Leaders of the famously scattered opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signed a tentative unity deal on Sunday, possibly opening the door to international recognition of the rebel movement. Meeting in Qatar, the members of the new group, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, selected a moderate Muslim cleric, Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, as their president. The new coalition, which joins the revolutionary councils of all 14 Syrian provinces, plus other rebel organizations, is intended to present a united front that can secure more international aid, including heavy weapons needed to defeat Assad's well-equipped military. Will the notoriously divided rebels really be able to set aside their differences to get rid of Assad?
Yes. This gives Syrians something to rally behind: Finally, all Syrians "will feel that there is a political power that represents them," Burhan Ghalioun, a former head of the old Syrian National Council, tells The New York Times. "The difference will start to show right away." Sheikh Khatib has been a "symbol since the beginning of the revolution," so he is "an important rallying figure." And once the people are united, the international community will surely step in to offer support.
"With eye on aid, Syria opposition signs unity deal"
But the rebels' differences might be too great: Even the international community's "carrots" — think money and guns — "may not be enough to persuade the opposition to come amicably together," says The Economist. No matter who's in charge, if the West offers help, ultimately someone in Syria has to decide which rebel bands get the big guns, and the inevitable "hand-picking and favoritism" is bound to fuel infighting. Plus, if unification is "followed by pressure from friendly foreign governments to negotiate with the regime," the coalition could break apart.
"Get your act together or we won't help"
And the next step is a dangerous one: Kudos to the opposition for "getting its act together," says Con Coughlin at Britain's Telegraph. Western leaders, however, should consider their next move carefully. The rebels want anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down the regime's bombers, but sending them "would be tantamount to a declaration of war against" Assad. That would prompt Moscow and Tehran to rally behind him, potentially igniting "something far more serious than a nasty civil war."
"Let's not get too carried away about Syria's new opposition"