Syria’s fractured opposition groups on Wednesday wound up talks in the Egyptian capital that descended into chaos and even fist fights as they tried to forge a common vision for a transition in their country.
More than 200 participants from 30 different movements as well as independent figures, civil society groups and activists had gathered in Cairo to form a unified front against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
After two days of meetings hosted by the Arab League, the groups agreed broadly that any transition must exclude Assad and agreed to support the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).
But they failed to present a united bloc as disagreements led to heated arguments, walkouts and even fist fights, participants said.
“Unfortunately yes, there were many disagreements,” said prominent Syrian activist Walid al-Bunni who attended the talks.
“Some groups pulled out,” he told AFP as he prepared to leave for Paris to attend a Friends of Syria meeting.
The Syrian Kurdish National Council stormed out of the meeting late on Tuesday, protesting that the final document failed to specifically mention the Kurds, a senior Arab League official told AFP.
There were also disagreements on the follow-up mechanism for the conference, as some groups accused others of trying to monopolise the process.
“Bring all these people together and there will be disagreements,” the official said.
“But they did agree on the final documents, which include an end to the Assad regime, support of the Free Syrian Army, and they agreed on basic constitutional principles of justice, democracy and pluralism,” he said.
The Cairo talks came after world powers meeting in Geneva on Saturday agreed a transition plan that was branded a failure by both the opposition and the Syrian state media.
The plan agreed in Geneva did not make any explicit call for Assad to cede power, as urged by Western governments, after Russia and China insisted that Syrians themselves must decide how the transition takes place.
“Exiled oppositions by nature tend to be fractured, with different people scattered all over the world. It’s difficult to form a common vision,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center.
“We have to lower our expectations and stop thinking that the opposition will transform overnight into a united, post-sectarian group,” he told AFP.
On Tuesday, the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) pulled out of the conference, citing political disputes,” according to a statement.
It said it refuses to “engage in political disputes, which play with the fate of our people and our revolution” or accept “agendas that place the revolution between the anvil and the hammer of international conflicts and the criminal Syrian regime.”
The Cairo talks had been boycotted by Syria-based rebel fighters, who denounced the talks as a “conspiracy” that served the policy goals of Damascus allies Moscow and Tehran.
“We refuse all kinds of dialogue and negotiation with the killer gangs …and we will not allow anyone to impose on Syria and its people the Russian and Iranian agendas,” said a statement signed by the FSA and “independent” activists.
They criticised the Cairo talks for “rejecting the idea of a foreign military intervention to save the people… and ignoring the question of buffer zones protected by the international community, humanitarian corridors, an air embargo and the arming of rebel fighters.”
A crackdown by the Assad regime has left over 16,500 dead in 16 months, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.