BEIRUT — Syria’s main opposition political group was rebuffed Wednesday by the Arab League, which denied the group’s request to occupy Syria’s seat in the 22-member body.
The organization recognized the Syrian National Coalition as the legal representative of the Syrian people and will allow it to participate in meetings “on an exceptional basis,” Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said on the second day of a two-day summit in Kuwait.
But the opposition coalition, which has formed a transitional government, had hoped for more.
“Let me say quite frankly that keeping Syria’s seat empty in your midst sends a clear message to (Syrian President Bashar) Assad that he can kill and that the seat will wait for him to resolve his war,” said coalition President Ahmad Jarba, addressing the summit Tuesday.
Syria’s embassies in Arab capitals should also be turned over to the coalition, he said, as there is no one else to cater to the interests of Syrians.
This month, the U.S. ordered the Syrian Embassy in Washington and two honorary consulates to suspend operations “in consideration of the atrocities the Assad regime has committed against the Syrian people.” There has been no word on whether the coalition would assume responsibility for the embassy.
The coalition has long suffered from assertions that it lacks legitimacy. Though its members regularly meet with world leaders, most rebels and activists inside Syria dismiss the group by saying the opposition needs “revolutionaries in the trenches, not in the hotels.”
Last year, the coalition took the seat as the legitimate government of Syria at the Arab League summit after the membership of Assad’s government was suspended in late 2011. But the position was later withdrawn after Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria objected.
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz accused the world of “betraying” the rebels by not sending them weapons. Saudi Arabia is one of the main supporters of the rebels and has continued to arm the opposition, though fighters on the ground say it is not enough.
Jarba urged Arab leaders to pressure the international community to fulfill its pledges to provide heavy weapons to the rebels.
“If the West failed to provide us with the needed weapons, what prevents our brothers from resolving the matter of our seat amongst you?” he said.