Cleric al-Khatib chosen to lead Syrians' new anti-Assad effort

Former imam to head Syria's government-in-waiting - but can he win over the rebels within Syria?

LAST UPDATED AT 10:21 ON Mon 12 Nov 2012

A FORMER Damascus imam has been chosen as leader of a new coalition of Syrian opposition groups that aims to unite different factions and win international backing in the fight to overthrow Bashar al-Assad.
 
Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, widely regarded as a moderate, will lead the new Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces. He was chosen at a summit meeting in Doha, Qatar.
 
Khatib is a former Sunni Muslim imam of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, but left Syria and fled to Cairo in July after several periods of detention by the current regime. The 52-year-old has called for a political solution in Syria, and believes that negotiation is the best way to ensure the departure of Assad. However, as leader of the new group he will oversee the rebel forces fighting Assad's troops in Syria.
 
Khatib's deputies will be Riad Seif, a dissident who has led attempts to unify the opposition, and female activist Suhair Atassi. The new body is Syria's government-in-waiting, and will "manage" the uprising. Rebel forces will be led by the coalition's military council and a judiciary will operate in rebel-held areas.
 
The group supersedes the Syrian National Council, which had fallen out of favour with the international community and had been heavily criticised by the US. The SNC has reluctantly supported the new body after being effectively sidelined.
 
The new body "represents the most concerted effort yet by the international community to bring together and back Syria's fractured dissident group," reports The Daily Telegraph.
 
"But the serious question remains of whether this new initiative, even when backed by the support of its international allies, will succeed in winning the support of fighters and civilians inside Syria."
 
The Times notes: "The US and Qatar have put huge pressure on the groups assembled in Doha to reach agreement. But doubts remain over whether the new body has support from rebels inside Syria. One representative of the rebel Free Syrian Army in Doha said that too many delegates there were 'more concerned with their political careers' after Mr Assad fell than with toppling him."
 
The agreement paves the way for international funding of the revolution to resume, says The Guardian. But the paper adds that calls for a no-fly zone over Syria are still unlikely to win US backing.
 
"Russia and China, which have blocked previous moves against the Assad regime at the United Nations security council, appear unlikely to change their stances," it states.
 
Despite its moderate leadership it is still unclear whether the new body will receive direct aid from the West, even though there have been calls to arm the insurgents.
 
"It is... unclear how the new coalition can guarantee that weapons intended for rebels do not fall into the wrong hands," warns the Times. "Saudi Arabia and Qatar have recently reduced arms supplies to the rebels under pressure from the US. Washington is alarmed by the influx of Islamic extremists entering Syria." · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.