Fixes before spoils

Prime Minister of the interim government of Syria Ghassan Hito (2R), head of the Syrian opposition delegation, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib (C), and the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition & Revolutionary Forces (SMDK) Ambassador to Qatar Nizar al-Hiraki (L) attend the inauguration of the first Syrian interim government to open in Qatar, in the capital Doha on March 27, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/KARIM SAHIB)

Syria’s opposition in exile claimed a victory of sorts this week when it took over the country’s seat at the Arab Summit in Doha. But rather than riding a wave of newfound momentum, the National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces in Syria appears to be mired in the same types of troubles that have plagued it throughout the country’s uprising.

The coalition was probably buoyed by the speech delivered by its leader, Sheikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, at the summit, but its members should remember that Khatib threw the opposition into disarray in the runup to Doha, when he announced his intention to step down.

Khatib and other coalition figures continue to dance around his dramatic announcement, seemingly papered over in the interests of “unity.” They should realize that their choice of Ghassan Hitto as the prime minister of a provisional government has raised more questions than it has answered. Hitto’s naming prompted half a dozen members of the coalition to suspend their membership in protest, and some figures, when they speak to the media, are content to declare that most of the unhappy members have gone back on that decision instead of tackling the reasons behind their protest move.

Syrians who want to see political change in the country have developed a fairly simple, yet specific set of guidelines for their future leaders, and one of the principal demands they have is accountability. As in, how could Hitto have been elected to head a provisional government without submitting a fairly detailed political program ahead of time?

Disgruntlement within the coalition’s ranks has been joined by disappointment outside the group, voiced by stalwart members of Syria’s political opposition, as well as the leaders of the rebel Free Syrian Army. The FSA might be criticized for its own disarray, but its spokesmen have made it clear any premier should enjoy true consensus among opposition and rebel groups, and not just the backing of the National Coalition.

In short, the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated coalition has done little to forge a more wide-ranging and representative body that would generate more popular support. Some have seized as Hitto’s Kurdish ethnic origin, although many see him as being more representative of Texas, where he has long resided, than Syria’s long-suffering north and northeastern Kurdish region.

The National Coalition should move away from playing the politics of identity, as it puts forward its various figures, and pay more attention to politics and detailed plans of action. Does the group truly understand the massive problems and needs that affect rebel-held areas? Is there a formula that will allow Khatib, Hitto and others to deliver, or will they continue to blame the negligence of the international community? Their complaints might be justified, but such statements of protest will not lead to what the Syrian people need at this juncture – solutions, and not the filling of political posts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 28, 2013, on page 7.




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