Can the Syrian Opposition Coalition Be Fixed?

January 30, 2013 – by Kamal Al-Labwani  – FIKRA FORUM – The fourth meeting of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, held in Marrakesh last December, was no different from the previous three. Participants entered the chamber, and then quickly left to consult with colleagues. Throughout the day, deliberations continued in this manner until participants were called to vote that evening on the first item on the agenda, naming the Prime Minister.

In order to increase the pressure to reach a decision after all of the evasions and delays, I announced to the media just before the call to vote that I supported the candidacy of Dr. Riad Hijab. In response, members of the Syrian National Council (approximately half of the coalition) left the chamber for consultations, and decided that they would not participate in a vote for the Prime Minister. The only compromise they would accept was to send the issue to a committee, who must deliver the result of deliberations after ten days. This is why the Syrian Opposition Coalition, after existing for two and a half months, has not produced any functional outcomes, only announcements and committees.

The reasoning for the refusal to participate was expressed in the meeting as follows: “the formation of a government is an important stage in the revolution but it is not yet ripe”; “before the formation of the government, according to the binding Doha agreement, we must first of ensure the full recognition of the Coalition by the international community, including legal recognition, which will cede to the Coalition control of seized Syrian funds and the embassies, etc.”; “for the success of the government we must gather the billions in promised aid”; “we must build the staff and the institutions first”; “we must consult with the people, the Free Syrian Army, and with the rest of the opposition spectrum”; “the government must be populated by true revolutionaries; it is inconceivable that defectors from the Baath party would participate”, “the international community did not fulfill their commitments to the Syrian National Council nor the Syrian Opposition Coalition, and it will not fulfill its commitments to the government, so what justifies the presence of the international community here?”; “we must use the formation of the government to pressure the international community – some have said to blackmail the international community”; “why not form executive bodies from the Syrian Opposition Coalition and postpone the formation of the government until after the fall of the regime?”

The general logic is that the international community should be penalized for its lack of support of the opposition, and any support should now come through the opposition coalition because it is the only legal representative of the revolution. However, discussion of the opposition outside of the Syrian Opposition Coalition exposes the Coalition’s lack of representation among the forces inside Syria. The problem, therefore, is in the concept of a single legal representative of the Syrian revolution. This power, as it is understood, is confined to certain people, who, in their own convictions and according to what they are accustomed to, see political office as a permanent and exclusive possession that may not be ceded to others. The second problem is the mistaken idea that the revolution and its activities depend on external funding and support, and without external support, the Coalition is not obliged to do anything. Another observation is the degree of separation between the Coalition and the revolution, and the lack of sensitivity toward the magnitude of the revolution’s need for organization and administration. Also prevalent in the Coalition is a misconception about the nature of governments. Resources do not beget governments, and waiting will not cause money and support to appear; rather, waiting will be a disaster that multiplies the catastrophes of the Syrian people who are being subjected to extermination. An operational government is needed to organize the activities of the revolution, to support the wounded and the displaced, and to administer the liberated areas. The role of the representative councils is to draft policies, monitor, and supervise.

In an attempt to constrain the powers of the presidency and especially the secretary general, the Coalition passed a package of amendments to the charter, eliminating Article Seven, which prohibits the participation of Coalition members in any executive office. After some expressed the desire to preserve this article and protests from the street quickly emerged, they voted on the amendments again, and the article was upheld.

The revolutionary forces suffer from divisions and fragmentation over the composition of the future government and the current Coalition. After decades of political repression and desolation, the new Syrian government will require a large staff with governing experience, including old government employees who were forced to register with the Baath party. Especially in the liberated regions, there is a need to distinguish between the state and the fanatical, individualistic, single-family dominated Assad regime. Currently, members of the Coalition are unqualified for even the simplest political tasks; their experience and political culture are superficial. We must move toward a new government that will overcome the incompetency of this Coalition, and advance the revolution.

We went to the previous Friends of Syria meeting in Marrakesh without a government and we will go to Paris without a government as well, despite the fact that we know that the international support is conditional upon building a political and civil administration. The compromises inherent in the Coalition have crippled it, and we have inflicted further losses on the revolution because of the process of formation and defects in its basic structure. Because we transferred the internal structure, or every mechanism of disruption, that the Syrian National Council suffered from to the Syrian Opposition Coalition, we have lowered the bar of achievement.

My role as a minority in this council is limited to attempting to break the ice, move initiatives along, and reduce polarization, in the hope that we will move beyond this difficult phase that we are going through as a revolution. The international community has failed to guide or anticipate the course of this revolution because of its dependence on experts who are no more than trainees. They have not and will not understand such revolutions because they are not science experiments that can be studied; revolutions are always new and creative. These “experts” elevated certain personalities who have no relation to politics, to the revolution, nor to Syria, and bundled them into positions of leadership and representation. These individuals came to enjoy the fame, the hotels, and the perks of their positions.

This is precisely how the Syrian people were denied the right to represent themselves under authoritarian rule. They have again been denied during the revolution, and nothing remains for us except the hope that the Syrian people will not be denied that right after the revolution at the hands of the rebels who profess their animosity toward democracy.

I realize that I am speaking with bitterness. Perhaps it reflects in part the bitterness of death that the Syrian people have tasted at the hands of its sons, not because they were enemies originally, for they coexisted for hundreds of years, rather because their enemy entangled them in a despotic, totalitarian, sectarian regime. A gang that brought about a military coup with external support and exercised every type of authoritarianism and corruption, then moved on to systematic killing and destruction.

Dr. Kamal al-Labwani is a Syria doctor and artist. He has been considered one of the most prominent opposition members since the start of the revolution, and is currently serving as a member of the Syrian Opposition Coalition.