BEIRUT — Members of Syria’s opposition-in-exile bristled Thursday at the Obama administration’s suggestion that Washington will handpick more representative leaders at a crucial conference in Qatar next week.
The new U.S. push appears aimed at creating a unified leadership that could work more closely with the West. But there are signs of resistance among deeply fractured opposition groups wary of attempts by foreign backers to dictate strategy in the civil war against President Bashar Assad.
“This direct tutelage and these dictates are not acceptable to the Syrian people anymore,” said
Zuhair Salem, the London-based spokesman for Syria’s banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition group. The Brotherhood is part of the main political opposition group, the Syrian National Council, which is dominated by exiles.
Syrians and the U.S. administration have grown increasingly frustrated as the opposition proved unwilling or unable to coalesce. The U.S. and its allies have long bemoaned the lack of a cohesive leadership, and there is little doubt that this has held back more robust foreign aid and involvement to bolster the opposition in its fight.
With the battle for control of Syria almost certainly to be decided on the battlefield, the political opposition led by exiles is being further sidelined.
On Wednesday, the Obama administration said it would push for a major shakeup in the opposition leadership so that it better represents the fighters risking their lives on the frontlines. At least 36,000 people have been killed since the uprising began 19 months ago, according to anti-regime activists.
It was a signal that Syria’s political opposition is increasingly irrelevant, as it’s become clearer that the conflict will be decided by fighters.
The shift in the U.S. position came after months of fruitless attempts by the Obama administration and its allies to cajole the notoriously fractious SNC to broaden its base, according to two American officials.