x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Interim cabinet for Syria must be inclusive

The new Syrian interim government has a lot to prove. First, it must show that it can represent and be a broker among the country's various groups.

The Syrian opposition's newly-selected interim prime minister has daunting tasks ahead. Ghassan Hitto, a 50-year-old Syrian-American who has been living in Texas, will form an interim cabinet to govern the rebel-held parts of Syria.

The appointment, and the bold announcement of a new "government" by the Syrian National Coalition will for now mean little to most Syrians. Some will see just another entity destined to be as futile as the grandiosely-named structures before it. But this one will, at least in theory, operate on the ground in the country.

The cabinet's relevance will hinge on its access to frozen funds and its ability to get the money to work helping both fighters and civilians in rebel-held areas. That will require the ministers and officials, when they are named, to work inside the country.

If this government can show that it is able to bring help to Syrians, it stands a chance of mobilising forces and building legitimacy. But there are other essential requirements for this initiative to succeed.

The government has to be seen as truly representative of the areas it governs. Reports suggest that Mr Hitto was chosen through a strange voting process, leading nine members of the National Coalition to suspend their membership in protest.

It is widely believed that Turkey and Qatar ensured Mr Hitto's appointment. If that is true, his government may do more harm than good. The government's credibility hinges on its ability to represent and be a broker among Syria's various communities.

Over the past two years, political bodies have not been truly representative; that flaw has to be avoided in forming this cabinet. Imbalance will be even more serious now, as these people will be working closely with the public, not just "representing" Syrians in world capitals.

There are already elected provisional councils in some areas across the country, set up based on local consent.The new government will upset this existing order if it insists on appointing its own officials on the basis of cynical, narrow interests.

Instead, the new ministers should find ways to help these local councils improve their work, providing resources and training for them. Equally important, the cabinet must also address human rights abuses.

If this rebel government can rise above bickering and narrow self-interest, it has an opportunity to begin leading Syria to safety.