Syria Coverage Today: Opposition Leadership Stalemated

May 29, 2013 | James Miller in EA Live, EA Middle East & Turkey, Middle East

Hassan Hassan reports for The National that the Syrian National Coalition, the primary expatriate Syrian leadership group, is hopelessly stalemated due to an internal power struggle:

The principle sticking point involves voting. Existing members of the coalition insist that the inclusion of new members must be based on balloting by existing members only. But this would change little in a monopoly that was made possible by interference from regional countries to begin with, rather than based on consensus among Syrian opposition. The existing members were not chosen by the people to decide whether certain opposition figures should be members or not.

The second issue is the “blocking third”, or the veto power held by a third of the members. This idea was advanced by the coalition’s secretary general, Mustafa Al Sabbagh, and was clearly meant to maintain the monopoly of the current core group within the coalition.

Hassan argues that this stalemate may cripple the group, and will only fuel the stalemate seen on Syria’s battlefields.

On the other hand, The Atlantic’s Shadi Hamid argues that the political stalemate can only be solved by progress on the battlefield, and that progress has not happened because the international community is waiting for a unified leadership that will likely never occur:

With military intervention effectively ruled out from the beginning, the United States has instead worked to build a more “unified” and “representative” political opposition, despite the fact that liberation movements, historically, are rarely unified or particularly representative. A more unified opposition would, of course, be better, but the persistent hopes for a more perfect opposition have become both a crutch and a distraction from what really matters — fighting Assad’s forces and shifting the military balance on the ground. Progress on the military front is a prerequisite for political progress, rather than the other way around.

Both writers hit on a central point – the opposition remains divided, and international efforts to unify it have not succeeded. In the meantime, power dynamics inside and outside of Syria have only led to more divisions as time has passed, and that situation will likely only get worse as yet more time passes.

Rebels Push into Daraa City

Rebel forces have suffered recent setbacks in the countryside of Daraa, where the Syrian regime has tried to reestablish control of the highways north of the provincial capital. However, despite these setbacks, rebels have pushed further into the heart of Daraa city. Videos and rebel reports suggest that insurgent forces have captured the main court, the Justice Palace (map), and have bombarded Assad positions near the National Hospital (map). One video claims to show rebels inside the court, and several others reportedly show rebel forces bombarding Assad positions near the hospital.

These advances suggest that the rebels have successfully expanded their zone of control in the city. Many of the southern districts have been under rebel control for some time. What we are seeing is a kind of race. While Assad tries to retake Daraa province, his forces inside Daraa city are still largely surrounded, lack reinforcements, and may be facing supply issues. It’s unclear how this calculus will play out in the next few weeks, as both sides try to firmly establish control of southern Syria.

War on Assad’s Doorstep.

NPR’s Steve Inskeep has snuck across Syria’s border and has reached Damascus. There, he finds a city on the doorstep of war, with constant reminders that the capital is besieged. Just to the east, he finds the signs of destruction everywhere, as he seeks out those who cling to survival in the eastern suburbs.