Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

A chance for rare leadership in Syria's morass

The killing of a top Syrian opposition figure could send that country into a violent morass. Or it could spell the end of the Al Assad regime, if anti-regime forces play it right.

Syrian opposition groups stand at a crucial crossroads. The killing of the opposition figure Meshaal Tammo at the weekend, followed by the brazen slaughter of his mourners by state security forces, all but ensures that calls for revenge - and not for negotiation - will grow louder.

But while more violence is one possible road for opposition forces, it is not the only one.

If the regime's senseless acts galvanise Kurdish and other factions, Syria's troubles could spiral. Yet there is still time for strong leadership, and opposition groups have a rare opportunity to deliver.

With growing sophistication, opposition forces are coalescing into a coherent, organised entity. Two of the major blocs, the Syrian National Council and the National Board of Coordination, are now working together to gain international recognition, as The National reports today.

There are signs that these figures, once on the margins, are coordinating with external opponents of the Assad regime. And members of the NBC met Chinese officials in Damascus on Saturday in a bid to garner support for tougher anti-regime sanctions at the UN Security Council.

So far the Syrian opposition, in its many guises, has continued to carry out peaceful demonstrations, but that could change. The killing of Mr Tammo "is a very painful and dangerous development in the political struggle in this country", said Abdul Aziz Al Kheyr, a former political prisoner who is now helping to orchestrate a coalition of peaceful dissidents inside Syria.

Mr Al Assad had a brief window of opportunity to enact meaningful political and social reforms that could have averted this current stalemate. That opportunity vanished as soon as Syria's hated security forces, police and army turned their guns on their own people. Like others before him, Mr Al Assad failed to see that repression is no longer an effective deterrent.

The emboldened Syrian opposition may yet be dragged into armed conflict by the regime's oppressive tactics. For now, the ruling Baath party continues to garner support from Moscow and Beijing, two pillars of its continued control. But even Russian President Dmitry Medvedev acknowledged on Friday that Mr Al Assad is finished if he fails to reform. And given Mr Al Assad's track record, it seems this regime is living on borrowed time.

Updated: October 10, 2011 04:00 AM