Shameful Display

The meeting of the Syrian opposition that took place in Cairo this week was the latest low point in a long-running saga of dysfunction.

Under “normal” circumstances, an inability to agree by factions opposing the regime of President Bashar Assad could be considered comical, but amid a daily backdrop of horrific violence and destruction, the performance in Cairo was truly tragic.

Inside Syria, people are being killed every day, and they deserve better than to see their supposed representatives turning a meeting hall into a boxing ring.

The opposition members, after all, had convened to discuss the outlines of a post-Assad era, making their fight over something that has yet to even materialize even more disturbing.

Not surprisingly, leading opposition factions inside Syria, such as the rebel Free Syrian Army, were adamant in saying that they were boycotting the Cairo talks.

One of the saddest aspects of the entire affair was the trigger for the brawl that erupted between opposition groups in Egypt. It involved the role of Syria’s Kurds in a post-Assad state – anyone who has been following the Syrian uprising for more than a year would recognize the significance of the Kurdish question.

From the beginning, the mainline Syrian National Council has been unable to say or do anything that is reassuring enough to the majority Syria’s various Kurdish groups to enthusiastically join the popular revolt.

The Kurds want guarantees about their status in a post-Baath Syria, and given the divisions among the Kurds themselves, a smart Syrian opposition would have already figured out how to reassure them.

Instead, the same old lack of clarity and political courage has been the name of the game by Syria’s opposition, which is unwilling to see that the circumstances might require a re-think of their cautious strategy.

The opposition, for now, has failed to give people in the country much in the way of support other than empty words and failed meeting after failed meeting.

But more significantly, the proceedings in Cairo have served as a huge gift for the regime in Damascus.

Such failed meetings only highlight the disarray within Syria’s opposition, as both its friends and enemies can talk about the “lack of an alternative” to Assad.

The Cairo meeting is the kind of golden opportunity for the regime to press ahead comfortably with its campaign of destruction against Syrian society and the country’s economy.

Damascus is already sure of its support from Iran, Russia and China, and it can observe that after the opposition’s performance in Cairo, the United States will have even less enthusiasm for backing the Syrian opposition, and more reason to hide behind the Russian veto as an excuse for doing nothing of substance.

In discussing Syria’s opposition, one can turn the common expression on its head: with enemies like this, the Syrian regime might not even need its friends.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 05, 2012, on page 7.




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