At a press conference in London, Russian president Vladimir Putin recently warned world leaders against backing Syria’s rebels with arms, saying: “One should hardly back those who kill their enemies and eat their organs,” a reference to the Syrian opposition fighter Khaled Al-Hamad, known as Abu Saqqar.
His rhetoric was intended to intimidate the West, which is already fearful of a repeat of what happened in Iran, where a the shah was replaced with a more aggressive, brutal and bloody regime. The West is also afraid of a scenario similar to that of Afghanistan, in which the Soviet Union was replaced by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
Two groups threaten the future of Syria: some of the rebels inside Syria, and the political opposition outside the country. First, there are armed groups that are not under the control of the Free Syrian Army, and the Assad regime has successfully portrayed them in a way that intimidates the rest of the world.
Second, the opposition has failed to prove that it is a better alternative to Bashar Al-Assad. What worries both the West and the Arabs is not “cannibals,” but members of the civilian opposition wearing ties in Istanbul and in other countries.
Perhaps the West is looking for an excuse for its failure and inactivity, but there is a serious problem of a lack of wise and united political leadership. They are wondering: “Who will rule Syria tomorrow? Brutal rebels and greedy politicians?”
The Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of the opposition—whether they are a part of the coalition or operate outside of it—are failing their country. They are also responsible for the failure of the revolution. There will be no international support without their agreement and unity, and there will be no new Syria without international support, even if the Assad regime collapses. It is for this reason that we implore them to realize the grave responsibility that falls upon them today.
The fact that the Syrian opposition is diverse and competitive should not be condemned. But the question of Syria is far too dangerous to be left in disagreement regarding the fundamentals and principles of governance. The Iraqi opposition—which had been in exile since the beginning of the 1990’s, where it remained for a decade—was a miserable model of a possible alternative to Saddam Hussein’s regime. It was a mixture of upper and middle-class people. Some held PhDs; and others wore turbans. It was a mixture of people from all sects and areas.
Such a mixture in Iraq’s opposition may have seemed positive, but conflicts within the group told of a dark future. The first shock was when Abdelmajid Al-Khawni returned from London to Najaf upon the collapse of Saddam’s regime. There, he was killed in a hideous manner—but not by Saddam’s dwindling regime, or as a result of the chaos that ensued at the time. He was killed by his competitors. Had America not been the main player at that point in time, most of the opposition figures would have killed each other off.
For this reason, we must ask whether the Syrian opposition is in a better or worse position than the Iraqi opposition was.
In many respects, they do resemble one another. But with Syria, the responsibility is greater. No superpower is prepared to feed them, protect them, create a preliminary governance board for them, write their constitution for them and hold a referendum on it, guard their airspace, protect their borders from thieves and conspirators, create governing institutions, organize parliamentary elections, defend them at the Security Council, grant them international legitimacy, or fight their rivals on their behalf.
None of this will be available for the Syrian opposition. Their responsibility is therefore far greater than was that of the Iraqi opposition. Current indications suggest that the future will be hard. The opposition is not capable of establishing a simple coalition that includes everyone, which could be good practice for the near future when they move into Damascus, where the grass will certainly not be greener.
The tasks for the government and coalition are not easy, but nothing is impossible. They must accept the principles of representation, participation and democratic elections. He who does not participate in governance today will one day get a chance to do so. They must accept the principle of the peaceful devolution of power. They must also accept a constitution that protects everyone—particularly the weakest members of society, such as minorities, granting them equal rights and guaranteeing freedoms.
In this way, a new Syria can become stable for a century. But the disputes in Istanbul worry us all because they betray the Syrian people, whose sons are being sacrificed.
Without everyone’s representation in the coalition—the mini-parliament—and without everyone’s participation in the government-in-exile, none of these opposition figures will end up in the government or parliament of a new Syria. Furthermore, the Syrian people will not forgive the opposition politicians if their sons’ lives were lost in vain because of their selfishness and rivalry.
Some may say that it is too early to deliver such a sermon while Assad sits in his palace and plans his participation in next year’s elections. The goal is not a post-Assad Syria, but to help the Syria of today. The world’s governments are filled with doubts, as they are now scared of the power vacuum that toppling the regime will leave behind.