Opposition Tries To Define Syria's Political Future
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
Okay. Now, in Syria, protesters have faced bullets and tanks for months. They're demanding reforms and for President Bashar al-Assad to step aside. Now for the first time Syria's opposition movement is holding a meeting to pick leaders and plot strategy. They're gathered in neighboring Turkey, and NPR's Deborah Amos is there.
DEBORAH AMOS: They came with differing visions of how to transform Syria. They struggled over a strategy to push the protest movement forward under the punishing force of a government determined to stop it.
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AMOS: United, at least for this moment, by the national anthem, the conference was opened by one of the young street protesters, clearly seen as the heroes of the uprising, mostly unknown to Syria's more traditional opposition figures in exile, who came here to meet them.
Omar Mikkdad, a 25-year-old political science graduate from the southern town of Dera'a, has been organizing street protests for months, sending out cell phone videos documenting the government's crackdown and speaking to the international media while on the run.
Mr. OMAR MIKKDAD: They came to my house, they broke the doors. They want to kill me there because I'm on the media.
AMOS: The inventive movement stays one step ahead of the government despite a communications blackout, a military siege, and power cuts, says Mikkdad.
Mr. MIKKDAD: For example, BlackBerry. We have a glass of water and two Duracell battery. We put it for one hour in this glass, then we use the USB and we put it just in the water, and that's give us about two hour or three hours charge to talk.
AMOS: How did you learn that, by experimenting?
Mr. MIKKDAD: I have some knowledge in physics, how it's work, this stuff.
AMOS: Another young activist, Aziz Othman, arrived with a limp from a recent gunshot wound. He's hunted by Syrian security police, and he jokes to another participant that he's like a movie character.
Mr. AZIZ OTHMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
Unidentified Man (Translator): He's not in the movies. It's in reality. He's the Mel Gibson of reality.
Mr. OTHMAN: I am - I love Mel Gibson.
AMOS: Despite the bravado, the activists here agreed there's a tough road ahead to oust the regime and stop the violence. They say it will take international pressure as well as a united opposition leadership.
This conference, a chaotic two-day gathering, is a first step - but there was little agreement on what comes next if President Bashar al Assad goes. Every political group and ethnicity was represented, including the exiled Muslim Brotherhood, which sent the largest delegation.
And some new faces joined the opposition, including Amr al Azm, a Middle Eastern history professor, who's worked for the Syrian government but has turned against the regime.
Professor AMR AL AZM: I think seeing the violence, that was the rallying call, if you want, for someone like me, to say OK, enough's enough. And this is history in the making. And as a historian, I felt like I wanted to be part of it.
AMOS: It all seemed in doubt until the last minute as inside activists questioned the motives of the gathering here, but finally signaled approval.
The goal is to create a committee that can be the voice of the opposition - to the international community as well as to Syrians. It's an important precedent, says Josh Landis, an American academic who writes an influential blog on Syria.
Mr. JOSH LANDIS: Many people who would like to see a change, who are fed up with this regime, they're not going to do anything until they can see a leadership emerge, and this meeting is about finding a leadership.
AMOS: Many Syrians inside the country fear chaos, says Landis, if the regime is ousted.
Mr. LANDIS: This revolution has pointed the way to much greater Syrian unity, but we're a long way from having a unified leadership.
AMOS: The opposition gathering in Turkey hopes this first meeting adds structure and leaders to a movement that emerged from the streets.
Deborah Amos, NPR News, Antalya, Turkey.
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