Dealing a blow to the already fragmented Syrian opposition, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced that the US no longer considers the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition group seeking the fall of the Syrian regime, to be the sole representative of the Syrian opposition -- a move that has received sharp criticism from SNC members.
According to some opposition figures, the US was never sincere with the Syrian opposition and with this initiative aims to hijack the role of Turkey, which from the very beginning supported the Syrian opposition. Ankara, a staunch critic of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, is the main sponsor of the SNC, hosting its meetings and some of its leaders.
“I don't believe that the initiative will work as the US never had any real intention of supporting the Syrian opposition on the ground as well as the ones in exile. The US is just trying to steal the role of some countries, including Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who have different approaches to the Syrian crisis than the American one,” Fawaz Tello, a prominent dissident who resigned from the SNC last May, said in remarks to Today's Zaman.
Washington was so far reluctant to give direct and stronger support to the opposition forces in part because of worries over its fractured nature and lack of organization.
Senior SNC figures, including its head, Abdulbaset Sieda, met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Friday in Ankara, where they praised Turkey's humanitarian efforts and spoke against the international community, particularly the US, for dragging their feet in helping the Syrian opposition.
The US lashed out at the SNC for its failure to appear as a capable and inclusive organization during the 19-month-old Syrian uprising. Clinton's remarks represent a clear break with the SNC. “We've made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition,” she said.
In a phone interview from Germany, Tello stated that the reason for the US in proposing such an initiative was the developments in Syria. “Currently, the Syrian opposition forces on the ground have seized most areas in Syria. There is positive progress going on in Syria on the side of the opposition. Therefore, the US is in a hurry to take on a greater role during this period when the opposition forces are gaining more control,” said Tello, adding that the developments in Syria pushed the US to create an alternative opposition platform by taking leadership away from the SNC.
Analysts argue that the rift between the SNC and opposition forces inside Syria, who have been gaining more territory in recent months, is widening, adding that the Syrian opposition's failure to unite has strengthened Assad's position and made it more difficult for the world to respond.
The SNC, which has struggled to win credibility as a democratic alternative to Assad, has been criticized by Syrians on the ground for not representing all segments of the Syrian opposition.
Agreeing with Tello, Gökhan Bacık, an academic teaching international relations at Gaziantep's Zirve University, told Today's Zaman that the US aims to create a more controlled opposition structure on the ground. “The US is aware that there isn't a united opposition to fight against Assad in Syria. So it aims to create such a group under US control,” said Bacık.
Clinton said the Syrian opposition should be inclusive and reject extremism. “There needs to be an opposition that will be on record strongly resisting the efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution,” she said.
Referring to Clinton's remarks, Bacık said the US was concerned over the nature of the struggle on the ground. “Islamists have started to gain more control on the frontlines in the battle against Assad. The US is uneasy about this and aims to create an opposition force which is secular instead of Islamist,” said Bacık.
According to the US, a new leadership of the Syrian opposition could rally wider international support and prevent extremists from hijacking the revolution.
The new US push appears to be aimed at creating a unified leadership that could work more closely with the West. But there are signs of resistance among deeply fractured opposition groups wary of attempts by foreign backers to dictate strategy in the civil war against Assad.
“This is just a scenario. The US wants a political transition in Syria in the post-Assad era, a transition that will preserve the core of the regime without Assad. The US doesn't want the collapse of the regime; it doesn't have any real intention of getting rid of the regime. Its initiative is not sincere at all,” said Tello, adding that the US wants to create an opposition under its control to preserve the status quo and protect its interests.
Commenting on the move by the US, the Syrian opposition said no foreign country can impose a leader on the Syrian opposition, adding that the initiative to form an opposition belongs to Syrians only.
Bacık also believes that the initiative looks set to fail as it was proposed under the pressure of the international community. “The US is under pressure to take on a more active role in the crisis. So this initiative was proposed due to this pressure,” said Bacık.