Neither umbrella nor agenda
The meeting of the Syrian opposition groups in Cairo was a relative success, Dina Ezzat
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Members of Syria's opposition attend aSyrian opposition conference in Cairo, Monday
A meeting of the representatives of most Syrian opposition groups is setting the stage for a semblance of coherence among Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's scattered adversaries.
Al-Assad is intensifying his military coercion of the over-a-year-long protests, which started out as peaceful but turned partially militant, calling for an end of his rule.
In office since 2001, following the death of his father Hafez Al-Assad, Bashar seems to be willing to go far beyond the extra mile in bombarding the headquarters of his opposition even now that the death toll of his military operation is already over 16,000.
This week, Al-Assad had his allied parliament issue three new laws giving the police and army a freer hand to persecute and quell actual or suspect adversaries.
The laws were adopted at exactly the same time as 250 members of Al-Assad's largest overseas opposition groups met in Cairo under the umbrella of the Arab League to examine possible ways to unify their divided ranks.
"They are always in disagreement over who is to lead and who is more representative than the others, and this did seem to be changing during the two days of the meeting," said an Arab League diplomat.
The meeting that opened on Monday in Cairo, out of the Arab League headquarters for security purposes, and closed Tuesday, avoided what some Arab diplomats qualify as "the impossible mission" of bringing the representatives of Al-Assad's opponents together in one council that works on the political transition in the country once Al-Assad decides or is forced to step down -- something that these diplomats say is "inevitable".
"An agenda of common points of interest and not an umbrella" is what the Cairo meeting of the Syrian opposition aimed to deliver.
With two documents setting the guidelines for political cooperation among the opposition groups now and beyond Al-Assad's rule, sponsors and participants in the meeting were hoping to summon up some cohesion within the opposition.
"It was not easy still," argued an Arab diplomat who took part in the two-day meeting.
The "collective national charter" and the "ruling during transition document" were produced through preliminary consultations and talks leading to the meeting that was inaugurated this week with a speech of Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi, who called on the opposition to look for what they have in common in order to be able to progress through the tough times ahead.
These documents underline the civil nature of Syria -- a country with influential Islamist groups that, over the past few months, have become relatively militant.
They also acknowledge the ethnic and religious diversity of the country within this civil context and pursue a decentralised ruling system by which no particular group would monopolise the top executive jobs in the country as has been the case with the Al-Assad family, which subscribes to the Alawite minority -- "not exactly according to the Iraqi model but close," said one Syrian participant.
Moreover, the documents acknowledge "the honourable elements within the Syrian army who do not have Syrian blood on their hands" in an inevitable separation between the mainstream of the Syrian army and the top generals of Al-Assad that have been deeply involved in oppressing the opposition since the beginning of the anti-Assad demonstrations in March of last year.
The documents underline the fact that once Al-Assad steps down a temporary government will take over managing state affairs. This government should be in charge of dissolving Al-Assad's Baath party and calling for a national unity conference which in turn should establish a temporary legislative body to issue a temporary constitutional declaration.
Still, elements of the two documents were subject to disagreement from the participating Syrian groups with some suggesting that the language on the civil nature of the country is not clear enough and others objecting to language stipulating the almost compulsory support for the Palestinian people. The disagreements had propelled some participants to firmly decline to agree to signing the documents. But the majority of participants agreed in general to the texts of the documents.
In his opening statement, El-Arabi urged the Syrian participants to overlook non-crucial disagreements in order to capture the moment of possible unity.
In essence the Cairo meeting of the Syrian opposition did not detail the roadmap of transition from Syria under Al-Assad to Syria post-Assad. However, the meeting managed to lay out a few guidelines for democratic transition once the rule of Al-Assad is over.
The question remains when will the rule of Al-Assad come to an end? To judge by the assessment of Arab and Western diplomats, it could well be this year but that is not for sure.