Inside Syria

SNC: The challenges ahead

Syria's opposition has agreed on a framework for peace talks, but is the interim government ready to rule the country?

Last updated: 17 Nov 2013 12:21
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It has been a week of major developments for the Syrian opposition. On Sunday, Syria's largest opposition group agreed on a framework for peace talks in Geneva.

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) has outlined several conditions and dropped the most contentious: its demand for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

When we decided to start the revolution we had in mind all the perils and risks … We have good relations with our fighting units and brigades and we are seeking to provide them with what they need .... We will continue to face further challenges, however, it was a very brave decision …. I enjoy the backing and support of our people and the moderate fighting brigades. I firmly believe that those moderate fighting brigades will have the final say in the future.

Ahmad Toumeh, Syria's interim prime minister

Some of these conditions must be met before the talks and others after the talks. They include: release of prisoners, especially women and children, easing of tight blockades on rebel-held areas through the creation of humanitarian corridors. The group also asked for a promise that al-Assad will not have any role in the transitional period and the future of the country. It is the same condition previously stated by the coalition.

Meanwhile, last week the SNC announced a new government after months of delays. The transitional government is facing challenges on the ground from Kurds seeking autonomy and al-Qaeda-linked groups that reject its authority.

The interim government is also under pressure to quickly provide services to Syrian living in large parts of rebel-held territory, particularly in Syria's north.

But the fractious internal politics of the coalition, along with the strength of al-Qaeda-affiliated hardline rebels on the ground and also the advances by regime troops all pose challenges for the new government.

"Their [the SNC's] standing actually appears to be quite low among Syrians within Syria itself. And their presence on the ground is also limited. I do think the mandate they have given themselves and what they are trying to achieve is a valid one and important one and probably actually overdue. But they certainly have the work cut out ahead of them and whether or not they will be able to regain or gain legitimacy over the Syrian population," explains Faysal Itani, a fellow with the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

Members of the coalition too acknowledge that the government's first priority will be to prove itself by offering badly needed public services.

So, will the interim prime minister and his cabinet be able to deliver competent governance inside a war zone? How much support do they have on the ground? And will they be able to face future challenges?

To discuss this, Inside Syria presenter Janne Dutton is joined by guests: Ahmad Toumeh, Syria's interim prime minister; Faysal Itani, a fellow with the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East; and Mahjoob Zweiri, a professor of modern and contemporary history of the Middle East at Qatar University.

"I believe that the new interim prime minister knows very well that they have a lot to do ahead and lot to deal with. I don't think the question of legitimacy is even a valid question in these circumstances. Because in transitional times, the question of legitimacy is not valid because of two reasons: there is no such transparent political process and secondly you don't have direct contacts with the people."

Mahjoob Zweiri, a professor of modern and contemporary history of the Middle East at Qatar University


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