While unfortunately there are still too many reservations about the outcome of the Syrian National Council’s Doha summit this week, the situation on the ground in Syria itself is apparently becoming clearer — the Free Syrian Army is going on the offensive in Damascus.
In a stunning display of political ineptitude, the SNC on Wednesday chose a 40-strong leadership, without a single woman in its ranks. First of all, this ignores, quite insultingly, the key role that women are playing in the armed struggle. In addition, no less stupidly, it plays very badly to the outside world, not least to Washington where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is well-known for her forthright views on female advancement.
In the aftermath of this decision, there were predictable protests from female activists. This immediately shifted media attention away from any other positive elements in the new leadership, while demonstrating the culpable lack of judgement that the SNC continues to show. Ironically, almost at the same time that the SNC was blundering far away in the safety of Doha, it was a woman, Susan Ahmed, of the Revolutionary Council in Damascus, who is in the thick of the fighting in the capital, who announced to international media: “The countdown has started. Something serious is happening. The regime cannot control Damascus any more.”
The evidence that she is right comes from the fact that the rebels have penetrated far enough into previously inviolate, largely Alawite areas around the presidential palace and key governmental buildings to be able to fire mortar rounds at the palace itself. President Assad and his cronies may have been obliged to flee to their underground shelters for the first of what seems likely to be many occasions. Unfortunately, because of what the rebels admitted was operator-error, the rounds fell short, landing on a residential area and, according to the regime causing civilian deaths.
Nevertheless, the growing pressure on Damascus brings home the reality that the rebels are making more progress. The fighting, which the Assad regime had endeavored to confine to the suburbs of the capital, is now reaching into its heart. Combined with the growing car-bomb campaign and what are almost certainly Al-Qaeda inspired suicide attacks, the fact that the Free Syrian Army is advancing into new areas on the ground would seem to spell the endgame for Assad and his people.
The tragedy is that on the political front, the rebellion still seems to be making limited progress, at best. This does not bode well for the post-Assad era. The clear danger is that the loose-knit contingents of the FSA , once they have overthrown the regime, will jostle for power and start turning their weaponry on each other. We have already seen how some of the triumphant fighters in Libya still refuse to lay down their arms and join in the pluralist political process. Even after the successful elections for the General National Congress, these battle-harden militiamen, and a good few Johnny-come-latelies who joined them once the fighting was safely over, still think that they can dictate what they believe should be happening to Libya, from the barrel of a gun.
At least during their own revolution, the Libyans had a united political front, the National Transitional Council. That the Syrian rebels continue to fail to form such a body has to be the cause of the very deepest concern.