The election Sunday of Kurdish activist Abdelbasset Sida as leader of the Syrian National Council signals a positive move for the opposition, but the new leader faces an uphill battle over the next few days and weeks.
Choosing a Kurd to replace Burhan Ghalioun is a very healthy choice, confirming that the opposition is a nationalistic platform, not confined to protecting one group’s priorities over another, and one which is concerned with the rights of every minority. Sida was elected on merit only, not on the basis of his sect, his religion or his background.
However he faces many severe challenges. Acknowledging Sunday that his first task is to reform and restructure the council is important. But he must urgently seek to draw all opposition factions under one cohesive umbrella: Their disunity and differences have, until now, been the stumbling block in their progress in deposing the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
This fragmentation has served as a key justification for those – whether in the West or in the Arab world – who have claimed that they would otherwise provide greater support, material or otherwise, to the rebels.
The election of Sida comes at a critical time, when violence appears to be intensifying at an alarming rate. Civil war is now in full swing, despite the tendency for commentators, politicians and journalists to define it otherwise.
International pressure on the regime is, rightly, also ramping up, and the focus has remained on finding a peaceful solution to the crisis, in an effort to preserve a united Syria.
Were the issue to go to the General Assembly for debate, as indications of that development are ripe at the U.N., and a majority won despite opposition from China and Russia, the possibility of an international force landing in Damascus cannot be ruled out, and the bifurcation of Syria into separate states might follow, reminiscent of the foreign military intervention in the Korean War of 1950-53, which led to the fault line between Seoul and Pyongyang – a rift which has continued until this day.
Should Sida fail in his attempt to unite the Syrian opposition, it will only provide the regime with more breathing space in which to continue with its security solution, and the country’s tragic landscape will continue to be dotted with killing fields.
So too will the threat of contagion continue, with the effects of the Syrian revolution now self-evident across Lebanon, from Tripoli to Beirut, deadly incidents occurring sporadically over the last couple of months.
Regardless of whether Lebanese want to become involved in their neighbor’s civil strife, it is impossible to deny that its effects have already crossed the border.
Sida must now lead a strong, united Syrian National Council, capable of organizing the opposition, so that the international community can provide the necessary support to preserve a Syria which can become a positive member of the international community and not a fragmented breeding ground for violence.