Syrian opposition chief stakes out independent line

March 27, 2013 19:02
1 minute read.

Could the head of Syria's fractious opposition achieve the seemingly impossible - build a unified movement capable of toppling President Bashar al-Assad, without becoming beholden to foreign powers or a particular sect or ideology?

An assertive performance at an Arab summit in Qatar this week showed that independent-minded Moaz Alkhatib is prepared to take risks in pursuit of this goal, banking on populist rhetoric and his personal popularity inside Syria.His plain speaking indicated he was not scared even of alienating the Arab states which fund his campaign.

The 53-year-old Sunni Muslim cleric from Damascus took Syria's vacant seat at the Arab League summit on Tuesday, in a demonstration of Assad's international isolation two years into a war that has cost an estimated 70,000 lives.

Responsibility for that moment of diplomatic theatre rests with the assembled Arab states, whose consent made it possible.

It was what Alkhatib did next that illustrated his high-stakes approach: he started by outlining a vision of a unified movement politically independent of the outside powers who fund much of the rebels' humanitarian and military support.

"They ask who will rule Syria. The people of Syria will decide, not any other state in this world," he said, apparently aiming his remarks at a Syrian domestic audience as much as an international one.

But Alkhatib then departed from diplomatic protocol, boldly urging Arab leaders to free their own political prisoners and join Syrians in breaking "a link of repression".

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