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In Five Questions…Salman Shaikh on Syria’s Opposition

Salman Shaikh (@Salman_Shaikh1) is the director of the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. He specializes in mediation and conflict resolution issues throughout the region and gave us the lowdown on the precarious state of Syria’s opposition.

Written by News Deeply Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes
  1. What’s is the current state of the opposition?


  2. Why?

    The biggest mistake has been this leaderless revolution trying to present itself as ‘leaders in waiting.’ That really hasn’t washed well with Syrians themselves.

    The internal agendas and rivalries have been absolutely pathetic. The Syrian National Council is not helping in any way, [with] its own internal disputes. It’s a disgraceful aspect of the opposition and not good [for gathering international support.] This is also an opposition that’s been divided and fragmented for many years and has now been infiltrated by the regime. And that’s part of the tension.

  3. What can be done, from the outside, to unite them?

    What we’ve been trying to do is bring together a mixture of these political blocks, the SNC and the Kurds, the Free Syrian Army and the military council, and grassroots organizations inside Syria. A committee is now being formed and its goal is to…have everyone under one umbrella, come up with a common platform.

  4. What’s the mood among Syrians, particularly those in Damascus, who aren’t pro-Assad but haven’t yet joined the opposition? At this point, with the troubles you’ve discussed, are they wary of both sides?

    The time has never been more right for people to work for a future Syria that is not a failed state, and I think more and more of them are looking to come in and join the right project. And this is where the efforts of the opposition to unite are so crucial, to unite around one vision.

    Those efforts are now starting in earnest, especially with [involvement] from the minority communities like the Alewites and the Christians.

    The regime, through both its actions and defections, is being stripped bare to its core, and it’s a sectarian core, a core of a handful of families and a state which they have built and which has supported them. Because they’re being stripped bare, this is the best moment for those who have been [squeamish] about the state of the opposition to find a project they like and join it.

  5. At this stage, with a fractious opposition and regular bombings in Damascus, how does international involvement come into play?

    Time is of the essence here. If chaos really envelopes Syria and the region, it would be a strategic failure for the international community, which they would regret. It would be a strategic failure for the U.S. and its foreign policy. You can’t have a failed state like Syria with its five borders and have a power and security vacuum that we can somehow just wish away. I hope we don’t arrive at that strategic failure.

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