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>> The Financial Times


The Financial Times - Mai 29, 2013

by Roula Khalaf

“Aren’t you ashamed?” charged a visibly angry Eric Chevalier, the French ambassador to Syria, as he chastised opposition members for failing to expand the Syrian National Coalition after a week of negotiations.

In the Youtube video clip that was making the rounds of social media sites on Tuesday, the French diplomat goes on to ask how Coalition leaders elected only eight members, when they agreed to add 22. “There is a problem,” he said.

Mr Chevalier’s outburst underlines the growing frustration of the opposition’s backers as they prepare for a US-Russia sponsored peace conference on Syria next month.

But even as the European Union lifted its arms embargo on Syria late Monday, allowing members within months to begin supplying weapons, the political opposition has descended into more disarray. “It was a circus,” says a Syrian opposition member referring to the week-long meeting in Istanbul.

Western and Arab nations backed the creation of the Coalition in Qatar last November, after losing faith in the earlier umbrella group, the Syrian National Council, which was seen as dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

But within months, similar accusations bedeviled the Coalition. It’s still too influenced by Qatar, charged its detractors, and not representative enough of Syria’s minorities, many of whom remain loyal to the regime and must be peeled off.

Among the 63 members of the Coalition, two groups were now dominant: the Muslim Brotherhood and a bloc of members connected with Mustafa Sabbagh, the Coalition’s secretary general.

Saudi Arabia, which, along with Qatar, is a major financier and supplier of weapons to the rebels, has been particularly frustrated by the current makeup of the opposition. The Saudis take a more hostile attitude towards the Brotherhood than the Qataris and have wanted the inclusion of secular-minded Syrians in the Coalition.

A few weeks ago, after members of the Coalition, including Muslim Brotherhood leaders, met with Saudi officials, a tacit agreement to expand the Coalition was reported to have been reached. A key figure in the expansion was Michel Kilo, the Christian opposition figure and major critic of the Brotherhood.

The original demand put forward by Mr Kilo was to bring in a new bloc of more than 20 like-minded members. The suggestion, however, was seen as a “revolution” against the Coalition, according to one person with close contact with all sides.

After days of negotiations, a compromise was reached among top leaders of the Coalition and Mr Kilo, stipulating that 22 new members would be added, but only 12 of them from Mr Kilo’s bloc.

But when Coalition members voted on the new names – and according to their rules a two thirds majority is required to bring in new members – only eight won enough votes. “The leaders couldn’t enforce the discipline on the vote,” says one western diplomat.

Pro-Saudi opposition figures lashed out at the Brotherhood and Mr Sabbagh, arguing that they had prevented the agreement from being implemented, though diplomats said the Brotherhood was this time helpful in easing tensions.

In any case, Mr Kilo and the others elected on Sunday are refusing to join the Coalition, and the general assembly meeting was suspended without agreement. Talks will continue between Coalition leaders to try and find a way out, say diplomats.

But the second item on the Istanbul meeting’s agenda – the Coalition’s position towards the Russian-American peace conference – was never discussed, which means the conference itself could be delayed.

Among analysts watching the general assembly meeting, the reaction was unanimous: the opposition group recognised as the representative of Syrians has shown itself, once more, incapable of rising above its differences to focus on bringing down the Assad regime.


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