Why the Rush to Form a Syrian Opposition Interim Government?
By: Ibrahim al-Amin
Published Thursday, March 21, 2013
Syrian opposition groups only took the step of naming a head of an interim transitional government as a result of pressure, on the one hand, from France and Britain, and Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia on the other.
But what does this move signify, and what does it add to the agenda?
For one thing, the Syrian opposition’s sponsors believe it provides them with a fresh opportunity to unite various opposition groups. They see the process of forming an interim government as a means of bringing them all together by providing them with representation and resources.
They want the interim government to be the go-to place for any inquiries about the opposition – including armed groups on the ground – as well as the sole provider and distributor of money, arms, and supplies. They hope that by channeling aid through it, all the political and paramilitary opposition factions will gradually be forced to accept it.
The second objective is to pre-empt the terms of any political settlement brokered by Russia and the US, either directly or via Arab-UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. In this respect, the interim government seeks to achieve a number of things:
– To be given Syria’s seat at the Arab League and other pan-Arab bodies at the forthcoming Arab summit. This would oblige all Arab states to treat the interim government as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
– To impose a concept of parity, so that in future talks or negotiations, the regime is considered not representative of the Syrian state. Action will meanwhile be taken to assert its presence on the ground in parts of the country controlled by opposition gunmen.
– To sideline other opposition leaders by vesting authority in the interim government’s head. This resolves problems like those caused by Syrian National Coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib’s call for dialogue with the regime.
– While placing minor figures in nominal leadership positions, the actual running of the opposition’s affairs will be in the hands of groups and figures beholden to Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. This includes undertaking the task of creating a joint framework for the various armed groups on the ground. One aim is to compel al-Nusra Front to join forces with the others.
– To achieve military breakthroughs and alter the situation on the ground in order to forestall any political deal sought by the Americans and Russians.
There is also evidence of other objectives being pursued during behind-the-scenes negotiations.
In particular, the Saudis, Qataris, and Turks have been behaving as though they will never accept a settlement that keeps Bashar al-Assad in power. Britain and France increasingly support this stance.
Turkey has additional concerns, which help explain the sinister role it has been playing in northern Syria. It wants to assert its security and economic control over the entire area, and take charge of its reconstruction and policing. It also wants to achieve operational goals related to the Kurds in Syria.
While everyone awaits the next move, these are exceptionally hard times for the would-be brokers of a political settlement in Syria. They are dismayed by the regime’s failure to offer concessions capable of luring the other side to the negotiating table. They have long been frustrated by the inflated roles that France, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey have assigned to themselves in the crisis. And they are alarmed by the systematic process of destruction to which Syria is being subjected.
Everyone appreciates the difficulty of finding a solution soon. So the one certain outcome of the formation of an interim opposition will be a fresh round of bloody violence. It will not radically change the equation in Syria, but will merely cost thousands more Syrian lives.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.