Syrian Opposition Must Unite for the Nation’s Sake

According to Syrian activist Michel Kilo, there is a great deal of mistrust between the two major blocs of the Syrian opposition. The Syrian National Council accuses the National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change of secretly plotting to preserve the regime, while the NCC accuses the SNC of facilitating an external military intervention. The solution, argues Kilo, is for the parties to first agree on the foundations of joint action for the sake of the Syrian nation and society—which, he argues, take precedence over all other considerations.

al-monitor Michel Kilo in Damascus 13/05/2007. Photo by REUTERS/Khaled Al Hariri.

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Jan 11, 2012

The Syrian opposition is obviously having difficulty agreeing on a common vision. What looked like minor differences have turned out to be great points of contention. Personal quarrels are influencing policy, while important issues have taken a back seat. An acceptable alternative to these divisions is necessary. It may be wise for them to stop their personal bickering, and try to dispel the doubts and suspicions rife among the opposition groups. This is especially true for the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), as these two have been exchanging all sorts of accusations.

These accusations were not declared publicly. If they were, a reasonable solution could have been reached. Furthermore, the negative effects that they have had on their relationship would have dissipated. Instead, these accusations have festered in closed meetings and secret deliberations. In the end, we must reach a general—very general—agreement, free of contentious matters. Everyone should accept this agreement and commit to its text and spirit. The bickering groups should morally and spiritually commit to it before they do so politically. They should organize their relations around this agreement as it would coincide with the higher national interest. This higher interest should transcend that of any single organization, whatever its name, location or role.

Personal differences were the main cause of the failure of the Cairo document signed by the SNC and the NCC. Surprisingly, those who signed the document later opposed it. To allow personal feuds to infect discussion on the public interest is a stain on any opposition group, and reveals its political and patriotic backwardness. But let us be realistic and address this problem in all seriousness. It has been caused by factors and considerations that have accumulated over decades. Despite their legitimate political origins, these disagreements have now become personal. Therefore, to address these personal differences we should look toward their political roots. These political differences are so entrenched that they have come to be seen as a part of the people who hold them. It has become difficult to differentiate between subjective and objective issues. If the Syrian opposition could fix the personal relationships among its leaders and representatives, it would be able to emerge from its long predicament.

Clearing up personal spats would make it easier to avoid suspicions and accusations between the SNC and the NCC, and would allow them to address their differences objectively and transparently. Accusations of treason would cease, leading doubts and suspicions to melt away. The two sides would be able to establish mutual trust based on tolerance and understanding, and would stop setting traps for each other. Each side would still retain a legitimate margin of mobility allowing them to sometimes adopt frank and critical attitudes, as is normal with democratic parties and organizations.

For now there’s a great deal of mistrust between the SNC and the NCC. The former accuses the latter of secretly plotting to preserve the regime, while the latter accuses the former of paving the way for foreign military intervention and promoting militarization of the revolution on behalf of foreign interests and secret parties. Is an agreement possible between parties that are so suspicious and distrustful of each other? And if they do reach an agreement, how would they implement it given that they mistrust the other side’s motives to the point where they would accuse it of treason? It is necessary to discuss this crisis of confidence frankly and openly, and work toward common ground to rein in these differences through a concerted and integrated effort. The parties should start off from the points on which they agree. Points of contention should then be addressed within a general framework that expands on common ground and minimizes polarity.

This approach will not succeed unless the parties first agree on the foundations for joint action on national, state and societal matters, which each party must place above all else. These foundations are already in the minds of Syrian opposition leaders. It is the differences and suspicions among them that have turned these foundations into additional points of contention. This was the case with the Damascus Declaration in 2005—it sought to unite the opposition, but was used as the basis for its division. The same happened with the reconciliatory negotiations between those parties involved in drafting the Damascus Declaration and the National Democratic Gathering. [The Damascus Declaration was a statement made by a group of opposition intellectuals, including the author, criticizing the authoritarian tendencies of the regime.] These negotiations brought about the establishment of the NCC, which is composed of leftist organizations whose roles do not overlap with the group that drafted the Damascus Declaration. But the latter has taken on a strange position regarding attempts made by independent intellectuals—nearly all of whom struggled in the "Committees for the Revival of Civil Society in Syria"—to unite the opposition.

Without first determining their foundations, there is no hope of neutralizing the personal differences between the factions of the Syrian opposition or of fostering the trust necessary to achieve the opposition's goals for the country. It is important that the opposition not end up giving our country the same disease given to it by the Ba’ath party. This disease forces the national interest through a narrow prism that is only in accordance with special individual interests. It turns the nation into a mere satellite of the government. It is unable to recognize interests apart from that of those who hold power, most of whom personally benefit from this same disease. The foundations of a new Syrian regime must serve the higher interests of the state and society. They must also ensure freedom and human rights to its citizens, who would all be equal. If political parties do not formulate their policies based on these foundations, then the quarrels of their leaders are petty.

It is not necessary for the Syrian opposition to unite outright for it to succeed. In any case, unification may not be possible right now. Personal differences and suspicions between opposition leaders are too great. Moreover, these leaders lack common ground. It is like someone who tries to construct a building starting with the top floor and ending at the foundation. So, my dear fellows in the opposition—what do you think of the idea that, despite our many failed attempts, we begin to narrow our differences and both our personal and public contradictions, so that we can one day unite? Because it is has become apparent that our quarrels are futile.

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