THE JOSHUA LANDIS BLOG – Monday, November 12th, 2012 – SYRIA COMMENT – JOSHUA LANDIS
Ten countries promised recognition of the new “National Coalition for Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian Opposition”, including Saudi, UAE, Jordan, Egypt, US, German, Italy, France.
Mouaz al-Khatib, a former imam at the famous Umayyad mosque in Damascus, was voted as president. Riad Seif, who proposed the initiative to form the new group, and female activist Suhair al-Atassi were chosen as deputies. All three have served time in Syrian prisons and left the country recently.
It is a big day for the Syrian opposition. Defying naysayers and skeptics, the opposition came together in Doha to follow the outlines of the Riad Seif plan. Opposition members the world over are electrified by the outcome and moving speeches given by the opposition’s new leadership. Assad regime must be worried, as it has survived for 42 years thanks to Syria’s fragmentation.
Now the challenge will be to unite the militias on the ground in Syria behind the new civilian leadership. The role of Qatar, the US, France and Britain have been central in encouraging unity.
Ahmad Moaz Al Khatib Al Hassani – official webpage with speeches given in the past. George Sabra’s Speech on Youtube Very moving. One Syrian friend writes: “This speech made me feel proud to be a Syrian Christian for the first time in a long time.”
Names of the members of the ‘itilaf al-watani
معاذ الخطيب، رياض سيف،سهير الأتاسي، جورج صبرا كلهم معتقلين سابقين بسجون النظام،ورياض خسر ابنه ثمنا لانتقاده رامي مخلوف
Syrian opposition agrees deal, chooses preacher as leader
By RANIA EL GAMAL, REUTERS November 12, 2012
DOHA – Syrian opposition leaders struck a hard-won deal on Sunday under intense international pressure to form a broad, new coalition to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and chose a popular Islamist activist to head the body. Mouaz al-Khatib, a former imam at the famous Umayyad mosque in Damascus, was voted as president. Riad Seif, who proposed the initiative to form the new group, and female activist Suhair al-Atassi were chosen as deputies. Delegates, who had struggled for days in the Qatari capital Doha to find the unity their Western and Arab backers have long urged, said the coalition would ensure a voice for religious and ethnic minorities and for the rebels fighting on the ground, who have complained of being overlooked by exiled dissident groups.
Syrian opposition groups strike reorganization deal –
By Babak Dehghanpisheh, Wash Post – 11.12.2012 – DOHA, Qatar — Fractious Syrian opposition groups finally struck a deal Sunday to form a new umbrella organization after a week of heated negotiations that were nearly derailed on several occasions.
The new organization, called the National Coalition for Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian Opposition, is intended to act as the single entity that manages the political and military affairs of the opposition and as the conduit for humanitarian and military aid. At the end of October, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Syrian National Council, the opposition group formed in August 2011, could no longer claim to be the credible leader of the opposition. In recent months, the SNC has been criticized as an ineffectual organization out of touch with events on the ground in Syria. Although many details of the structure of the new coalition and the timeline for achieving its political goals remained largely undefined Sunday, international supporters of the opposition praised the agreement and highlighted what appeared to be a new willingness of activists to work together. A Syrian opposition conference held in Cairo in July led to fistfights between some activists. “The regime fears most that the opposition unifies,” said Riyad Hijab, the former Syrian prime minister who defected in August and attended the opposition conference last week. “I know that. I was part of that regime.”
International backers of the opposition hope that a credible leadership for the group could win the support of ordinary Syrians and reduce the influence of extremist groups that are on the rise in the country….
Moaz Khatib, former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, was named president of the new coalition. Khatib, who appeared at the signing ceremony Sunday night wearing a gray suit rather than clerical robes, is viewed as a religious moderate and is widely respected by opposition members inside and outside Syria. Riad Seif, a longtime activist who led the initiative to start a new coalition, and Suhair Atassi, a prominent female activist, were named vice presidents.
“After long suffering, the multiple national forces have reached a coalition of one front to help our people who are being slaughtered every day on the watch of the world,” Khatib said at the signing ceremony, which was attended by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davatoglu and Qatar’s prime minister, Hamad Bin Jasim al-Thani. The leaders of the coalition said that gaining international recognition was a top priority and that Khatib may head to Cairo as soon as Monday to pursue recognition from the Arab League. That would be followed by a push to get recognition from the Friends of Syria group, which includes the United States, followed by a pitch to the United Nations. Many prominent activists said they had received repeated assurances from their foreign backers that they would receive recognition quickly.
By Faisal Baatout (AFP) – DOHA – 11.12.2012 – … After four days of marathon talks in Qatar, the Syrian National Council finally signed up to a wider, more representative bloc centred on a government-in-waiting, as demanded by Arab and Western states.
… Reservations in SNC ranks about what many members saw as a move to sideline it had prompted repeated delays in the Doha talks and mounting frustration among other dissident groups and the opposition’s Arab and Western supporters. But after negotiations ran into the early hours of Sunday and resumed in the afternoon, the anti-Assad factions agreed to form a “National Coalition of Forces of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition.”
“We signed a 12-point agreement to establish a coalition,” said leading dissident Riad Seif, who drew up the US-backed reform proposals on which Sunday’s agreement was based. In a copy of the document obtained by AFP, the parties “agree to work for the fall of the regime and of all its symbols and pillars,” and rule out any dialogue with the regime….
