Syrian opposition activists regularly express disappointment with the level of international support that they receive. Although the last meeting of the so-called “Friends of Syria” (a group of countries that convenes periodically to discuss Syria’s situation outside of the UN Security Council) brought more financial aid, the degree of genuine outside commitment to their cause remains questionable.
The US, the EU, Turkey and most Arab countries agree that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is no longer legitimate. They have intensified sanctions against the government and have provided different kinds of support to opposition groups. Some states have delivered automatic weapons, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades. However, arms deliveries have dried up, and the rebels’ pleas for anti-aircraft weapons remain unanswered.
Moreover, neither Syria’s neighbors nor Western governments are willing to intervene militarily. Indeed, despite expressions of solidarity, they have refused to establish a protection zone for Syrian civilians along the borders with neighboring states, or to impose a no-fly zone for Syrian military aircraft. As a result, Syrian opposition groups believe that they have been left to confront al-Assad’s brutal regime alone.
However, Syrian oppositionists must recognize that the lack of decisive international action is not only the result of Russia and China vetoing any meaningful action in the Security Council, or NATO countries’ unwillingness to enter into another war in the region.
In fact, the international community is waiting for Syria’s disorganized opposition to transform itself into a coherent, effective force as much as the opposition is waiting for the international community. This entails forming a common platform that represents all relevant groups, including the Local Coordination Committees, the Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union, and the Free Syrian Army’s military councils.
To be sure, the rebels have made some progress. They have created four regional military councils, which have helped to consolidate leadership and solidify their control over significant areas of the country, particularly near the Turkish border.
Yet the Syrian opposition has so far failed to present itself as a unified actor. This is astonishing given that highly respected, influential figures and political parties have been speaking for the opposition at international gatherings.
The Syrian National Council (SNC), for example, includes many such figures and has managed to gain material support from several countries. However, it is not inclusive enough to serve as the Syrian opposition’s sole representative. Attempts to enlarge the SNC have been unsuccessful, owing to reservations expressed by some important groups, such as the Democratic Forum, about joining an organization that relies on foreign sponsors.
The Syrian opposition needs to establish an umbrella organization accepted by all, including the de facto civilian and military leaders who have emerged locally over the past year and a half. These groups already share a common goal — to bring down al-Assad’s regime — and most of them (with a few ultra-militant exceptions) hope to build a peaceful, inclusive and democratic state.
Influential opposition figures — such as former parliamentarian and political prisoner Riad Seif and the SNC’s former leader, Burhan Ghalioun — have proposed promising strategies for forming such an umbrella organization. For example, a “group of wise persons” who do not seek political positions could oversee the creation of a provisional council that includes all relevant political groups and coalitions, the military councils, the business community and religious leaders.