Syria’s new opposition coalition was to hold its first full meeting yesterday to discuss forming a transitional government crucial to win effective Arab and Western support for the revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The 60 or so delegates, chosen after marathon talks in Qatar this month, are meeting in Cairo ahead of a gathering of the Friends of Syria, a grouping of dozens of countries that had pledged mostly non-military backing for the revolt, but which are worried by the influence of Islamists in the opposition.
“The objective is to name the prime minister for a transitional government, or at least have a list of candidates ahead of the Friends of Syria meeting,” said Suhair al-Atassi, one of the coalition’s two vice-presidents.
Atassi is only one of three female members of the coalition, in which the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies account for about 40 percent to 45 percent.
The two-day meeting will also select committees to manage aid and communications, a process that is developing into a power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and secular members.
Rivalries have also intensified between the opposition in exile and rebels on the ground, where the death toll has reached 40,000 after 20 months of violence.
However, the new coalition has given rise to hopes that al-Assad’s enemies can set aside their differences and focus on securing international support to remove him.
“We have ideological differences with the coalition, but it will achieve its mission if it brings us outside military help,” said Abu Nidal Mustafa, from Ansar al-Islam, an Islamist rebel unit in Damascus.
Liaison between the coalition and rebels has been assigned to former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab, the highest-ranking official to defect since the revolt, coalition sources said.
His name is also being touted as a possible prime minister, but his history in al-Assad’s Baath Party could exclude him.
After the Syrian National Council (SNC), the first major opposition grouping, formed in Istanbul last year, but fail to win broad international support, a Western and Gulf-backed effort produced the new coalition earlier this month.
Its head, Damascus preacher Moaz Alkhatib, has repeatedly rejected sectarianism. However, Atassi said major figures have been overlooked in the new coalition and that the main Kurdish political grouping, the Kurdish National Council, must be brought onboard.
Atassi said that, unlike the SNC, the new coalition would work with important figures even if they do not become full members.
Yet the coalition already faces a major test. It has not agreed on how to deal with international proposals that envisage a transitional period without requiring al-Assad to step down, an option deemed unthinkable by opposition groups in Syria.