The new leader of the deeply fractured Syrian National Coalition faces the dual challenge of winning international support as well as gaining the respect of the fighting units inside Syria. Reinvigorated government forces have defeated the opposition in Qusayr and are now looking to recapture Homs before retaking all of Aleppo.
As the opposition looks ahead to a series of military defeats, Ahmad Jarba has won the job of trying to link the growing international military backing from the US and other states, with the opposition’s fighting units who are desperate for weaponry and supplies. Jarba should get control of the international weapons coming to the opposition, and channel them to loyal units.
But at the same time, Jarba has to build a political position which can become the base of a search for a negotiated end to the two-and-half-year civil war. This will not be easy. Even though Jarba comes from the opposition faction of the veteran secular dissident Michel Kilo, he is not a national figure and needs to build credibility, while his years of political activity inside Syria may be of help in gaining the trust of the rebel fighters.
In addition, Jarba comes from the far east of Syria from the town of Al Hasakah in the Qamishli area, where there is a mixed population of Arabs, Kurds, and Christians including Assyrians and Armenians. This inclusive background may help his efforts to build a wider-based opposition. Backed by Saudi Arabia, Jarba’s presence may also lead to a lessening of the hawkish elements supported by other regional players like Turkey and Qatar.
Syria is desperate for a more coherent opposition. It would be a tragedy to fail to unite and so betray the ideals of the national movement to seek a future without Bashar Al Assad. The opposition has been rudderless since May when Muath Al Khatib resigned from the leadership, and Jarba himself does not have a very clear mandate since he only won by a very narrow margin of three votes. He needs support to help find a better future for Syria.