The Cairo Meeting: Regional Powers vie for Control Over the Syrian Opposition

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Former Egyptian ambassador Mohamed Ibrahim Shaker, the head of the Egyptian Center for foreign affairs (C) and Syrian actor Jamal Suleiman (R) take part in a meeting attended by various Syrian opposition factions on January 22, 2015 in the Egyptian capital Cairo to discuss a Russian proposal for a meeting in Moscow with representatives of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad aimed at finding an end to the four-year conflict in the war-battered country. AFP/Mohammed al-Shahed

Published Friday, January 23, 2015

In a response to regional changes and events on the ground in Syria, members of the Syrian opposition met yesterday in Cairo with the task of creating a body willing to accept any attempts for negotiations.

Yesterday, what appeared to be a new contest between regional powers for control of the Syrian Opposition began in Cairo, with Moscow and Damascus, in the meantime, awaiting the outcome. Riyadh, to put it bluntly, pushed its new ally in Cairo towards creating a new opposition body that could be relied upon in future negotiations. Such negotiations have become more likely than ever before in light of the US’ tacit acceptance of the political solution advocated by Russia, which is hosting a meeting between the Syrian regime and opposition from January 26 till January 29.

The past few months have shown that Saudi Arabia depends on Cairo, with its new military regime, as a main regional pillar of opposition to the Qatari-Turkish alliance, which supports the Muslim Brotherhood. This open confrontation between the two sides manifested itself yesterday in the effort to create a new Syrian opposition body that will not be dominated by figures close to either Qatar or Turkey.

Egypt, under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, could be an asset capable of pushing for a new project in this context. The Egyptian president restored close ties with Russia politically, economically and in the arms trade, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, Sisi does not provoke Damascus.

During a visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) two days ago, Sisi stated: “We have principles that we do not deviate from, like preserving our countries and Arab national security. With regards to Syria, it is very important for Egypt to maintain Syria’s security and unity and not allow this important part of the Arab nation to be divided... What is happening in Syria today is not in our interest at all. There must be a serious effort to end the crisis there and there should be a clear position vis-a-vis the terrorist organizations and militias that exacerbate the Syrian crisis.”

A senior source in the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Al-Akhbar yesterday that “the presence of (some figures from) the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) at the conference reflects the Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s success in ending unilateral Turkish control of this matter.” The source argued that “Cairo will play an important role in achieving a final settlement of the Syrian crisis, considering the new direction Egypt has taken in support of ending the conflict while preserving Syrian territorial unity.”

When asked about Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem’s position that he “gives no weight” to the Egyptian meeting on the grounds that the Syrian government was not invited to it, the senior Egyptian source said that the statement “expresses a normal Syrian position vis-a-vis the Syrian opposition.” He elaborated: “Damascus will be informed of the Syrian opposition talks through Moscow as soon as they are over and as soon as a consensual vision is reached. Then an official Egyptian position will be announced.”

Under these auspices, the Syrian opposition summit began in Cairo with 33 Syrian opposition figures from internal and exiled opposition groups, who received personal invitations from the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs (ECFA), and with the noted absence of several opposition figures from many Syrian political parties and forces.

The Syrian National Coalition declared that it did not attend in an official capacity, but that some of its members did. A SNC member living in Cairo, Bassam al-Malak, said that the National Coordination Body’s (NCB) chairperson Hassan Abdel Azim, as well as Haitham al-Manaa, Hussein Awdat, Aref Dalila, Asef Daaboul, Majid Hussein and Safwan Akash were among those present at the meeting. The former President of the SNC, Ahmed Jarba, attended, in addition to Qasim Khatib, Ahmed Awad and Fayez Sara, while people like Michel Kilo and George Sabra were absent. Additionally, no figures from opposition groups like the National Working Group of Cordoba, the Damascus Declaration, or the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, attended the meeting.

For his part, Mohammed Hijazi, head of NCB’s Arab World Branch, said, “The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the question of attending talks in Moscow, unifying the Syrian opposition’s political vision, creating a political committee to prepare for the drafting of this vision and creating a national fund to promote the implementation of this political vision.”

Chairperson of ECFA, Ambassador Mohammed Ibrahim Shaker, said during the opening session that “the meeting includes a group of national Syrian figures, hoping to pave the way for them to agree — independently and without any pressure — on a national vision that enables them to propose a national political project for the future of Syria.”

The opening session lasted about ten minutes and will be followed by closed sessions today and tomorrow at the Egyptian Council’s headquarters.

Washington trains opposition fighters

Ahmed Tohme, head of the SNC’s interim government said that “training the armed opposition’s fighters” will begin next month as 400 military trainers from the United States arrived recently and the leadership of the SNC and its interim government met with the US general in charge of this issue. In an interview with Turkey’s Anadolu Agency, in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, Tohme said that “a senior US general — meaning General Michael Nagata, the Syria director for the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force — came last week to Istanbul and met the leadership of the SNC and the [interim] government, whereby major agreements about training operations were reached.”

Al-Akhbar

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Since the election of a Turkish citizen, Khaked Khoja, as the leader of the Syrian opposition it is obvious that this group needs to be replaced. Khaled Khoja, Erdogan's puppet has repeated the call for toppling Bashar al Assad. Erdogan has called for the toppling of Al Sissi. That has infuriated Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries.

Saudi Arabia has withdrawn from the SNC and is now setting up a new opposition group closer to Arabs that will go to Moscow representing the Syrian opposition. That's what it happening in Cairo.
Turkey is weakened by its internal political and corruption problems, it is accused by the international community of complicity with the jihadists and its reputation of a model democracy is tarnished by Erdogan's authoritarism.
Therefore it has little leverage in preserving the role of the SNC. It still blackmails the USA to continue supporting this group that it created and nurtured. The USA gave 6 millions dollars to that group for humanitarian activities within rebel held areas. It has also started the training of 'moderate' rebels in Turkey.
These are clearly cover up actions with little impact so that the USA does not appear to have made a drastic reverse in its policy toward Bashar Al Assad.
Has Turkey already accepted that it was time to stop the economical fall resulting from the deterioration of Turkey's relation with most of the Arab countries? Turkey's elections are looming. Insecurity and a weak economy may affect the votes. It cannot pursue its involvement in the Syrian issue as it has many higher priority to tackle. Davutoglu is desperately struggling to adjust Turkey's Syria and Egypt policy against the will of Erdogan. Turkey is trapped in its own paranoiac making.

sir the cursed house of al saud should mind their business and not interfer in our Suriya

our country WE DECIDE
no one can speak for Suriya
and the western zionist mafia death squads will NEVER QUALIFY

Cairo should look out for their country and stop being a thug on hire

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