The Syrian National Council until now has been seen in the west as the foremost representative of the opposition. However, as reported earlier in the Digital Journal, Hilary Clinton and others have pressed the opposition to form a new leadership group with more representation from those actually taking part in the battle. No doubt arrangements were made for those favored to attend the meeting in Doha.The opposition groups have agreed in principle to form a new umbrella group called the Syrian National Coalition.
The new coalition will be charged with setting up new transitional institutions and will plan actions to topple the Assad regime. Obviously, there is no talk of any negotiated solution to the conflict. Details of the agreement are still being worked out.
The Syrian National Council is dominated by exiles, many of them Islamists. However, just recently they elected George Sabra
as their new leader. Sabra is a Christian and active in the Syrian opposition movement since the 1970's. He has a geography degree from Damascus University but also a degree in educational technology systems from the University of Indiana. He also is a screenwriter, writing the Arabic Version of "Sesame Street". A leftist, Sabra was jailed for 8 years in 1987 in a crackdown on the Syrian Communist Party. No doubt his election as leader of the SNC was seen by Islamists as trying to provide balance within their group since he represents the Christian minority within Syria.
At the Doha meeting,
Sabra said:"We have started an open dialogue with our brothers and looked at their initiative. But we have our own point of view and our own ideas that we plan to put forward....the SNC is older than ... any other initiative". He added that no opposition group should be forced under the banner of another.
Ahmad Ramada, a senior SNC official said: "We are being submitted to pressure to accept being part of a new formation, in exchange for international promises but with no guarantees." He suggested that it would be difficult to reach any agreement on Saturday (November 10) but that a declaration of principles might be reached so that the meeting would not end in failure. This is precisely what happened later. However a former SNC chief was more optimistic saying that there had been real progress and predicted that there would be some type of agreement for common action and for a body to supervise the military.
The SNC had presented its own plan but this seems to have been shunted aside for a plan inspired by Riad Seif. The U.S. would like to see him as the head of the new opposition Coalition. His plan envisages the formation of a transitional government and a military council to oversee the different rebel groups and a judiciary that would operate in rebel-occupied areas.
The Syrian Information Minister
called for a national dialogue. He said:
"The only way to succeed in Syria is to sit down at the table to launch a national dialogue. The opposition must accept the choice of dialogue and ... the army, by facing down terrorism, is protecting this dialogue."
However, there seems almost no desire for dialogue on the part of the rebels. Now that the U.S. election is over, they expect that there will be new initiatives to support them.
George Sabra, elected by the SNC
only on Friday, said the international community should send arms without conditions, rather than linking aid to an overhaul of the leadership. He must be dreaming. To get arms from the masters they must do the master's bidding.