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Syria Analysis: An Opposition in Disarray

Moaz al-KhatibThe main political opposition outside Syria, the Syrian National Coalition, was beset by a series of setbacks --- mainly self-inflicted --- on Sunday.

The most serious was the sudden resignation of Moaz al-Khatib, not only as head of the Coalition but from the organisation altogether. Khatib's official reason was to "work with a freedom" that could not be claimed "in an official insitution", but that seemed no more than a cover excuse.

The real reason for al-Khatib's snap decision was raised in --- but not established by --- speculation throughout the day. The leading theory was that the cleric, framed as a "moderate" in portrayals of the opposition, had quit in protest over an attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to grab a dominant role in the Coalition.

That explanation was in the realm of assertion throughout Sunday, but al-Khatib's departure did parallel the walk-out by 11 leading members of the Coalition last week over the election of Ghassan Hitto, the Texas-based IT specialist, as Prime Minister-designate of a Government to move into insurgent-held areas.

That in turn linked to a second development on Sunday. A spokesman for the Free Syrian Army said, " not recognize Ghassan Hitto as prime minister because the National Coalition did not reach a consensus....We cannot recognize a prime minister who was forced on the National Coalition."

The announcement, which came as Hitto was making his first trip inside Syria and seeing leaders of local councils, was not connected to al-Khatib's resignation, but it raised the prospect of a serious split --- on both political and military fronts --- within the opposition. Once again, the reasons beyond the grail of "consensus" remained vague, but the favoured interpretation in the media and among observers was that this was another push-back against a supposed Brotherhood coup --- albeit one in which Hitto had been chosen by a majority of the Coalition executive.

Meanwhile, the Coalition was failing, at least for the moment, to earn recognition from the Arab League as the representative of the Syrian people. Foreign Ministers in Doha could not reach agreement on Sunday, with Iraq, Lebanon, and Algeria among those blocking the step.

Al-Khatib's departure and the backlash against Hitto is likely to reinforce the League's hesitation, even as the Coalition is slated --- in what seemed a breakthrough at the time --- to speak to the Foreign Ministers' general meeting on Tuesday. Indeed, it is unclear now who will speak for the Coalition.

That seems a fitting microcosm of the situation. The reasons for the in-fighting and divisions may be unclear --- the supposed explanations are more extensions-by-rumour of the in-fighting,  rather than measured analysis --- but the effect is more than evident.

Even as key players in the international community have been moving aggressively, albeit behind the scenes, to consolidate support for a political and military challenge to the Assad regime, the stark question --- which was always there, but which elevated itself on Sunday --- remains:

Who represents that opposition?

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