Riyadh conference key in seeking alternative to Assad

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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The upcoming Riyadh conference is the first serious attempt to map out Syria's future, and it's the first meeting of Syrian opposition groups to be held according to official and international desire.

It originated from the most recent Vienna talks and their sponsors, including the Russians. Representatives of different political and armed groups - Sunnis, Alawites, Druze and Christians - will attend the meeting. It will not, of course, include key players like ISIS and the al-Nusra Front.

The participants are required to reach an agreement in order to begin forming a transitional government within six months, so it can manage the country for a year and a half and then hold elections.

If the opposition groups end up feuding, they will lose, because world superpowers will decide the future course of Syria on their behalf.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The Riyadh conference is the first step to convince the opposition of a plan for a peaceful solution, one that is supposed to end the authority of Bashar al-Assad and mobilize international support to militarily cleanse Syria of Iran's militias, as well as ISIS and other terrorist organizations. Although the purpose of the conference seems mythical and the mission seems impossible, the Syrian opposition must think with its mind.

The Trojan horse

Not all of those participating in the Riyadh conference belong to a real opposition against the Syrian regime, as some of them describe themselves as "independent opposition." We know well that some of these figures are affiliated with Iran and Assad's regime. The "flexibility" displayed in the list of those invited, including some figures affiliated with Iran, may reflect one of the requirements set by the recent Vienna talks, which requested that Saudi Arabia organize the Syrian opposition conference. I expect those figures aligned with Iran to play the role of a Trojan horse during the Riyadh meeting, and attempt to thwart the prospective agreement by prolonging the debate and sabotaging the conference.

During the Vienna talks, Iran made sure not to say "no" to the idea of a government alternative to Assad, which means reducing Assad's jurisdictions but not excluding him. This regime would be similar to Iraq's where the president has very limited jurisdictions and the prime minister and parliament speaker have more powers. Therefore, real Syrian opposition groups confront a big challenge, not only on the level of reaching an agreement among one another, but also on the level of not being dragged into the sabotage game that Iran's representatives, disguised as opposition, may play.

The opposition, and primarily the Syrian National Coalition, must engage in this project for partial change for the purpose of thwarting the Iranian-Russian plan, which says the Syrian opposition is incapable of reaching an agreement to be an alternative to Assad. If the Syrian opposition succeeds at rising above its differences and manages to reach a practical solution to form a transitional government, then we will reach the implementation phase and the Iranian proposal will thus be besieged, while Russia is expected to exit its current alliance.

The Syrian opposition groups have nothing to lose if they reach an agreement and cooperate, to speed up the implementation of the decisions of the Vienna talks. If however the opposition groups end up feuding, they will lose, because world superpowers will decide the future course of Syria on their behalf.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 8, 2015.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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