Is Syria's official opposition a serious force?

A recent opposition conference held in Damascus looked like an official event

The BBC's Lina Sinjab in Damascus examines the Syrian political opposition inside the country and whether it really amounts to a serious force.

There are opposition groups inside Syria, but like their counterparts outside the country, they have not managed to come together under a united message.

The Damascus Declaration headed by Riad al-Turk is part of the Syrian National Council (SNC) operating from outside the country and supports its message.

The Building The State movement headed by Louai Husain is also inside the country, but is seen by many here as taking a line closer to the regime's, not calling for an immediate end for the regime.

There are many other scattered groups working on civil and democratic changes, but all in hiding and with different agendas.

However, the National Co-ordination Council (NCC) headed by Hassan Abdulazim is the one that combines a large group of traditional opposition movements and is so far tolerated by the regime.

They held a Syria Salvation conference recently in the city centre where they called for the immediate toppling of the regime and the building of a civil democratic state.

The meeting was attended by 20 other opposition groups and movements.

Although this happened in Damascus with the government allowing the meeting to take place, some members of the groups were detained a few days prior to the conference.

Start Quote

We are not calling for the toppling of the regime because in many other countries, it ended up changing presidents, but not changing the regime, while we want a regime change”

End Quote Quadri Jamil Government minister and head of the opposition Will and Change party

Abdulaziz al-Khaier, a leading member of the group, along with two other members, disappeared as they arrived back from a visit to China.

The groups hold the government responsible for this, while the government blames armed terrorists groups.

'Regime opposition'

But there are other groups who claim to be opposition, and yet seem to be favoured by the regime.

A few days after the Syria Salvation Conference, another meeting took place.

Although the gathering was called the Force for Peaceful and Democratic Change, it looked like an official event.

Diplomats from China, Russia and Iran, Syria's remaining allies, attended the event to endorse it.

The main figure in this gathering was Quadri Jamil, who although he describes himself as from the opposition, is also a government minister - Mr Jamil is the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, but also heads the Will and Change party.

For him, toppling the regime will not make a change.

"We are calling for a radical regime change that covers the social, economic and political changes in a democratic way.

"We are not calling for the toppling of the regime because in many other countries, it ended up changing presidents, but not changing the regime, while we want a regime change."

None of the groups at the event wants President Bashar al-Assad to go.

Louai Mardam Beik is a member of the newly established Syria al-Watan party and he says only the people can decide who the president will be.

Army defectors at the Force for Peaceful and Democratic Change conference in Damascus, Sept 2012 Army defectors appeared during the conference, saying they would not use weapons against the army

"We are not asking for Assad to step down immediately, we are asking for free elections, presidential elections, and then the Syrian people will decide without intervention from Europe or any other country."

During the conference, a surprise sideshow took place, with soldiers appearing on the stage.

They said they had defected from the army and joined the opposition Free Syrian Army, but that with the help of a reconciliation ministry, they had discovered the solution was not in taking up arms against the official army.

It was hard to verify their testimony independently.

Frustration

This conference asserted a government message to find solutions by the Syrian people that would centre around dialogue and national unity.

But whether it is a regime-favoured "opposition" or the traditional opposition, the street seems unsatisfied.

Zaidoun al-Zobi is an activist from Deraa and seems frustrated by all sides.

"Quadri Jamil is not [the] opposition. He is a regime-made one," he says.

But Mr al-Zobi was also frustrated by the attitude of the other two opposition blocs.

"The SNC and NCC are fighting against each other and want to topple each other rather than topple the regime," he says.

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