Acil Tabbara, AFP
Last updated: 13 November, 2012

Syrian opposition seeks recognition and cash

Syria’s newly-united opposition seeks cash, arms and recognition to hasten the fall of President Bashar al-Assad but it must prove it can deliver effective leadership on the battlefield, analysts say.

A wide cross-section of opposition to Assad’s regime on Sunday signed a unification deal in Qatar in a breakthrough quickly hailed by Western powers, including the US which had urged the formation of a representative coalition.

Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Centre, hailed the unification deal as a “potential game changer.”

“It is certainly an important and significant step … if it proves its credibility this will no doubt shorten the time frame of the regime,” he told AFP.

Rime Allaf, an associate fellow at Chatham House in London, said the agreement marked “the first time we have reason to be hopeful” regarding the 20-month uprising against Assad’s regime that according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has already cost more than 37,000 lives.

The coalition, she said, was now asking for assistance so Syrians inside the country can “fight and defend themselves … rather than asking for international intervention as in Libya.”

The coalition’s success, she added however, depends on how much control it can exert over the wide array of armed groups fighting Assad’s forces, among them hardline Islamists and fighters linked to Al-Qaeda.

The National Coalition will enhance its credibility if it is able “to bring together the military groups and put aside the jihadist elements that are not as important as depicted.”

But as long as Assad’s regime has control over Syria’s airspace, “nothing will change,” cautioned Allaf.

Yezid Sayigh, senior associate at the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Centre warned that the new opposition group’s credibility hinged on its ability to rein in the rebels, some of whom have been accused of rights abuses and war crimes.

“One of the toughest challenges facing the new coalition is to bring the large and diverse array of military formations fighting the regime, which it neither brought into being nor governs, to accept its authority,” said Sayigh.

He argues that the coalition hopes to accomplish this goal “by being the sole conduit for external funding and by acquiring advanced, man-portable, anti-aircraft (Stinger), anti-tank weapons from the West.”

The newly-elected leader of the National Coalition of the Syrian Opposition Forces and the Revolution, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, a moderate Muslim cleric who fled Syria months ago, urged the international community to do more than offer empty pledges of support.

“The opposition has taken a step forward by forming the coalition and it is now up to the international community to honour its commitments,” said Khatib.

But analyst Sayigh said external backers are “unlikely to commit themselves fully until the coalition has demonstrated that it can in fact deliver unity and effective leadership.”

The Brookings’ Shaikh said international support was crucial for the survival of the new grouping.

The coalition will “require constant support on the international side because without international support (the) process will not make much difference on the ground,” he said.

They “will get significant amounts (of money), especially from the Gulf countries, and they will also get weapons from some countries,” said Shaikh “but not (from) the US.”

Funds are crucial to the Syrian uprising, and the Syrian National Council, the largest and most influential opposition bloc, has struggled to raise money, particularly since they came under scrutiny by the US for not being representative of the Syrian opposition.

Their dwindling funds played a key role in forcing the group’s reluctant hand to join the new coalition.

“We were promised $150 million per month in assistance, but since last March, we received only $40 million,” from Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Libya, leading SNC member Samir Nashar recently told AFP.