Moaz Al-Khatib was chosen as head of the coalition because many thought he could be controlled, but he quickly began to operate independently which upset many, especially representatives of the former National Syrian Council (NSC) who control half the seats in the National Coalition. They are primarily remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood abroad who wanted to revive a network of several hundred of them living outside Syria since the 1980s. They support a group of marginal figures who served as their front, relying on the lust of these figures for power, and they continue to serve as a front.
After Al-Khatib was put under pressure and under siege, Brotherhood remnants declared their victory by creating a government headed by one of their own, although Al-Khatib had partially objected. This was preceded by several steps by the coalition, including those who had previously frozen their membership, to curb his mandate. Thus, Al-Khatib was undercut and had to resign in order not to remain as a front to hide Brotherhood remnants that have no presence on the ground, but tried to build up influence by controlling fragmented opposition groups, and from there controlling financial and military assistance used to buy political loyalty. Several fictitious civilian administrative councils were created for this purpose, as well as many other means, some of which succeeded in buying the loyalty of some revolutionary brigades.
When he resigned, Al-Khatib stated the reason as being “international conspiracies and stepping on red lines.” But this is not the only reason since these international conspiracies were known before he became the chairman of the coalition, but he chose to focus his anger in this direction to avoid clashing with Brotherhood remnants and those who stood behind them. I wish he had mentioned the real reasons and explained the “red lines” because the absence of transparency among the opposition has undermined effective action.
The statement by the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) Joint Chiefs of Staff located in Turkey highlighted the power struggle among countries. Some countries have a lot of leverage on this body that theoretically leads the FSA’s brigades, but does not have any actual power on the ground. Since its creation (right after the establishment of the coalition, which was excluded), this body functioned as an independent authority separate from the political coalition, while the political opposition – represented primarily by the National Coalition – was unable to fill the vacuum or lead the process. This resulted in an unhealthy and unusual situation because this body functioned entirely independently from all political powers.
As a result of all the mistaken policies by the NSC and Brotherhood remnant controlling it, along with many who aspire to buy political loyalty and dream of ruling Syria, this opposition transferred its malaise to revolutionaries through corrupting and dividing some revolutionaries which threatens political and military chaos on the domestic front. Thus, fictitious civilian and military councils were invented and constructed on the same faulty foundation from top to bottom.
In both cases, genuine civilian and military revolutionary forces at home were ignored, and instead of organising these forces the focus was on buying their loyalty. The NSC also sold illusions to revolutionary forces by promises international political, military and financial support to gain the legitimacy of representing the revolution. Once the NSC failed miserably, the “National Coalition” emerged as an alternative to it, after the same forces relocated from the NSC to the National Coalition, led by Brotherhood remnants along with those seeking power.
The coalition repeated the mistakes and methods of the NSC and thus failed in the same way. Once again they failed by leaping forward and advancing attempts to usurp power through what was called a cabinet that gave false promises in order to gain a mandate from revolutionaries by selling the same illusions. Some, including Sheikh Al-Khatib, tried to reject the formation of the government for general or “personal” reasons, but Brotherhood remnants achieved their goals and thus Al-Khatib resigned citing other reasons.
The approaches adopted over two years by the opposition or supportive countries – out of good will or seeking influence or power in the future – have failed. Therefore, we must turn to the domestic front to help it produce authentic leadership and councils instead of trying to hijack its decisions. This is the true role of the opposition after it develops a genuine understanding which it has failed to do for two years: a clear coherent vision of the conflict with the regime with clear strategies and coherent policies.
Al-Khatib’s initiative and reactions to it from within the coalition exposed this shocking failure. The coalition failed until this moment to formulate a clear definition of concepts such as: “overthrowing the regime; accountability and justice; the position regarding regime (state) institutions, especially the army and security agencies; how to handle the Kurdish issue; the position on the Baath Party; purging state institutions and thousands of civil servants of the regime’s men; addressing the minorities, especially Alawites (other than the current simplistic approach); preconditions to participating in any political solution; defining a political solution; the need to focus on a domestic military resolution and its conditions; and many other issues.”
While the regime is trying to buy time to suppress the revolution and hold onto power at any cost, these opposition figures are also trying to hold onto power and buy time for their own reasons. Meanwhile, they continue to sell illusions to revolutionaries, and mislead the world community about their influence over revolutionaries. They are buying time to stay at the helm of the opposition at any cost to take over power as soon as the regime falls.
Unfortunately, this opposition, most prominently remnants of the Brotherhood, was and still is fighting an early election battle in a political system that has yet to be formed, instead of fighting a revolution. There is a big difference between a revolutionary and an electoral candidate in a time of revolution.
The writer is an independent Syrian opposition figure based in Berlin