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Syrian Opposition Wins International Recognition, But Not the Guns

By December 12, 2012

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President Barack Obama told ABC news on Tuesday that the US would recognize the new Syrian opposition alliance, the Syrian National Coalition (NC), as "the legitimate representative of the Syrian people".

This in theory means that the US considers that the opposition leaders, rather than President Bashar al-Assad, represents the Syrian state internationally, with the understanding that the NC will form the backbone of the transitional government once Assad is removed from power.

The NC had already won recognition by Turkey, France, UK, and the Gulf Arab states. At today's meeting of the "Friends of Syria Group" in Morocco, 130 countries made the same step, a huge diplomatic boost for the NC (see Al Jazeera report).

But what does it mean in practice? On the surface of things, not much. The opposition leaders didn't get what they really wanted: a commitment from the US and Western governments to deliver anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons for Syrian rebel militias fighting the government troops.

Obama made it clear he would not be throwing American military weight behind the opposition, warning the NC to stay clear of the militant Islamist militias that are among the most effective rebel groups.

The civilian opposition is in a race against time. Without the guns and the money, the NC stands no chance of winning the allegiance of armed rebel groups. And as rebels continue the advance toward the capital Damascus, the NC risks becoming as irrelevant to what is actually happening on the ground as its predecessor, the Syrian National Council. It's the guys with guns who count.

Read more about who could replace Assad, and the options for foreign intervention in Syria.

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