Syria conference postponed
Organisers of a conference aimed at uniting the divided Syrian opposition said today it had been postponed until they can agree on fair representation of disparate groups.
The conference, which had been scheduled for Qatar from October 15th to 17th, was intended to reorganise the Syrian National Council, the main opposition bloc, and inject new blood into the organisation, which has struggled to win credibility as a democratic alternative to President Bashar al-Assad.
Wider representation could dilute the power of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has had de facto control over the Council since it was formed in Turkey in August last year, and assuage Western demands for Dr Assad's foes to unite.
"The conference has been postponed for a maximum of 10 days. It will be a large gathering and we have to be prepared and come up with balances between the different groups," veteran opposition figure George Sabra, one of a minority of secular figures in the Council, told Reuters.
Mr Sabra, speaking from Paris, is an ally of Riad al-Turk, the influential "grand old man" of the revolt who operates underground in Syria.
Another source directly involved in organising the conference said it aimed to bring 450 delegates under the Syrian National Council umbrella compared with 313 now, boosting representation of grassroots activists and women.
"The Muslim Brotherhood may end up having less than half of the delegates after the conference," he said, adding that the SNC executive committee would be increased from 12 to 25 and the executive assembly from 50 to 60.
But the source, a Council official who did not want to be named, said Burhan Ghalioun, a former Council head who was forced to resign in May after mounting criticism in opposition circles that he had been president too long and was a stooge of the Muslim Brotherhood, could return as president.
"Ghalioun has strong backing from Qatar, which is a big deal and may return him as president," the source said.
Western powers have criticised the Council as too fractious and influenced by Islamists, which has damaged its efforts to secure wider international recognition.
In Paris, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said: "We want the opposition to unite. There will soon be a meeting in Doha and I met the SNC leader two days ago and I insisted on the need for union of all opponents as quickly as possible."
The current Council president, Abdulbaset Sieda, said yesterday that reorganisation of the Council would precede crucial talks in the Qatari capital Doha with other opponents of Assad aimed at creating a Syrian transitional government.
But diplomats said the rift was widening between the Council and rebel forces inside Syria who have been gaining more territory in recent months.
"The external-based opposition has not gotten its act together till now," an Arab diplomat said. "The rebel commander who will seize the presidential palace in Damascus is going to have the most say in the future Syria."