May 15, 2013
This two-part series looks at the disconnect between Syrians and the National Coalition that hopes to lead them in an Assad-free Syria. Nuha Shabaan and Michael Pizzi investigate the challenges the Coalition faces, and ask Syrians how they feel about their representatives-in-waiting.
AMMAN: As the exiled Syrian National Coalition struggles to connect with Syrians inside the country, activists and fighters say they are not convinced that the Coalition can effectively rule inside Syria.
“They don’t know the reality in Syria,” says Free Syrian Army Lieutenant Abdul Naser Farzat, a Syrian army defector who is stationed in Aleppo. “They don’t know the problems, so they won’t be able to provide solutions,” Farzat says, reflecting a widespread belief among FSA fighters that they are doing the work of bringing down the regime and without the support of the Coalition.
One reason for the rebel fighters’ detachment from their expatriate representatives is the ruling council’s physical remoteness from events in Syria.
“The external opposition is, unfortunately, betting on us” to bring down the regime, says Ayham Al-Dimashqi, an activist who does computer maintenance for the revolution in Damascus and requested his real last name not be disclosed. A Sunni Muslim with democratic leanings, Al-Dimashqi feels that the Coalition has relied on Syrians within the country to carry out the revolution, and as a result is out of touch. “It does nothing but hold conferences,” he says.
The Syrian National Coalition has operated primarily from Istanbul since its formation in November 2012, for security as well as for the sake of direct communication with the international community from which it seeks recognition and funding.
On April 6th, the Coalition announced details about the proposed interim government, to consist of 11 ministries in rebel-controlled areas in the north with a headquarters along the Syrian-Turkish border. According to a Coalition statement, the FSA will be in charge of the Ministry of Defense, but the remaining 10 ministries will be headed by SNC picks. It is not clear when that will happen, but the Coalition has announced a conference in Istanbul on May 23rd to widen its membership and discuss women’s participation.
“Registering the leadership’s physical presence in the territories is a priority,” says Sameh Otri, a member of the pro-revolution Syrian Free Academics Union (UFSA), “but more important is to deepen the relationship between those who fight the revolution inside Syria and those who represent them from outside.”
The SNC’s distance from the war in Syria is not its only problem. The Coalition has earned a reputation for being internally divided among those fighting the revolution in Syria. Al-Dimashqi believes that this divisiveness is the result of political posturing by ambitious would-be leaders of a liberated Syria.
“I think this is the main reason, that they are all looking for political positions,” al-Dimashqi says. “First they must be united before they can expect to have their demands met.”
These divisions might also be externally influenced, says Yasser al-Dumani, the spokesman for the Duma LCC, who is skeptical of the external opposition.
“The opposition abroad was founded as a political balance [between groups] around the world. It’s natural that its divisions will reflect the international community’s division on the case of Syria,” al-Dumani said.
Al-Dumani says he hopes that the Coalition will not lose focus on Syria in its efforts to court the international community.
“The bottom line is that the Syrian opposition abroad will not be able to provide anything for the Syrian people unless they cut ties with European countries,” Al-Dumani says. “The national interest should be their priority, not international interests or greediness for our resources.”
Disparity in social classes and on-the-ground experience have rendered communications tenuous between the National Council and the rebel fighters within Syria, but FSA Lieutenant Farzat says that communication barriers are not just the National Council’s fault; both sides are obstinate.
“These rebels have become stubborn, too, under conditions of war,” he says. “They hate the [opposition] overseas.”