Qatar, a Muslim Brotherhood patron, supported Hitto over the objections of rival Persian Gulf nation Saudi Arabia. In retaliation, opposition activists say, Saudi Arabia, which is a key supplier of weapons to the rebels, pressured the Supreme Military Command’s leader, defected Gen. Salim Idriss, to reject Hitto, essentially putting negotiations back at square one.
“With a clear absence of the U.S., small players like the Qataris and Saudis will take over,” said a prominent Syrian opposition activist who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivities of the topic. “It’s bringing the government down, when the goal was to put an end to the chaos and vacuum.”
The setbacks over the weekend only underlined the lack of progress the Syrian political opposition has made after two years and millions of dollars in outside aid.
The lack of opposition cohesion raises the specter of a bloody free-for-all should Assad fall, perhaps plunging Syria into anarchy with no credible body poised to take charge.
“We have a leader who resigned, an interim prime minister whose election was conducted without transparency and the formal opposition has failed. I don’t know what happens if Assad falls,” said Rafif Jouejati, a spokeswoman for the Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists with more than 80 branches throughout Syria.
Jouejati, who’s consulted with the State Department on Syria policy, said key developments to watch were whether the coalition-linked rebel command would live up to its promise of accepting civilian leadership and whether cooperation could improve amid both sides complaining of being sidelined.
“The Syrian opposition needs to look at itself in the mirror and realize it’s been a colossal failure to the Syrian people,” Jouejati lamented. “It’s time for a complete overhaul.”
Landis predicted that the United States will try to restore some type of role for Khatib, who’d fallen out with the Muslim Brotherhood by calling for conditional talks with Assad, a track that the U.S. and Europe are quietly pursuing in hopes of preventing a total collapse of Syrian institutions but that Brotherhood activists reject after decades of heavy losses to the Assad dynasty. It’s in the U.S. government’s interest that the coalition doesn’t totally collapse, especially as a rebel group that the U.S. government has labeled an al Qaida-linked terrorist group, Jabhat al Nusra, gains ground throughout the country.
“It’s going to limp along because they need it,” Landis said. “They need a political organization that’s pro-West.”