Western diplomats have gotten their ducks in a row. They have fulfilled their goal of diplomatically isolating President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian regime. Sanctions have been tightened and plans drawn up for a total oil purchasing ban by the EU. The major European countries have now all reiterated Washington’s statement that Assad must go. They are committed to bringing down the Baath regime.
The Arab League has taken the initiative to ask for presidential elections in Syria and an end of repression. Russia and Iran, although presently sticking by Syria’s side, have openly criticized Assad for his repression. Russia’s delegation has just returned from Damascus. Western leaders have prepared the world to support the Syrian revolution. Some may even be contemplating an eventual military solution. Today arming Syrians is not being openly discussed, but many are coming to the conclusion that it may very well have to be somewhere down the road.
The stumbling block in the way of developing further momentum for the revolution is the Syrian opposition itself. Western capitals have been driving the momentum over the last weeks with condemnations, enhanced economic embargoes, and by herding Arab and Middle Eastern statesmen to make accusatory and condemning statements about the Syrian regime. If the opposition continues sniping among factions, momentum will be lost. To whom should aid be sent? To whom could arms be sent if a military option is to be opened? More importantly, whom should the Syrian people look to as an alternative to this government?
The announcement of the formation of the Syrian National Council with Burhan Ghalioun, an Alawi sociology professor at the Sorbonne, as its president was immediately denounced by leaders of the opposition within Syria, who claimed it had no connection to activists within the country or control over events on the ground. Muhammad Rahhal, Chairman of the Syrian Revolutionary Council of the Coordination Committees, said:
“Those who formed the Syrian National Council are ghosts claiming to represent a large part of the Syrian people, while they have no relations whatsoever with the revolution. We are not part of the opposition abroad. The revolution has an internal body that decides its course.”
A full fledged food fight has broken out among opposition leaders over who should assume control over the revolution, whether it should take up arms, and what role foreign powers are playing. Underlying these overt clashes is the question of how much play should be given to Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood; Arabism versus Syrianism (the Kurds want recognition of their national and linguistic rights within a Syria that is not defined ethnically), and can ex-patriots lead or do they establish a “Chalabi effect?” Distrust of the West remains strong in Syria. Activists inside Syria don’t appreciate how Western governments must be brought along step by step. They cannot get out too far ahead of their people, who don’t want to spend money right now. Expats believe that Western governments are going to be crucial in bringing down the Assad regime and must be treated with respect and brought along. Some in Washington are already warning that the Syrian opposition will soon begin calling for external military intervention and that Washington should prepare itself and NATO to intervene.