A giant step

November 12, 2012 - 5:16:45 am

Syrian opposition has taken a major and bold step towards realising their objectives by agreeing to unite against Bashar Al Assad. The agreement is the result of four days of marathon talks in Qatar, which concluded yesterday and, according to some reports, were on the verge of breakdown at one point due to deep differences. But the leaders finally realised the importance of unity and agreed to work under a single leadership and elected a cleric, Ahmed Al Khatib, 52, to head the group.

Qatar hosted the opposition talks and played a key role in making sure that the talks succeeded. The failure of the talks would have dealt a lethal blow to the Syrian uprising and strengthened the hands of Bashar Al Assad and weakened Arab and Western efforts to find a solution to the crisis.  It’s this realisation which persuaded disparate to arrive at a consensus. 

Though the signing of the unity deal is a major breakthrough, it’s only half the battle won, or even less than half. The opposition will have to struggle hard to keep their divisions below the surface and the unity will be tested on the ground as they try to work together. Qatar and the international community are aware of the tenuousness of the deal and the challenges ahead. Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister H E Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al Thani said that with the opposition unity deal, “the work has ended but the next step is more important.” The international community has great expectation from the ‘National Coalition of Forces of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition’ which is what the new grouping is called. The bloc can gradually transform itself into a government-in-waiting and coordinate with countries and groups to expedite the overthrow of Assad.

Even as intense efforts are made for a transition in Syria, the uprising is getting more complicated. Israel fired warning shots into Syria after mortar fire hit the Golan Heights. The Israeli warning shots came after a mortar round fired from the Syrian side hit an Israeli position and Israeli defence minister warned that a “tougher response” would follow. It was the first direct engagement of the Syrian military on the Golan since the countries’ 1973 war and highlighted international fears that Syria’s civil war could ignite wider regional conflict. The Syrian opposition must ensure that the uprising does not spread beyond the borders, which will only help Assad to postpone his departure from office.

The signing of the unity deal provides a golden opportunity both for the opposition and their backers abroad to bring the revolution to an early and happy end. For the same reason, even the slightest fissures in the new group can result in disastrous consequences for the revolution.