This past weekend, a meeting of Syrian-opposition members in Doha defied the reputation of international conferences in that Gulf capital and actually got something done: They agreed to a new organization of rebel forces for the purposes of domestic organization and international negotiations, effectively replacing the Syrian National Council with the Life of Brian-esque National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
The idea was that the group will be more effective at coordinating efforts inside Syria, but it’s also somewhat clear that the U.S. and Arab nations were interested in seeing a new coordination committee that was more diverse and less sectarian. Supposedly this has happened, with one of the two vice presidents elected being a female human-rights activist from a family with erstwhile connections to the Assad regime, and the president, Muath al-Khatib, being an apparently moderate Sunni cleric. (In the Arab press he’s been referred to as “modernized” and it’s been noted that he wears Western dress; the question remains exactly how modern it is to have an imam as the chief representative of the rebels.)
The Arab League and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council quickly and unsurprisingly endorsed the group that’s largely of their own making, but it was somewhat more surprising when yesterday France eagerly recognized the group as the legitimate international representative of Syria, and hinted that they’d begin considering how to arm the group. The U.S., for now, has decided not to, laying out vague expectations for the group. Secretary Clinton said in Australia today:
With respect to Syria, we congratulate and welcome the new Syrian Opposition Coalition on the progress that they have made in Doha to broaden and unify the opposition leadership to make it a more effective, representative body that will truly reflect the aspirations of the Syrian people and have credibility with those inside Syria who are doing the fighting and demonstrating, the dying, and dealing with the continuing assault from the Assad regime. We have long called for this kind of organization. The United States was deeply involved in the work that went on leading up to and at Doha.
Now we want to see that momentum maintained. Specifically, we urge them to finalize the organizational arrangements to support the commitments that they made in Doha, and to begin influencing events on the ground in Syria. As the Syrian opposition takes these steps and demonstrates its effectiveness in advancing the cause of a unified, democratic, pluralistic Syria, we will be prepared to work with them to deliver assistance to the Syrian people. So good beginning, highly welcomed by us and others, and we want to see the steps taken that have been promised. And we stand ready to assist this new opposition in standing itself up and representing the Syrian people to the regime and the international community.
But just as the Syrian coalition was starting to strengthen its international profile, conflict has broken out again in Gaza and the Arab League has called an emergency meeting this weekend to address the situation. Seems like a good time for Bernhard-Henri Lévy to take the lead again.