It is very hard to look at Washington’s step in revoking its recognition of the Syrian National Council as a representative of the opposition as anything but a sign of a new stage in the struggle in Syria.
What was the purpose of establishing SNC?
SNC was established in Istanbul on October 2nd 2011 (a little bit more than one year ago). Its establishment was received with great applause by many countries, including the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and other states and parties. This step came 7 months after the start of the events in Syria, and was supported by a great media campaign trying to project SNC as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, not only the opposition.
But the establishment of SNC was actually a branding process that marked the adoption of a new stage in the Syrian Struggle: The armed rebellion. At the beginning, the events in Syria were largely portrayed as peaceful protests organized by random people. At the end of July 2011, the Free Syrian Army was announced, declaring an armed rebellion against the government of President Bashar Al Assad. This kind of armed rebellion could easily lose legitimacy if not supported by a political body with (true or alleged) representation of the Syrian people, a role that fitted SNC perfectly, and the later happily played it as early as Dec 6th 2011.
But much like the stage before it, this militarization stage failed in threatening the Syrian Regime. This failure can be identified by the following factors:
- Failing to gain any military advantage: Despite all claims by opposition figures, the situation on the ground shows that their exhausted rebels have not succeeded in creating any real military advantage for themselves. They managed to create chaos in some areas, threaten stability, force the government to deploy its forces to certain areas, but never to actually fully control any area and close it in front of the Syrian Army. This is has been evident since the Syrian Army regained control over Baba Amro, the strongest opposition fighters’ hold.
- Losing popular support: As a result of both the irresponsible practices by rebel fighters and the destruction caused by the battles to any area where they exist, the rebels lost most of their already weak popular support (see relationship with civilians in our report here). Lately, the rebels even clashed with the Kurdish population and militia in Aleppo. This report of ANF shows the troubled relationship between civilians and rebels in Ashrafyeh, the Kurdish neighborhood in Aleppo.
- Continued reliance on foreign intervention: The rebels still express their need for foreign intervention to support them, making sure they express not only a wish to get help, but also their reliance on this help, and inability to succeed without it (see here, here, here, and here). This only means, as Sister Agnes Mariam explained to RT, that they cannot succeed with their own power.
- Increasing evidence of extremism and sectarian violence among the rebels: This evidence has become impossible to deny even by the most rebel-sympathetic media channels. See reports on this issue on BBC, The Daily Star, France 24, Voice of America, Spiegel Online, Time, and even Hurriyet and Aljazeera. This increasing evidence made it more difficult for governments supporting the rebels to justify this for their people, including the number one supporter, the Turkish government (see Syria Tribune’s editor discussing this on RT here).
Rebranding the Syrian Opposition
One more time, countries supporting the Syrian Opposition find themselves facing another critical moment. With militarization failing, and foreign direct military intervention not doable, the US seems to have decided to move to the next stage. Clintons’ criticism to the main tool of the previous stage (the SNC), and the US pushing for a new structure to represent the Syrian Opposition can only be seen in this context.
But what would the new stage be? What does Washington have in mind for the post-elections phase? And why does it want the new opposition body to be formed in Qatar? Is it a consolation prize to the Emirate that invested the most in the US plan to topple Bashar Al Assad? Or is it a signal that it is going back to square one, when Qatar was leading the campaign against Syria?
We will have to wait till after the US elections to know. We hope that the new US administration (whether under Obama or Romney) will be more realistic, and read the balance of powers in the Middle East more carefully.