian people and the protection of innocent civilians. Its true intentions are to isolate the regime and end violence, terrorism and extremism by enabling revolutionary efforts. The extreme nature of the current situation not only necessitates the need for the UN to hold a conference but also makes one question the supposed exaggerated dangers of participating in the Geneva II conference. Consequently, the current situation also makes us question the need to make a unified statement to the public underlining the legitimacy of the different positions and roles adopted by the opposition.

Finally, one must look at all the international initiatives to stop the violence as a prelude to blockading the regime and holding it (and its allies) accountable for the crimes they have committed. This must be done in order to alleviate the suffering of the people and put pressure on Arab and international leaders to find a solution for Syria that will place it on the road map for political changes that are consistent with international standards of human rights and democracy. This will give the ill-fated Syrian people the chance to exercise their right to self-determination.

The author is a Syrian activist. This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Jazeera net on 10 November, 2103

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.