A Whirlwind Agreement

Januaury 3, 2012

The agreement between the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the National Coordinating Committee (NCC) submitted to Secretariat of the Arab League highlighted two flaws in the forces of Syrian Revolution.

The first was the manner of decision-making in the SNC. This flaw is especially troubling, as it came after the SNC approved its bylaws last month in Tunisia. It is understandable that the SNC’s circumstances do not allow for frequent consultation with all members. But this important document, discussed for an entire month, should have been presented to the SNC staff (a fairly large number of people), if not to the general membership scattered around the world.

Did the SNC misread the attitudes of the Revolution forces on the ground, or did it experiment with risk? Had SNC leadership leaked information about the draft agreement, it would have saved itself from the embarrassing situation in which it found itself. Also, such a leak would have contributed to the development of a realistic understanding of the political process in which the SNC is engaged, by immersing the public in the discussion of the pros and cons of the decision.

The anger over the agreement reflects an inherent predicament of the SNC. On one hand, the SNC needs to develop a vision and plans that correspond to the Revolution it represents; it is highly problematic when the revolutionary momentum, including its unrealistic expectations, leads the political process. On the other hand, the SNC is a loose coalition of opposition figures of varying political persuasions, and it lacks the basic legitimacy to act independently or to deviate slightly away from the demands of the revolutionary street, even if the SNC is convinced that what it seeks is in the Revolution’s best interest.

The second flaw is that the Revolution lacks political awareness. Pressure from key countries made it necessary for the SNC to negotiate with the NCC. But the Revolution strongly rejects the NCC, and does not see the point of striking an agreement. Ironically, the very countries whose help the Revolution seeks are the parties lobbying for the agreement.

If making the agreement is a political given, the critic should examine its conditions. It is not reasonable to expect that the NCC would agree to every idea of the SNC; otherwise, the NCC would have joined the SNC and there would be no need for an agreement. The wording in agreements is usually precise, but some points may go unmentioned. The sheer absence of some points indicates that they represent areas of disagreement or that they are left to future negotiation. Perhaps the first clause in the draft SNC-NCC agreement was the biggest point of contention, as it rejected any foreign intervention that would affect the nation’s sovereignty—the Syrian street interpreted the clause as giving impunity to the regime. However, the clause could also be interpreted as not being opposed to an intervention that does not limit or impact sovereignty.

This is not the first time the revolutionary forces have failed to decide on an appropriate political position. Syrian commentators and analysts are hesitant to criticize the Revolution out of respect for the extraordinary sacrifices of its people. However, failing to realize what is politically possible adds to the volume and magnitude of such sacrifices. One major strain between the SNC and the revolutionary street was the latter’s rejection of the Arab League initiative. The SNC was obliged to ignore that initiative in public, at the cost of major embarrassment in dealing with key state figures whose support is critical for the Revolution’s success. In any event, SNC representatives went to Cairo to meet with the Arab League, which had surprised people with its stern stance and the imposition of economic sanctions on Syria. At that point, the revolutionary street was pleased, and probably realized the point of the SNC. Later on, however, the behavior of the Arab League observers ignited disappointment with it.
Nevertheless, the intermediary role of the Arab League is critical for at least three reasons: to be the conduit to any external help, to demonstrate that all possible avenues were tried before calling for total regime change, and to help in shedding conspiratorial claims.

Recognizing that the interpretation of any text could be twisted, it is worth noting that the agreement did spell out essential conditions that the Revolution dreams of: the necessity of protecting civilians, praising army members who refused regime orders to fire on civilians, and that the transitional phase starts with the removal of all of the regimes’ major political figures. So those who were quick to become angry about the agreement, or those who did not read it, may also suffer from a major decision-making problem.

Mazen Hashem

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