Fatal bickering

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad carry their weapons as they move during what they said was an operation to push rebels from the road between Dahra Abd Rabbo village and Castello in Aleppo May 27, 2013.(REUTERS/George Ourfalian)

Whether for or against the regime, the whole world’s attention is focused on Syria, but if the opposition does not get its act together soon and concentrate its energies on political progress rather than squabbling, it risks losing this attention and tens of thousands of lives will have been in vain.

Monday saw the Russian, French and American foreign ministers meeting in Paris to discuss the crisis, and a separate EU meeting on arming the rebels as U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay spoke of the war’s horrific realities: “It sometimes seems that we can do little more than cry out in the darkness and try to count the dead.”

While this was going on, and fighting continued across the ground in Syria, the Syrian National Coalition met for an unscheduled fifth day of talks in Istanbul to discuss its myriad differences and divisions. Each day, at least another hundred Syrians are killed, and each day, the Coalition continues to bicker over its size, its members, its leaders. Whether or not to attend the Geneva 2 talks – brokered by the U.S. and Russia, and which the government has agreed “in principle” to attend – has not even been tackled yet.

In any revolution, there will be splits within the opposition, this is natural. But normally, these divisions do not appear in full until after the revolution is achieved. The Syrian opposition has not yet achieved its primary goal – to bring down the Assad government – and already it is immobilized with fractures and fissures.

This complete absence of unity is Assad’s best ally. He must be watching the fruitless discussions in Istanbul with a smirk on his face.

And as world powers continue to work toward finding a solution to the crisis, admittedly with their own dithering at times, should they be expected to keep focused on this country, even as its opposition cannot unite? If its not careful, the world may give up on Syria, as it did with Somalia, seeing no hope in sight.

And does this opposition body, beset by discord and defined by clumsy, frantic debates, represent the population in Syria? Not only the civilians – the women and children who are dying in their homes – but those who are fighting to bring down the government? Are they dying for a future that might not happen?

If rebels on the ground knew the full extent of the bickering and indecisions in Istanbul, it seems hard to believe they could still continue to get up every morning to face Assad’s forces again. Many of the rebels have lost friends, family, their homes and possessions. Squabbling in Istanbul is cheapening these sacrifices.

At such a critical stage, with Assad’s forces apparently re-energized by external help, the opposition needs to be as strong and united as it possibly can be. Instead of its members being buoyed and swayed by patron Arab governments, they must be inspired by Syrians, those who live and die in Syria, and those rendered refugees by this war.

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




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