Facebook diplomacy in Syria

Syria Deeply: Many Syrians have been tethered to Facebook for almost two years to check on the state of the conflict in their country, scouring through feeds for the latest images and videos of protests and war crimes. But a new kind of message was tucked into these streams over the past two weeks which added a novel function for the platform: diplomacy.

Moaz Al Khatib, the president of the National Coalition (NC), the largest opposition umbrella group in Syria, surprised many observers and even coalition members when he posted on his Facebook page a proposal to sit with representatives from the Assad regime. The preconditions for such talks were the release of 160,000 prisoners held by the government and the renewal of passports for Syrians in exile.

This initiative gave some potency to the exiled opponents of the Assad regime who have struggled to build an international consensus to end the conflict in Syria due to the sharp division in the U.N. Security Council. Almost two months had passed since more than 100 countries recognized the NC as the legitimate representative of Syrians, but the coalition wasn’t able to attract the funds needed to govern rebel controlled territories or provide advanced weapons to fighters.

As the prospect of a longer and more destructive war set in, Al Khatib used his social media platform to directly address Syrians who have grown weary of the conflict, circumventing the nascent groupings in the coalition that might have debated the proposal for weeks or months. Many activists and rebels disagreed with Al Khatib’s vision, and debates were held inside Syria to discuss the issue, but eventually an uneasy consensus was reached to allow the moderate Sunni cleric to proceed. [Continue reading…]

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