UK Recognizes Syrian Opposition, Will the U.S. Follow?

BY Larisa Epatko  November 20, 2012 at 10:50 AM EST

British Foreign Secretary William Hague became the latest foreign leader to stand behind the newly formed Syrian opposition coalition when he recognized its legitimacy on Tuesday.

Hague called the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces the “sole legitimate representative” of the Syrian people, reported the BBC.

Syria’s opposition put aside its internal differences to elect a leadership at a meeting of foreign ministers held in Doha, Qatar, in mid-November in the hopes that it would help secure Western and Arab backing in its continuing fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

A mixture of rebel fighters, dissidents, and ethnic and religious groups elected Mouaz al-Khatib, a former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, as the leader of the coalition.

Khatib has been described as a moderate religious figure and unifying man of the people. In April 2011, around the start of the uprising, he told an audience in Damascus: “My brothers, we lived all our lives, Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites and Druse as a one- hearted community, and with us lived our dear brothers who follow Jesus peace be upon him. We should adhere to this bond between us and protect it at all times.”

France and Turkey have expressed their full backing of the coalition, but the United States is taking a little longer despite being one of the driving forces behind the Doha meeting.

The United States is hanging back partly to see if the coalition lasts. “It’ll be embarrassing if [the coalition] falls apart — and it has no track record yet,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies and an associate professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Oklahoma.

Besides giving the coalition time to ripen on the vine, waiting a bit before the U.S. gives its full-throated support could dull the accusation that the coalition is an American conspiracy, which some opposition factions are claiming, Landis said. Islamist rebel fighters in the Syrian city of Aleppo came out against the Western-backed coalition this week, calling it a “conspiratorial project.”

Because the opposition is so fractured, it’s not surprising that some elements don’t accept the coalition, said Landis. Their next step — and a challenging one — will be coming up with a government in exile, he said.

Anti-government fighters have been battling Syrian government forces since March 2011 with neither side shows signs of backing down. Assad said in an interview with RT earlier this month that he will “live and die” in Syria.

“I am not a puppet. I was not made by the West to go to the West or to any other country,” he said. “I am Syrian, I was made in Syria, I have to live in Syria and die in Syria.”

View photos of the latest developments and a report from Margaret Warner about the reverberations of Syria’s conflict in neighboring Turkey:

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