The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The Syrian opposition and Washington

Credit where credit is due: the generally anti-Arab, uber-neocon New York Sun does a decent job of keeping track of Arab opposition movements and their interaction with Washington. Here it writes about a Syrian opposition group -- a rather loose group that includes Islamists -- that is about to open a formal Washington office:
The National Salvation Front also has been wary of working with the Americans. But in the past two months, the leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni, has taken a series of steps aimed at casting himself in a more moderate light. In August, Mr. Bayanouni told Al-Jazeera that he would be open to negotiations with Israel over the return of the Golan Heights. Mr. Dairi said yesterday that Mr. Bayanouni would even be open to meeting with American officials.

"Mr. Bayanouni would not have a problem meeting with Americans. If he is invited, he will not refuse the invitation. He has told this to me personally, and I believe him," Mr. Dairi said.

Over the last six months, the Bush administration has expressed cautious interest in a coalition that includes the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, in part because of its frustration with the Assad regime, which the Brotherhood opposes. In March, for example, the assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, David Welch, noted that the State Department was interested in what the Front had to say. Those remarks came a few weeks after a summit between a former Syrian vice president who defected in 2005, Abdul Halim Khaddam, and Mr. Bayanouni, who agreed to work together toward the ouster of the Assad regime.
This new group is apparently anchored by old regime stalwarts such as Khaddam (remember his odd pan-Arab media appearance and then, when the Saudis got tired of promoting him, disappearance) and old opposition stalwarts from the local Muslim Brotherhood. The article mentions that the Reform Party of Syria, the more "liberal" Chalabi-like opposition movement, is not happy about the new office opening. Perhaps the lesson learned here from the administration, as it reportedly considers imposing a "strongman" on Iraq, is that you're better off going with the strongmen in the first place rather than take a chance with "liberals" in the Chalabist mold. Or quite simply, that taking people with no support base in the country, no matter how impeccable their credentials might seem, is not a solution that's going to work.