As the economic situation in Syria deteriorates steadily and the death-rate rises with an increasingly militant opposition, there seems no resolution in sight to the fighting in Syria. The Arab League is sending observers to report on the violence, but it is unclear whether they will act as a balm or catalyst to the conflict. Both regime supporters and opposition may well try to demonstrate wherever the observers turn up.
The SNC has met in Tunisia in order to announce a unified opposition statement, which is carried in full below. The opposition has shown increasing unity, although many important differences over strategy and objectives continue to divide its ranks.
Law and order are slowly collapsing in Syria, along with reliable supplies of basic goods and services. The opposition is becoming more capable, more numerous, and better armed; more Syrians are despairing of the Assad regime and believe the president lives in a cocoon. The international community has isolated Syria and continues to tighten sanctions and force western companies to withdraw from the country, which is causing the economy to contract rapidly. Syria’s GDP has shrunk by almost 30% in dollar terms since the start of the year — from $55 billion to $37 billion dollars, as the Syrian pound has collapsed from 47 to 62 to a dollar. Heating oil has all but disappeared from the market place; people are cold. Cooking oil is scarce and electricity in many cities is cut for hours on end during peek usage periods. Municipal elections, by all accounts, were a bust. It is hard to see how they can change much so long as article 8 of the constitution – the article guaranteeing the supremacy of the Baath in society and politics – remains in force. Syrian opposition forces asked their followers to boycott them. The notion of reform is dead. The opposition is determined to bring down the regime, not reform it. Anyway, Assad has shown no inclination to cut the authority of the patronage network and security forces that sustain his regime in power. One must assume he will fight to the end, that was the thrust of his recent ABC interview with Barbara Walters.
What we are witnessing in Syria, is not the clash of two titanic and centralized bodies: the state and the opposition. Instead, we are seeing the steady erosion of state authority and national institutions, as the opposition, which remains largely organized on a local basis undermines central authority at many points. Neighborhood committees and armed groups are forming in ever greater number. Most use the word “coordinating” in their title, but few relinquish local authority. They prefer to keep decision-making local and in their own hands. Some of this is for practical reasons. Spies are everywhere. I am told by good sources that one of the leading reasons why Aleppo has been so quite is that the local coordinating committees recently discovered that their efforts to put together surprise demonstrations were being foiled by informants. One recent opposition statement admitted that their ranks have been riddled with informers.
The opposition remains divided over central issues of strategy – especially over how to deal with the armed opposition to the regime. The Syrian National Council claims to have gained control over the Free Syrian Army, which claims, in turn, to have control over some 15,000 defectors and armed elements in Syria. This alleged hierarchy is by most accounts fictional. The opposition groups and cells in Syria – whether peaceful or armed – are working on their own. According to the New York Times “factionalism has been hindering the drive to topple Assad.”