A Geneva peace conference for Syria is generating angry reactions from members of the Syrian opposition, as several leading figures are demanding guarantees for the departure of Syrian President Bashar Assad in exchange for their attendance.
The latest blast came Sunday from George Sabra, the head of the Syrian National Council, the predecessor of the current umbrella opposition group in exile, the National Coalition.
Sabra said the proposed Geneva conference was a device to hide the international community’s failure to end the war in Syria, and threatened that if the Coalition decided to attend his group would pull out of it.
Also speaking out over the weekend was Ahmad Tohme, who has been tabbed to head a provisional government by the Coalition.
Tohme has yet to form the government, but said in a newspaper interview that he was confident about the opportunity to win back “three-quarters” of those who have joined the ranks of hard-line Islamist groups fighting in Syria. This would happen, he continued, after the provisional government is formed and begins to offer services to the public. In the interview, Tohme noted that he and his team have been holding intensive consultations with several different civilian and military actors in Syria, as part of efforts to form a government.
The remarks by Sabra are justifiable, but only on moral and humanitarian grounds. The National Coalition eclipsed Sabra and his National Council because they were unable to offer a viable political alternative to the regime in Damascus.
Now, with Geneva waiting in the wings, the same lack of leadership is evident. Sabra and his colleagues are within their rights to dismiss Geneva, but they should be working as hard as possible to offer something to the Syrian people that will work.
As for Tohme, his upbeat tone about conducting consultations with leading elements of the Syrian opposition inside the country would be praiseworthy, if it were the summer or fall of 2011, and not a few months shy of 2014.
The Syrian people have heard enough about opposition figures consulting with each other. After more than 100,000 deaths, thousands of people being imprisoned, several million displaced from their homes, and a society and economy in ruins, they need to unveil a working plan, immediately, to end the war and bring about meaningful political change.
As for Tohme’s belief that most people who have joined jihadist groups will come to their senses and rejoin the national fabric after his government is formed, it’s a wager that inspires confidence in very few people.
All members of the opposition should be working overtime to find a solution to one of the most worrying aspects of the war in Syria: the growing role of hard-line Islamist extremists. If the opposition can solve this urgent problem, dealing with issues such as Geneva and a provisional government would become much easier.