Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1249, (4 - 10 June 2015)
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1249, (4 - 10 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Syrian opposition to meet

Upcoming conferences in Cairo and Riyadh may at last bring hope for an end to the Syrian crisis, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

‌For the past four years, the Syrian opposition has shuttled from conference to conference on the country’s future, discussing agendas and timetables, terms for peace and prospects for democratisation.

‌But little has come of this, partly because the regime has disavowed any commitment to peace, slandered its opponents and tried to hold on to power at any price, and partly because the opposition has failed to present a unified and credible front.

‌Recent attempts by Russia and the UN to hold consultations with various parties to the conflict have also not gone anywhere. But two new initiatives, one sponsored by Cairo and the other by Riyadh, may reverse the tide.

‌Cairo is planning to host a conference of the Syrian opposition on 8 June, and Riyadh will follow suit a little less than a month later.

‌The Cairo conference, named the National Opposition Conference for a Political Solution in Syria, is the culmination of months of work by Syrian opposition figures and groups from across the political spectrum.

‌The groups met earlier this year in the Egyptian capital where they tried to formulate a roadmap for a political solution in Syria based on the Geneva Declaration. This roadmap, sources say, will include a practical programme with a timetable to end the conflict.

‌The task of the Cairo conference will be to reach consensus on a programme for a political solution to the Syrian crisis. The organisers are making it clear that they do not aim to come up with a new leadership for the opposition or to replace any of the existing organisations. Instead, they want to create a momentum for peace with a clear agenda for the future.

‌In Riyadh, the Saudis will be trying to help the Syrian opposition select a political committee of some 30 veterans acceptable to all parties. The committee will then seek international recognition to negotiate terms to end the crisis with the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

‌The Riyadh gathering is expected to bring together Syrian opposition members from various political and civilian organisations, military factions and public figures. The committee they select will be mandated to hold talks with the regime in keeping with the principles of the Geneva Declaration.

‌The organisers say their aim is not to replace any of the existing opposition groups, but to create the right framework to implement the roadmap endorsed at the Cairo conference.

‌Usamah Abu Zeid, legal adviser to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), has high hopes for the Riyadh meeting. “The Riyadh Conference is in the preparation stage, and Saudi Arabia is a main ally of the Syrian people,” he said.

‌“We believe in the Saudi leadership and people, and we welcome their efforts to put the Syrian opposition’s house in order,” he added, saying that the FSA is “prepared to cooperate with all political opposition groups in carrying out their duties and responsibilities.”

‌Haytham Manna, a leading Syrian opposition figure and one of the organisers of the Cairo conference, said that the aim of the meeting is not “to divide the Syrian opposition or replace any of the opposition groups.”

‌“This conference is different from all the previous ones held by the Syrian opposition. It will put together a comprehensive national charter and a joint roadmap for a negotiated settlement based on the Geneva Declaration and UN resolutions,” he said.

‌Fayez Sara, a leading figure from the Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNCROF), said the Cairo and Riyadh Conferences are “complementary.”

Neither aimed to substitute any of the existing opposition groups, but rather seek to “place the existing groups in the right context and use their capabilities and positive energy in the service of the Syrian cause,” he said.

‌“This is true for the three major issues of fighting the terror of the regime and its allies and the extremists, tackling the matter of the Syrian refugees and helping them, and stopping the illegal immigration which is becoming harder on the Syrians and the host countries,” he added.

‌Most Syrian opposition forces from across the political spectrum hope to see Egypt play a leading role in the Syrian crisis. Egypt is seen as a force of moderation that has not allied itself with any of the warring parties and that is truly interested in helping the Syrians devise and implement a roadmap to peace.

‌The Syrian opposition is also hopeful that the Saudis may help them select a political committee capable of negotiating with the regime as soon as the latter agrees to talks or is forced to do so.

‌However, the SNCROF seems to have reservations about the ongoing efforts, mostly because it fears being replaced by a new political entity.

‌Some Syrian opposition members who lack the ability to offer effective leadership are also concerned that the Riyadh conference may expose their incompetence and bring other, more effective figures into the limelight.

‌But few question the need for the Cairo and Riyadh conferences, which may bring much-needed focus to efforts to end the country’s ordeal.

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