June 7, 2013
By Ahmed Kwider and Jacob Wirtschafter
In the week that has passed since the Syrian Coalition acted to almost double the number of representatives to its government-in-exile, supporters of the revolution differ sharply over the usefulness of the group’s political process and question the purpose of its participation in the proposed talks with the regime in Geneva slated for next month.
It took days of closed-door meetings for the Coalition, lead by Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto, to begin its expansion effort primarily aimed at solidifying the opposition’s support inside Syria, where criticism persists over the disconnect over the government’s limited ability to assert authority and provide basic services in the so-called “liberated” areas.
The Coalition has increased to 114 members from its previous 63, with representatives coming from the Democratic List and the Syrian National Council, among others. The new members include seven independents.
Ayman al-Aswad, a secularist, is willing to see the Coalition’s expansion as an important step toward building the opposition’s strength presenting their argument in an international forum
“I personally prefer a political solution that would lead to a democratic change of authority,” said al-Aswad, one of the 14 members of the Democratic List included in last week’s expansion.
“You can’t make the rebels stop the fight because the regime continues to kill and adopt a scorched earth policy,” said the mathematics professor who participated in the Damascus Spring forums between 2004 and 2008
The Free Syrian Army’s Political and Military Coordinator, Louai al-Mikdad, thinks the Coalition will be strengthened once the FSA’s Chief of Staff Selim Idriss selects 15 members to participate in the decision-making.
“The purpose of our demands that the FSA and the revolutionary forces be counted in the Coalition was to put in place representatives of the Syrian people and the rebels who are making sacrifices and bleeding in the fight against the regime,” said Mikdad.
“We must remember that there are people who sacrificed their lives for their country, and can’t allow our personal interests to divert us from the way, and make us forget about our cause, our martyrs, our wounded and our exiled,” Mikdad added, acknowledging the widespread dissatisfaction among the revolution’s supporters with its improvised leadership and fragmented institutions
Syrian American activist Rania Kisar, 39, is critical of the Coalition’s performance to date.
“Representatives are very distant from the ground and lack the proper knowledge of the current needs of the people,” she said.
Kisar, a former director of admissions at a Texas university, describes her political views as “strictly patriotic.” She believes the push to talks in Geneva is “yet another tool to prolong the presence of the regime.”
“Should the Geneva Conference take place, the Syrian people must voice their conditions prior to accepting attendance,” she added.
Speaking from the contested sectarian battleground of Latakia, Wafa al-Hasan of the Revolutionary Leadership Council, shares Kisar’s critique of the Coalition’s effectiveness to date.
“They’ve failed to convey the Syrian revolution’s demands to the international community,” said the 35-year-old teacher.
The Coalition has “diverted from the revolution’s demands, and up till now, they haven’t been able to reduce the pressure on our people at a time when Hezbollah, Iranian and Iraqi groups go through Syria, and chemical weapons are being used.”
The Coalition’s move to grant FSA-affiliated Syrians more room at the table has not placated al-Hasan.
“The rebels are not well represented as agreed in the beginning,” she said.
“They imposed representatives on behalf of the local councils, but they weren’t chosen by the rebels as agreed,” continued Hasan, who is opposed to any Coalition move to engage the regime at the proposed Geneva talks.
“After all this time, it’s become clear political initiatives only aim to dilute the cause and delay it in order to exhaust the country,” said incoming Coalition member al-Aswad. “There is no solution but to rely on the battalions in the field.”
“I support going to Geneva and trying negotiation with the regime,” al-Aswad said. “If that doesn’t produce results, I think the Coalition should be dissembled and we should head for arming the opposition and providing a no-fly-zone to secure some areas for civilians,” he added.
Muhammad Sarmini, 30, from Hama, entertains both the doubts and the hopes of pro-revolution Syrians regarding the opposition’s leadership and prospects to achieve its aims thorough diplomacy.
“It’s necessary that the Coalition represent a wide part of the Syrian society, but that’s not enough,” said Sarmini, who works for the Coalition’s media office in Gaziantep, Turkey.
“They think of this as a war for survival. In wars, when one party wants to fight till the end, the other party has no choice but to continue,” Sarmini said.
Sarmini surmises the regime’s approach to the revolution comes from its experience putting down the revolt in his hometown of Hama.
“I prefer a political solution for the current crisis, but the regime continues with its decision to kill the Syrian people.”