For months, Syria has been locked in a relative stalemate. Syrian protesters have made it clear that they won’t stop demonstrating until Bashar al-Assad and his cronies surrender power. The regime has made it clear that “reform” is a red-herring, and it will continue to fight until the very end.
The first big development has been the unification of disparate opposition movements within Syria. One of the biggest criticism of the Syrian opposition to date has been its lack of organization and contradictory aspirations. Countless meetings hosted by the Turks have made little progress to date. But this week, it seems that the three biggest opposition groups have decided to put their differences aside (for the moment) and concentrate on toppling their common enemy—the regime. Under the aegis of the Syrian national Council, many have gathered including the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood and groups representing the Kurdish and Assyrian minorities. Perhaps most importantly, the unification brings the bottom-up Local Coordination Committees, which have organized activists and protests at the grass-roots level under the umbrella of the top-down oriented SNC.
The SNC was first announced in August but has only begun to pool together broad support this week. Burhan Ghalioun, a Paris-based Syrian academic, is the Chairmen of the group. At the SNC meeting in Istanbul on October 2nd, as reported by the Beirut Daily Star, Ghalioun said “the council was ‘open to all Syrians. It is an independent group personifying the sovereignty of the Syrian people in their struggle for liberty. The council rejects any outside interference that undermines the sovereignty of the Syrian people.’”
Divisions still exist, however. As previously seen in Libya, where the National Transitional Council brought together different elements of the Libyan opposition to fight Muammar Qaddafi, the SNC is made up of liberals and conservatives, seculars and ‘Islamists.’ According to al-Arabiya, “Renowned Damascus-based opposition figure Michel Kilo, from the National Committee for Democratic Change (NCDC), said his group would not join the SNC because of its openness to the idea of a foreign intervention.”
I’ve talked to Israelis and Palestinians here in Israel about Syria. Some of my friends here, who have bold opinions and commentary on just about anything political, admit they have no idea what’s coming next in Syria. “Syrians don’t know what’s going to happen in Syria,” one friend told me. While speaking with a colleague, he told me, “it’s very difficult, you can’t get reliable information from there.”
So what happens next? As the Syrian mystery gets set to become clearer, with the unification of the opposition and the increased desire of the protesters to fire back live rounds at Syrian security forces, international actors must keep a close watch on the situation. The United States must cooperate closely with Turkey, the Syrian regime’s neighbor, former-ally and current biggest critic, which has already moved to sanction the Assad regime itself. The US would do well to connect with the SNC, and ratchet up its diplomatic statements against the Assad regime, which has long since passed the point of no-return.
The SNC is not for foreign intervention at the moment, but has already begun to look more favorably upon a no-fly zone, a la Libya, while rejecting “boots on the ground.” It’s important to note, that given the upsurge in violent resistence in recent days, and the steadfastness of the Syrian regime to crackdown brutally, the Syrian opposition and it’s Arab and Muslim (read: Turkish) neighbors might not oppose intervention forever. The whole world condemns President Assad (including, perversely, ally and Iranian President Ahmadinejad), but only with words—not actions. Surely, if President Assad massacres 20,000 of his own people like his father did in 1982 in Hama, attitudes in Syria and around the world will change dramatically. The West must be ready to act, but only if the Syrians themselves want them to.