The disparate factions of the Syrian opposition all gathered at a luxury hotel in Doha this weekend and on Sunday night signed an agreement that unites nearly all of the rebel groups for the first time. The new group is known as National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and is set up to function like a government in exile, leaders said. They even elected a president, Mouaz al-Khatib, a cleric from Damascus. "Today in Doha is the first time the different factions of the Syrian opposition are united in one body," said Riyad Farid Hijab, a former prime minister of Syria. "So we ask the international community to recognize the Syrian opposition as the representative of the Syrians."
The big question, obviously, is whether or not the international community will respond. The United States and most European countries have been conspicuously hands off in terms of their support for the Syrian rebels. More specifically, nobody seems to want to send weapons to the opposition troops, perhaps in part because the rebel leadership seemed shaky.
Before the new coalition, the primary organization for the rebels was the Syrian National Council (SNC). However, in recent weeks, the SNC has splintered and become less and less effective. In the words of The New York Times, "The Obama administration has been exasperated for months with the anemic leadership and constant bickering of the council, which is often far more caught up in fighting over spots on travel delegations than in creating an effective transitional government." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also complained that the rebel leadership is not representative of the entire uprising as it lacked front line fighters. "We've made it clear that the S.N.C. can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition," she said.
Obviously, it remains to be seen how the new coalition will get along. For now, though, they seem like they're in a good position. The new 60-member body includes representatives from each of the 14 Syrian provinces. A new Revolutionary Military Council will also be set up to oversee all of the combat operations and is expected to unite the different units of the Free Syrian Army. All things told, the coalition includes some 90 percent of the rebel forces, a significant amount more than the 70 percent that the SNC could boast.
It will take some time to get everything up and running, but foreign diplomats seem optimistic for now. Said Jon Wilks, the British envoy to the Syrian opposition, "We’ve crossed the Rubicon."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.