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National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, Syrian National Coalition for short, is expected to manage territories that the rebels took from Assad’s forces, set up a transitional government and handle opposition’s international contacts. The plan for the broader organization envisages the formation of a transitional government, a military council to oversee rebel groups on the ground, and a judiciary to operate in rebel-held areas. Under the plan, a 10-member transitional government would be elected by a new 60-member umbrella group drawn from civilian activists and rebel fighters inside Syria as well as the exiles who have dominated the Syrian National Council.

In a sign of continuing disarray among opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, on May 29, 2013 a group of Syria-based opposition factions accused the main opposition coalition-in-exile of failing to represent the Syrian people. The four opposition factions issued a statement threatening to withdraw recognition from the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition unless it expanded its membership to include "revolutionary forces" inside Syria. The Syria-based groups said the sharply-divided SNC has failed to represent the two-year old anti-Assad rebellion at the "organizational, political and humanitarian levels." The statement came as SNC members struggled to reach any agreements on future strategy despite holding more than a week of meetings in Istanbul. Internal disputes about the coalition's membership and leadership have prevented it from taking a unified position on a US and Russian proposal for the Syrian government and opposition to join a peace conference.

On October 31, 2012 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Syrian National Council could no longer be seen as leading the opposition to embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Washington is hoping new rebel leaders emerge from a meeting of Assad opponents in Doha. The United States has grown increasingly frustrated by the SNC's failure to include more opposition leaders inside Syria, its personality-driven leadership struggles, and its inability to attract a broad cross-section of Syrians, particularly minority Alawite and Kurds. This can not be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but have, in many instances, not been in Syria for 20, 30, 40 years," said Clinton. "There has to be a representation of those who are on the front lines fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom."

On 12 November 2012 the exiled movement restructured itself to try to present a more united front to its Western and Arab backers. A number of Syrian opposition groups, including the Syrian National Council, created a new coalition that they hope would be recognized as the single representative of the broad anti-Assad movement. The Syrian opposition has been plagued by infighting since the start of the anti-Assad revolt in 2011. The opposition has been very disunited, not presenting a convincing front either to those fighting inside Syria or to the regional or international community which would want to help them.

France became the first Western power to recognize the newly formed coalition on November 14, a move Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister denounced as "immoral." Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recognized the Syrian National Coalition "as the sole legitimate representative of the people of Syria." His comments came on November 15, 2012 at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Djibouti. The United Kingdom has recognized the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, British Foreign Minister William Hague said on 20 November 2012 in parliament. The European Union's ministerial council for foreign affairs said it had recognized the opposition coalition as a legal representative of the interests of the Syrian people but held back from extending it diplomatic recognition, leaving that to be decided by individual EU member states.

Ahmed Maath al-Khatib, a moderate Muslim cleric who quit Syria three months earlier, was elected President. Khatib wong the respect of many Syrians for serving as the preacher of Damascus' Umayyad Mosque and opposing Assad's rule, despite being jailed several times. The head of the Syrian National Council, George Sabra, was elected as one of the coalition’s vice-presidents. Businessman Riad Seif and well-known female activist Suhair al-Attasi were also elected as vice presidents at the gathering. Leading dissident Riad Seif is reportedly seen by Washington as a potential new opposition leader. When the new Coalition was created on 12 November 2012, its creators saw Khatib – a well-known Damascus critic of the government, a moderate Sunni and a popular preacher from a family Islamic scholars – as a fresh and credible new face to present to Syria and the world. He is a charismatic leader … who puts his finger on the pulse of the middle class, the religious establishment and the Sunni community inside Syria itself.

But Khatib surprised many with his independent spirit, most notably when he violated an opposition taboo and called on the Assad regime to take part in negotiations to end the conflict. Khatib survived the criticism and now was expected to take on two issues said to be behind his decision to step down as Coalition president. One is his failure so far to get a steady supply of western weapons for rebel forces. Khatib grew frustrated after European Union refused weapons at a Dublin meeting. The second was the Coalition’s recent decision to select a prime minister who would form a government to pursue full diplomatic recognition in the United Nations.

Khatib favored a slower, less political structure for the Syrian opposition for now, one that would allow more flexibility in dealing with a post-Assad Syria. He also was pressing for more humanitarian relief in rebel-held areas and support for newly created civic administrations.

Ghassan Hitto received a majority 35 votes out of 48 cast at the Coalition meeting 18 March 2013. But several prominent dissidents boycotted the vote, accusing Hitto of being a pawn of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood and outside powers such as Qatar, which welcomed his election. The selection of Hitto to be prime minister was engineered by the Muslim Brotherhood and a faction lead by the Coalition’s secretary-general who enjoys the financial backing of Qatari interests. The Muslim Brotherhood and external powers really exercise control over the Coalition and the major decisions that have been made. The election of Hitto brought to the fore the major fundamental divisions of the Coalition. But Coalition members described him as a "consensus candidate" in a divided vote, respected by the Islamists within the opposition, he also had the approval of liberals.

Many secular Syrians, particularly in the major cities, fear Gulf influence in the country and believe these states are attempting to destabilize Syria and replace the al-Assad regime with an Islamist government. While increased Turkish and Gulf Cooperation Council support may help centralize the FSA, it may also create divisions within the armed insurgency. Increased involvement by Gulf countries may translate into growing Sunni jihadism within FSA ranks, in turn sharpening the conflict’s sectarian contours as it moves beyond Syrian borders.

Mouaz al-Khatib resigned as president of the Syrian opposition’s National Coalition two days before a scheduled Arab League meeting in Doha and hadn’t planned to attend the gathering. Mouaz al-Khatib had resigned as president of the National Coalition for Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, but other Coalition leaders refused to accept his resignation. And even after Doha, it was unclear whether Khatib would return to the Coalition or seek some wider mandate in the overall movement to oust Assad from Damascus.

