World Bulletin / News Desk
Syria's new opposition coalition held its first full meeting on Wednesday to discuss forming a transitional government but disagreements broke out at the outset, showing that President Bashar al-Assad's foes remain deeply divided.
The 60 or so delegates, chosen after talks in Qatar this month, are meeting in Cairo ahead of a gathering of the Friends of Syria, a grouping of dozens of nations that had pledged mostly non-military backing for the revolt.
Syrian National Council (SNC) is, the first major opposition grouping formed in Istanbul last year.
However, the SNC has up to 27 members in the new coalition and a dispute broke out when the meeting started as the council tried to increase its share, delegates at the meeting said, as talks continued into the night to try to find a solution.
"This is not a salad you mix and add to at whim. The future of Syria is at stake and the Brotherhood is pushing more of its hawks into the coalition, although it already has half of the seats," said one delegate.
He pointed to many non-coalition members who attended the meeting, or were present in the Cairo Hotel where the conference is taking place. Most were members of the Brotherhood or close to the group, which bore the brunt of a bloody repression by Assad's father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, in the 1980s.
One SNC member, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "A compromise is being hammered out, but we still have to agree on the internal regulations of the coalition before we can proceed to address the major political challenges."
The several-day conference will also select committees to manage aid and communications, a process that is developing into a power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood on one side and secular members and independent Islamists on the other.
"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, the other vice president.
Atassi is only one of three female members of the coalition, in which the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies account for around 40 to 45 percent.
Rivalries have also intensified between the opposition in exile and rebels on the ground, where the death toll has reached 40,000.
The rebels have become an increasingly formidable fighting force on the ground and the new coalition has given rise to hopes that 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 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 Assad's Baath Party could exclude him.
Another possible contender is Asaad Mustafa, a respected former agriculture minister under Assad's late father. Mustafa, who now lives in Kuwait, left the country decades ago after protesting against Hafez's policies.
Atassi said that major figures had been overlooked in the new coalition, such as veteran campaigners Aref Dalila, a prominent Alawite, and Fawaz Tello, and that efforts were needed to bring on board the main Kurdish political grouping, the Kurdish National Council, which has stayed away.
She added that, unlike the SNC, the new coalition would work with important figures even if they did not become full members.
But 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 Assad to step down, an option deemed unthinkable by opposition groups in Syria.
Last Mod: 29 Kasım 2012, 15:54