Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Al-Assad’s foes to meet in Cairo

The Syrian opposition will meet in Cairo this month to finalise a future roadmap for the country, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

All sides of the Syrian opposition agree on the need to unify their positions. The hardliners, however, insist on excluding the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad from any future plans while the so-called “soft” opposition says that the matter should be left for the whole nation to decide.

According to current plans, several Syrian opposition groups intend to meet in Cairo on 22 January to discuss a common roadmap for the country’s future. Four years after the start of the Syrian revolution there is still no single programme for the opposition. This failure to unite has affected the opposition’s credibility and led to missed opportunities.

Cairo seems like a logical setting for the opposition meeting. Egypt has so far declined to offer money or arms to any of the factions fighting in Syria, and is seen as an acceptable location by most regional and international players.

Anywhere between 50 and 75 members of the Syrian opposition are expected to arrive in Cairo. Aside from the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) and the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCCDC), various activists and businessmen are expected to attend.

Armed opposition groups have not been included in the talks, something that observers say may weaken the meeting’s outcome.

The committee in charge of preparing for the meeting has issued a 24-point document, which it calls a “roadmap” for the future of Syria.

According to the document, talks are to be held between the opposition and the regime, leading to the formation of an interim government including representatives from both sides.

An interim government, having the powers of both the president and the prime minister, will be in charge of running the country and holding elections.

The roadmap envisions the setting up of a ruling military council on which both sides will be represented. The council will be tasked with restructuring the Syrian security forces and integrating dissidents into the regular army. The aim, the document says, is for the new regime to focus on fighting the Islamic State (IS) and other jihadist terrorists.

The future constitution of Syria should recognise the rights of the Kurdish community and endorse decentralisation, the roadmap says.

A sticking point in the document is the future of Al-Assad and his associates. The roadmap leaves this out, but the NCSROF has been adamant that any deal should include provisions to bring those who have shed Syrian blood to justice, including the incumbent president.

The roadmap offers specific steps and a timetable. This and the fact that much of its content is based on the final communiqué of the Geneva Conference are encouraging signs.

However, it lacks a credible implementation mechanism, either through action by the major powers or by a UN-mandated intervention under Chapter 7 of the UN charter.

The NCSROF and several other opposition groups consider the committee tasked with preparing the Cairo meeting to have been too soft in its position on the regime’s top officials.

Some of the authors of the roadmap are also friendly with Moscow and Tehran, which doesn’t sit well with NCSROF members who have asked for major amendments to the document.

The roadmap, if approved, could lead to a ceasefire, an end to the violence, protection of civilians and the transfer of power, according to the timetable. Once a new regime is at the helm, the main task would be to defeat the IS and other jihadists.

But some observers say that the Cairo meeting may, in fact, never take place, with the roadmap’s silence on Al-Assad’s fate being the major sticking point.

The largest group in the political opposition, the NCSROF, sees this as a central demand. The authors of the document, however, say that it would be unrealistic to expect the regime to abdicate power without its first being defeated militarily.

Another obstacle is that the meeting’s organisers have left out the armed opposition groups. Implementation of the plan without their assent is unthinkable.

At present, there are some 250,000 combatants in Syria. While they have been unable to bring peace to their country, they certainly have the firepower to deny it a solution. This state of affairs is expected to continue until their conflicting agendas are reconciled.

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