They agreed to unify the fighting forces under a supreme military council and to set up a national judicial commission for rebel-held areas….A provisional government would be formed after the coalition gains international recognition, and a transitional government formed after the regime has fallen. The deal came after the SNC, which had formerly been seen as the main opposition group, heeded Arab and Western pressure to agree to a new structure embracing groups that had been unwilling to join its ranks. Former prime minister Riad Hijab, who fled to neighbouring Jordan in August in the highest-ranking defection from Assad’s government, hailed the agreement as “an advanced step towards toppling the regime.”
Anti-Assad Syria National Council picks a Christian to be its new leaderr
By Roy Gutman – McClatchy Newspapers – 13.11.2012 – DOHA, Qatar — Syria’s biggest political opposition bloc Friday elected a Christian, George Sabra, as president, a move Sabra said showed that the Muslim-majority nation will not allow its national uprising to descend into sectarian war.
Sabra, a geography teacher who once wrote for the Arabic version of “Sesame Street,” immediately demanded that the international community provide arms to the rebels so that they can protect Syrian civilians from regime attack.
Western nations, he told reporters after the vote by the Syrian National Council, should “support our right to survival.” He added, “To protect ourselves, we need weapons.”
Tens of thousands of Syrians have died in the uprising, which began as peaceful demonstrations against the government of President Bashar Assad. But it has become a bloody civil war pitting the Syrian army and air force against rebels who despite a lack of heavy weapons have seized large swaths of Syrian countryside and have fought loyalist forces to a standstill in Aleppo, the country’s largest city.
Sabra seemed stunned by his sudden elevation to the council’s top post. “It is an unbelievable moment in my life,” he told reporters. “I promise to become a representative for all the Syrian people.” It was uncertain whether Sabra’s selection would rehabilitate the Syrian National Council in the eyes of the United States. Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. no longer would recognize the council as the primary anti-Assad organization, saying too many of its members had lived in exile for decades and that a new opposition group should include more representation from people fighting inside Syria.
Sabra may help fit that requirement. A longtime member of Syria’s communist party, which renamed itself the Syrian Democratic People’s Party in 2005, Sabra went into exile only in October after serving two months in prison for inciting dissent. Previously, he had served eight years in prison during the regime of Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez Assad.
Sabra credited his election to the intervention of a conservative Islamist from Homs, a Sunni Muslim city that has been the scene of brutal fighting between rebels and pro-Assad forces for most of this year.
Until the Islamist, Wasal al Shamali, who was here representing the Supreme Council for Revolutionary Commands, a collection of rebel-held cities in Syria, spoke on Sabra’s behalf, Sabra wasn’t even a member of the group’s top governing committee, the general secretariat. The Syrian National Council has been criticized because its 41-member secretariat includes no women or Alawites, the religious offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Assad belongs.
Shamali, however, said that Sabra should have his place on the general secretariat. “I didn’t even know his name,” Sabra told McClatchy. “He was in tears.”
Added Sabra: “After that, who can talk about sectarianism when a Muslim sacrifices his place for a Christian?” The group later elected Sabra its president, 28-13, over Hisham Marwah, an Islamic legal scholar.
Sabra said his selection should signal to the international community: “Look at Syria. There is no sectarianism inside Syria. All the people here, Muslims, voted for Christians.” He said the Syria that he and others are fighting for “doesn’t have minorities and majorities. We have citizenship. And as I am a citizen, my colleagues elected me.”
Whether that sentiment translates inside Syria is less clear. In recent weeks, fighting has broken out between Arab rebels and Kurdish militias in Aleppo, and some Sunni Muslims have vowed revenge on Alawites for their support of Assad. The country’s organized Christian religious groups have to date remained firmly allied with the Assad government, saying they fear that the mostly Sunni Muslim rebels won’t protect their rights once Assad is gone. There are also concerns that Islamist militants are playing a growing role in the rebellion. Concerns of the growing influence of Islamists among the rebels are often cited by U.S. officials for their hesitancy to provide weapons, though many in the opposition argue that the U.S. failure to provide weapons is strengthening the Islamists. Still to be determined is how Sabra’s election might affect plans, backed by the United States, the Arab League and Qatar, to restructure the opposition.
Under the U.S-backed move, dissident Riad Seif, a successful industrialist from Damascus and former member of the Syrian Parliament, had proposed setting up a new organization, the Syrian National Initiative, with a majority of members not from the Syrian National Council. The Syrian National Initiativewould set up a smaller body of technocrats, who would deal directly with the international community and help funnel humanitarian aid into the country.
Sabra said the SNC would discuss under what conditions it would participate in the new group on Saturday. Sabra said the SNC also would consider an alternative plan that would set up a 300-member assembly primarily of fighters and officials inside Syria to elect a transitional government. “Our main goal is to unite the opposition to bring down the regime,” Sabra said. One surprise aspect of the Syrian National Council’s vote Friday was that it was conducted in the open, following a more or less democratic process under which its membership base of 425 voted first for a general secretariat of 41, which then selected the executive committee and the president. When it came time to vote for the president, the council allowed reporters to witness the process.