New Umbrella Group Draws Syrian Rebels Together

Robert Siegel talks with Yaser Tabbara, spokesman for a newly formed umbrella organization of Syrian opposition groups. The coalition, forged over the weekend in Doha, is much broader than its predecessor, the Syrian National Council, bringing together roughly 90 percent of Syria's opposition. Tabbara, an attorney typically based in Chicago, helped broker the coalition's agreement.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We hear from the Middle East today that hopes among opponents of the Assad regime in Syria are sky high. That's because of the newly created National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. It's an umbrella group, which its supporters hope will bring their cause both material support and diplomatic legitimacy. In Doha, Qatar, Syrian opposition groups met and negotiated for three days until announcing the new group yesterday.

It is the successor to the Syrian National Council, a body that succumbed to factionalism and failed to gain control over forces fighting the regime. The president of the new group is Sheikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, a respected Sunni religious leader.

And one of the people who helped broker the deal in Doha is Yaser Tabbara, a Chicago lawyer. Mr. Tabbara was born in this country, but raised in Damascus and he joins us now from Qatar. Welcome to the program.

YASER TABBARA: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: Expectations are so high for this new national coalition, can it actually live up to them? For example, will more sophisticated weapons start flowing to rebel fighters now that their cause is represented by this broader group?

TABBARA: Well, we definitely hope so. I mean, these are the promises that the international community has given repeatedly over and over again throughout the period that we've worked on this initiative. And it definitely is something that the Syrian population at large is waiting for, is hoping for. The Syrian revolutionaries wanted to finally be empowered to defend themselves, to defend the...

SIEGEL: But when you speak of - when you speak of what the international community has promised and what it was seeking, is it simply the creation of this new body or is it demonstrating control over the fighting forces in Syria? What is it that countries want to see from your group to proceed with arming the rebels more effectively?

TABBARA: Well, it's all of the above, which puts us in a catch 22 situation. On one hand, they want us to create a highly functional, highly representative body that could, in a very dynamic way, represent the revolutionaries on the ground and make decisions on their behalf. On the other, you need the serious investment of the international community to reach the level to have such a highly functional, legitimate, credible body. And so, you know, one thing feeds the other.

SIEGEL: Mr. Tabbara, let me see if I understand the dynamic that you and others there in Doha hope to see, which is that if you now gain political legitimacy, say, through the Egyptians recognizing the new group as the representative of the Syrian people and then new weapons being delivered to Syria under the auspices of this new group, would you then imagine that the groups that are fighting would say, well, these guys, the new national coalition must be the real deal because they've got the political legitimacy and the hardware to us. Therefore, we will now work with them and accept them as the sovereign authority?

TABBARA: Well, that's one aspect of it, definitely. In fact, we've already received recognition from France, the state of Qatar and now we're working on the Arab League. But I think more importantly is the fact that we have been working with these armed groups over the past few months and we've gotten excellent feedback on the idea. I mean, everybody seems to want a unifying chain of command, where they have one comprehensive military strategy to topple this regime.

SIEGEL: What's your message? What's the message from the new National coalition of opponents of the Assad regime to somebody who joined the Ba'athist Party and runs a hospital or is a school administrator, not member of the security apparatus, let's say, but somebody who's been a member of the ruling party? Is their continued participation in Syrian life welcome or is it time for a score settling against people who have supported the regime, even indirectly?

TABBARA: Anyone who has not been involved in killing Syrians, anyone who has not been involved in corruption and stealing Syrians' assets and resources is welcome.

SIEGEL: Mr. Tabbara, thank you very much for talking with us.

TABBARA: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: That is Chicago lawyer Yaser Tabbara. He's Syrian-American and he helped broker the creation of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces in Syria. He spoke to us from Doha in Qatar.

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