x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Syria opposition must learn from Libya's council

The Libyan story has a simple lesson for Syria's numerous dissidents: form a representative, broad-based national council. Such a body gives both international and domestic legitimacy.

The one lesson that Syrians must learn from Libya is this: set up a truly representative national council. The Libyan Transitional Council was formed on February 27, only 12 days after Colonel Muammar Qaddafi declared a war against his own people. Libya's council, headed by an honest politician, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, then began rigorous diplomatic efforts to gain international legitimacy, support and access to funds. The council has done a good job overall.

In Syria, more than five months after the uprising began, no such body has been established, despite the killing of over 2,000 people. And the lack of an organised and united opposition makes the future of Syria after President Bashar Al Assad, well, oblique.

A national council including credible dissidents would convince many Syrians who currently sit on the fence to side with the protesters. By discussing post-Assad Syria, a council could also encourage the international community to move more aggressively against the regime. Military intervention is both unlikely and undesirable, but there is more to be done with smart sanctions and pressure.

In fairness, the opposition has little political or diplomatic experience, after decades of suppression. But although delay means more bloodshed, opposition figures are still disagreeing on lesser issues than the continuing killings. Some even pulled out of talks about starting a national council. If such discord continues, some in the opposition will bear some of the blame for a lack of success.

Yesterday, the UN Human Rights Council ordered a probe into the Syrian regime's treatment of protesters. International organisations have documented rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity. As Syria is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC), prosecutors could not open a probe without an order from the Human Rights Council.

This is a very significant step, and the opposition should build on it to apply more pressure against the regime through international diplomacy but more importantly by providing a clear-cut vision for the future, to win more support from Syria's silent majority.

The heaviest blow to Mr Al Assad is an alternative to his rule. Only then will his regime surely crumble.