Khatib complained that the international community has not done enough to help the Syrian people defend themselves from the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, who had been fighting a two-year rebellion against his autocratic rule. In his statement, Khatib said he is keeping his promise to resign if members of his coalition crossed certain "red lines." He did not say what those are. Khatib had objected to the coalition appointment of American-educated businessman Ghassan Hitto as an interim prime minister for rebel-held parts of Syria.

To some Syria experts, Khatib’s announced resignation as Coalition leader raised alarms about the group’s very survival amid the flurry of factional struggles among the various opposition components. The Syrian opposition is going through a crisis. Khatib’s resignation threatened the very survival of the Coalition as a representative of the Syrian people. The turmoil and uncertainty clouding the opposition came at a critical time for Syria.

When the emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, introduced Mouaz al-Khatib to the Arab League leaders meeting in Doha on 25 March 2013 and gave his group Syria’s long-vacant seat, there was a long round of applause. Khatib’s decision to attend the Arab League summit in Doha came only at the last minute. Khatib went on to deliver a stirring speech about the need to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power and later formally took possession of Syria’s embassy in Doha with Arab and western ambassadors in attendance. The Arab League also announced that it was now legal to give arms - and send arms - to the rebel cause. Of course, they had all been sending arms anyway. But it lifts this legal conundrum off of the whole issue.

The Syrian opposition’s new seat at the Arab League further isolated the Assad regime from the rest of the Arab world and international communities and highlighted Mouaz al-Khatib’s efforts to pull together the fragmented and quarreling factions of the Syrian revolutionaries. The Arab League suspended the Assad government's membership in the bloc in 2011, and most members have called for his ouster. Qatar gave Khatib the central role at the meeting after he was backed by a delegation of eight National Coalition representatives in Doha. President Moaz Al Khatib has reconsidered his resignation and will serve the remainder of his term.

President Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib announced his resignation in March 2013, citing frustration over the group's inability to make progress, and complaining that the international community has not done enough to help the Syrian people. On April 22, 2013 Syria's opposition coalition named George Sabra, a veteran dissident, as its interim leader to replace Mouaz al-Khatib. Sabra, who was jailed several times for opposing the regimes of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his father, was to retain the caretaker position until an opposition group meeting set for May 11. Sabra, a Christian with close links to Syria's street activists, appealed at a news conference in Istanbul for increased global support for the rebel cause. European Union governments agreed to ease sanctions against Syria in order to allow crude oil purchases from opposition forces in hopes of providing a financial lifeline to rebels fighting the Assad government.

Senior opposition figures met in Turkey in July 2013 to agree on a deal that would satisfy the three main players in the coalition: the Muslim Brotherhood [which is the only organized faction in the political opposition], a Saudi-backed bloc and a wing loyal to secretary general Mustafa Sabbagh, a businessman seen as Qatar's pointman. The Syrian National Coalition elected Ahmad al-Jarba during a meeting 06 July 2013. Jarba is a tribal leader with ties to both secular groups and Saudi Arabia. The main Western-backed Syrian opposition group hoped it had filled a leadership vacuum by choosing a new president.

On 14 September 2013 the Syrian National Coalition elected the moderate Islamist Ahmad Tumeh as their provisional prime minister. Tumeh, a 48-year old former political prisoner from the east of Syria, received 75 votes out of the 97 cast in a ballot in Istanbul. The move was seen by analysts as an attempt to raise its credibility as high stakes diplomacy plays out between the US and Russia to try and resolve Syria’s two year civil war. Tumeh is an independent Islamist and has been appointed to run rebel-held areas where a slide into chaos threatened to undermine the opposition to President Assad.

Attempts to form a viable government-in-exile were hamstrung by rivalries between its backers and among its members, as well as by its inability to establish itself inside Syria. The three main players in the coalition were the Muslim Brotherhood, the only organized faction in the political opposition, a Saudi-backed bloc and a wing loyal to secretary general Mustafa Sabbagh, a businessman seen as Qatar's pointman.

In early July 2014 the group elected Hadi al-Bahra, a US-trained industrial engineer, to replace its president, Ahmad Jarba, after he had served his maximum two six-month terms. Both Bahra and Jarba had close ties to Saudi Arabia.

On 22 July 2014 the group said it was dissolving its interim cabinet to “create new ground for work on the basis of moving the government into the interior as soon as possible, and employing Syrian revolutionary capabilities.” The interim Prime Minister Ahmed Toumeh and other ministers would continue as caretakers until the new government was formed.

On 15 October 2014 the exiled Syrian National Coalition voted to re-appoint Ahmed Toumeh, who had been fired from the post in July with many members unhappy about the Coalition's lack of progress. The decision re-asserted the influence of Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood over the beleaguered body. Some members of the group had wanted to elect a leader based on the ground in rebel-held areas of Syria.

On 05 January 2015 the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces elected a new presidential committee, and a president widely seen as not tied to any of the body's international sponsors. Khaled Khoja took over as president from Hadi al Bahra, who was considered to have close links with Saudi Arabia.

Khoja, a 49-year old doctor and businessman said that the coalition is unlikely to attend peace talks with Russia, decrying Russia as an enemy of the Syrian revolution. Though the National Coalition has no direct links to the fighters in Syria, it has, nonetheless emerged as one of the leading parties in the international discussion for a solution to the Syrian civil war.

Syria's western-backed political opposition, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, reelected Khaled Khoja for a second term as its president on 02 August 2015.

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Page last modified: 20-03-2016 15:21:48 ZULU