High expectations at Friends of Syria meeting

New Syrian coalition’s reforms impress Western powers but challenges remain.

The jet-lagged Syrian opposition officials were worried about the outcome of the Marrakesh “Friends of Syria” meeting.

It was a cold evening in the Morrocan city and the event would take place two days later.

The Syrian Coalition had made all the necessary steps beforehand to send strong signals that they have become more inclusive and have the right institutions to lead the transitional period.

They recently unified the military brigades, local councils held elections, and the image of a poorly organised, disparate opposition seems to be fading.

But there’s something wrong. Why is the US, France and the UK not willing to arm the rebels despite the huge human losses and the massive destruction?

The officials drinking fresh Moroccan mint tea were trying to figure out how to proceed if the Marrakesh meeting fell short of their expectations.

But a string of events worked in their favour. Emerging reports that Assad might use his chemical stockpile against the rebels prompted a stark warning  of ” severe consequences” from the international community. 

However, a statement by the US State Department blacklisting the al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organisation  came as a shock to the opposition.

They were expecting some breakthrough, now they are grappling with the ramifications of the American decision.

The coalition lashed out at the decision, saying the al-Nusra Front wasn’t an al-Qaeda offshoot and that the group enjoys huge popularity in Syria.

But the coalition saw some light at the end of the tunnel. One of their senior officials told me: “[The] West and the Americans in particular should look into the bigger picture. They have have only two options when it comes to Syria, support us or the country might slip towards anarchy.”

On the eve of the meeting, US President Barack Obama formally recognised the Syrian Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, paving the way for a cascade of recognitions and pledges of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Moaz al Khatib, who leads the recently formed coalition, walked along the alleys of the hotels surrounded by his team, all confident they were finally heading towards the right path.

A tribal leader joked “today is 12-12-12, I had a hunch something good was in the air”, but the fight to topple president Bashar al-Assad is definitely going to be an uphill task.

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