Rita Daou, AFP
Last updated: 3 August, 2012

Syrian transitional government is paramount for divided opposition

As rebels gain in Syria, creating a transitional government is now on the front burner for the opposition, but its eventual composition is hotly debated between civilians abroad and fighters at home.

Such a government would be established in “liberated zones” secured by the opposition, as was done in Libya.

“As more and more areas slip out of the regime’s control in Syria, and as the regime nears its collapse, the need for a national transitional government has become paramount,” the Local Coordination Committees, an influential network of activists on the ground, said on Thursday.

“Such a government is needed to help organise the civilians in liberated areas to help coordinate the revolutionary bodies and their activities in Syria. A transitional government is also needed to represent the revolution on the international level,” a statement added.

But the creation of any transitional government is hampered by fissures within the opposition.

Khattar Abu Diab, a professor of international relations at Universite Paris-Sud, said “this fragmentation is due to the absence of political life in Syria for half a century, the egos of some opposition figures and … (that) some elements of opposition may depend on external forces, which complicates things.” Seeking to overcome such divisions, the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition bloc, formed two committees on Monday. One will communicate with the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and activists on the ground and the other establish contacts with political opponents outside the SNC, with the goal of forming a transitional government enjoying broad consensus.

The form of the government would take remains unclear but, after a heated debate, the SNC rejected the idea of a hybrid government composed of opposition members and “regime-sanctioned” figures.

This discussion took place after General Manaf Tlass, a senior regime figure who was close to the regime and who defected last month, was floated as a contender to head a national unity government.

“The current prospectives do not include any member of the current regime,” Bashar Hrak, an SNC member, told AFP.

We hope to find “a consensus solution that will actually represent the opposition and the revolutionaries on the ground,” he added.

If discussions are difficult between those living in exile for years after fighting early-on against the regime and the deserters or young fighters who recently took up arms in Syria, it now seems certain that the balance of power is tipped in favour of the latter.

“Those who have shed their blood and led the war for liberation must have their say and should not be marginalised,” acknowledged Hrak.

The Tuesday announcement by veteran opposition figure Haytham al-Maleh, who said he had been tasked with forming a government in exile based in Cairo, quickly fizzled.

Meanwhile, the FSA joint command in Syria proposed a “national salvation draft” for the establishment of a higher defence council charged with creating a presidential council, which would bring together six military and civilian figures to lead a future transition.

But this proposal was rejected by Colonel Riad al-Assaad, the official head of the FSA, based in Turkey.

The defected colonel, whose relations with the joint command inside Syria are notoriously bad, accused them of a “fervent race for positions.”

For Kassem Saadeddine, spokesman for the FSA in Syria, any possible transition will be secured by victory in Aleppo.

“This is a crucial battle, because if the opposition wins, it intends to create a safe zone which would serve as a base for the conquest of Damascus.”