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Here's Molham Aldrobi's difficult task: to convince the Canadian government that the Muslim Brotherhood are moderates in Syria, that extremists don't dominate the opposition, and that Ottawa should open its purse-strings wider for medical and other aid to rebel-held areas.
Mr. Aldrobi, a representative of the Syrian opposition who lives in Toronto, is pitching something that's been a hard sell for a long time now. The Harper government has come to view the Syrian opposition as a Pandora's Box of sectarian squabblers and jihadists. Among western nations, Canada has stood out by refusing to recognize the National Coalition as the voice of the people.
The question now is whether Ottawa will start to feel that it's time to do more to help a flawed Syrian opposition, to help prevent things from turning worse, and bolster moderates.
Reports that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons have increased pressure on the U.S. to intervene, but the Obama Administration is investigating, not rushing. A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canada is talking to allies about what would be a "heinous crime" – western nations fear military intervention might only increase chaos without a simple end.
Still, the U.S. is upping "non-lethal" aid, and urging others to do the same.
Mr. Aldrobi and Hassan Hashimi, representatives of the Syrian Nation Council – an umbrella group within the bigger umbrella Coalition – are in Ottawa trying to explain away some of the Canadian government's concerns. They're delivering a wish list – medical and other aid for opposition areas, expedited immigration for relatives of Canadians, and opposition recognition – that frankly isn't much different from what Syrian-Canadians have sought for over a year. Mr. Baird will meet with an aid organization, Heart of Syria, on Wednesday.
But Ottawa's worries have steered its reaction. There's been aid – $48.5-million sent through UN agencies for food and help for refugees from the civil war, and $25-million for the Jordanian government to deal with refugees. But what the Syrian opposition really wants, if it can't get guns, is more aid for "liberated" areas under its control. They feel Ottawa has done little.
"If you want to help, there are plenty of ways. This is what we are trying to tell them. The Syrian opposition are not extremists, they're not terrorists. They're freedom fighters," Mr. Aldrobi said.
He says they'll meet with federal officials to clarify "misunderstandings." He knows the Harper government has emphasized concerns about jihadists like al-Nusra Front fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army and other opposition militias, but insists it's an exaggeration. It's too much to expect completely unified opposition, he says, but Ottawa should accept an "80-20 rule" – 80 per cent generally united moderates, with 20 per cent of groups they can't control.
In Syria, though, the make-up of moderates makes the Harper government uneasy. It feels it's too Sunni-dominated. The influence of the Muslim Brotherhood raises qualms, too. It's fractious, and there are doubts exiled political leaders represent the patchwork of militia and councils in Syria. Mr. Aldrobi, a member of the executive of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, argues there's no reason to fear it: it won't dominate post-Assad Syria, dislikes Iran's influence and Hezbollah, and it's seeking a pluralistic state in Syria, he said. Mr. Aldrobi is diplomatic: he says he wants a "partnership" with Canada.
But there's general frustration. Faisal Alazem was part of a delegation that met Mr. Baird about a year ago asking for similar things.
He argues the west, including Canada, should have jumped in two years ago. Jihadists moved into a vacuum, and desperate Syrians accepted it, he said, but there's still time to strengthen the moderates. Western nations like Canada can at least provide aid to rebel-held areas, and that means funding groups working there, not just UN agencies, he said. But he sounds pessimistic.
"There is a general sense that Canada does not really want to be involved," he said.
Campbell Clark covers foreign affairs in the Ottawa bureau.