ISTANBUL -- Fractured, splintered, disorganized. This is how U.S. officials and the international community have branded Syria's opposition, and many say that is why the West opposes military intervention.
At a conference on Syria here recently, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, "The opposition has work to do."
Activists and analysts say the U.S. administration is not giving an accurate picture of the opponents to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
"Of course you will not get 23 million Syrians in one organization - this is impossible," said Radwan Ziadeh, a spokesman for the Syrian National Council (SNC), a committee of Syrian exiles. "This hasn't been possible in other cases or countries (either)."
Sunday, the council met in Istanbul to pledge unity and elect a new leader to convince the world that it is a trustworthy alternative to Assad. Council officials selected Abdulbaset Sieda, a Kurdish activist, to head the opposition.
That they picked a member of a minority group rather than from the majority Sunni Muslim community shows the opposition is serious about being inclusive and avoiding civil war in a post-Assad Syria, they say.
"We are now in the process of repairing the relationship between the SNC and the forces working inside Syria so that we may reach common grounds between us," Sieda said.
Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, where revolutionaries were organizing for years, dissidents in Syria had little chance to unite because of repression from the regime.
Syria has numerous differences in ethnicity, religious beliefs and social strata.
The SNC must accommodate members of the Muslim Brotherhood, liberal activists, minorities and the Free Syrian Army. Similar divisions existed in Egypt's revolution last year, but there was no insistence then from the West that Egypt's opposition movement agree on a political platform.
Before the council selected a Kurdish leader, Syria's Kurdish dissidents accused it of dismissing their interests. Some minorities - Assyrians, Alawites, Maronite Christians, Greek Catholics - have largely not joined the opposition.
Assad is well aware of the mistrust among Syria's enclaves and takes advantage of it, some analysts say.
"I think the regime has played the sectarian card brutally well," said David Lesch, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Trinity University in San Antonio. "Alawites and the Christians for the most part, even if many may not be enamored with the regime or with Assad, they see him and the regime as the least worst alternative."
Members of the Free Syrian Army, a coalition of anti-regime militias, have kept a distance from the council. Wassim Sabbagh, a refugee who left his job in New York to join the resistance, runs arms and equipment to the rebel fighters.
"We don't trust the SNC," he says. "They are fake."
The emergence of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change as an alternative has further complicated matters. The committee supports reforming the regime and does not demand the toppling of Assad as does the SNC.
"We call them the opposition made by the regime," Ziadeh said. "It is not important for us to have dialogue with them. That will desecrate our credibility among the Syrians."
Other council members disagree. "I know some of them personally," said Mulham al Jundi of the Syrian National Council. "Some of them are (the) real Syrian opposition, and they are asking for freedom."
There is some common ground among the opposition. Leaders say all groups share the goals of democratic progress, equal rights and - more immediately - a safe zone and no-fly zone within Syria to stop Assad's military from killing civilians.
And the entire movement seems to agree on one thing: the international community's lack of assistance, especially that of President Obama.
"It's obvious to everyone that no one wants to help the Syrian people," said Noureddin al-Abdo, an activist in Idlib. "Obama could make Assad leave with a move of his finger. But we now know that the whole world doesn't want Assad to leave."
Hozan Ibrahim, a member of the council, says Western powers continue to denigrate the opposition to justify their own reluctance to intervene.
"We don't have U.S. leadership pushing in any meaningful way" for a resolution, says Kadir Ustun, research director for the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, a Washington think-tank focused on Turkish-American relations.
Ustun says it is not Syria but the Western nations that must unify behind a common objective to avoid "endless violence" in a post-Assad Syria.
"If we don't agree on an end goal, we don't know what comes next," Ustun says. "We'd have armed groups roaming the country."