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Syrians React to ‘Immature’ National Coalition

The Syrian National Coalition, Syria’s main opposition group, missed a key chance to restore confidence among its supporters last week at a meeting in Istanbul. After days of wrangling over political representation, the heavily Islamist body offered only five seats to the liberal, Western-backed bloc led by Christian activist and writer Michael Kilo – far below the 22 seats hoped for by Kilo and his supporters. .

Written by Alison Tahmizian Meuse Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

The decision disappointed moderates in the Arab world and the West, who had kept a close watch on the four-day meeting. It also provoked bitter reactions from a Syrian public whose faith in the disorganized, sparring coalition has been badly shaken.

“The inability of the opposition abroad to represent the revolution, its preoccupation with factional divisions and its limited authority has been fundamental reasons for the delay in the victory of the revolution,” said Thaer,  a Palestinian-Syrian activist from the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp

“They have wasted money on meetings and conferences, which could have easily been held via Skype. A lot of money is spent in this regard while $100 could make a huge difference to the life of a Syrian family. Frankly, my eyes are on the developments on the ground rather than what goes on in closed-door meeting rooms,” he said.

Mohamed, a university student from Damascus, said the opposition has “still not matured … first, they do not have strong popular support. Second, there is no vision that brings together all Syrians or a national project for the Syrians that would spur everyone to think of pushing for change. There is no clear or specific set of unified demands like the Freedom Charter of South Africa, for example.”

He criticized the coalition for effectively being an opposition in exile, out of touch with life inside Syria.

“There is no political opposition force on the ground demanding democratic change until today … the opposition must be on Syrian territory to even begin to think realistically,” he said.

On a World Economic Forum panel led by Syria Deeply founder Lara Setrakian on Sunday in Jordan, Brookings Doha Center director Salman Shaikh spoke of the importance of a sustained dialogue between Syria’s ethnic, political and economic factions in creating a unified opposition.

 The international community, Shaikh said, needs to focus on “giving Syrians the opportunity, from all backgrounds, from all constituencies, the economic elites, the independent sheiks, the tribal leaders as well as Alawites, Sunnis, Shia, Kurds, Druze and others to come together to find the space for a very serious discussion on where their interests lie with regards to the future of their count and how they can rebuild it. 

“It’s essentially a negotiation that needs to take place between them, and to arrive at a new equation for sharing power. Just hear Syrians. Syrians are Syrians first, to this day. This has to be done seriously. This has to be a serious process of dialogue. I believe the international community has not paid enough attention to this. I’m afraid to say that even the official Syrian opposition has not yet provided a venue for that kind of dialogue. Until we get there, I’m afraid we will continue to see that political solution being elusive.”

Kilo expressed his own concern as talks wrapped.

“We were talking about 25 names as the basis for our negotiations, then there was agreement on 22, and then the number dropped to 20, then to 18, then to 15, then to five [of 60 total seats],” he told the coalition. 

“I do not think you have a desire to cooperate and hold our extended hand.” 

The coalition’s spokesman, Khaled Saleh, defended the outcome as “democratic.” But he faces a steep battle in convincing Syrians that his group, operating from foreign capitals, can effectively lead those struggling through the war in-country.

“No one here is following [opposition] politics because they do not benefit from them,” said one activist in Homs. 

“[Right now they offer] very little support for those on the ground.”


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