Will Egypt seek a deal with Syria to keep extremists at bay?

What Arabic commentators are saying about the Syrian crisis.

It seems that Egypt is paving the way for a rapprochement with the Assad regime under the banner of fighting the Muslim Brotherhood, argued Abdel Bari Atwan in an opinion piece on the London-based news website Rai Al Youm.

Egypt’s foreign ministry invited 11 independent Syrian opposition figures from various political and religious backgrounds to participate in a Cairo symposium early this week.

This suggests that Egypt is trying to find a new Syrian political body and crystallise a stance which is different to that of the Friends of Syria Group, with a view to bringing the Syrian regime back to the Arab fold, the writer said.

The importance of this move stems from three pivotal facts. The first is that the conference came days before Egypt’s presidential elections slated for May 26 and 27, which former army chief Abdel Fattah El Sisi will certainly win. Mr El Sisi won 95 per cent of the votes cast abroad, and it would not be a surprise if he gets the same percentage in the final results, the writer said.

The second is that Egypt’s foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, met the carefully-selected Syrian participants, including Muaz Al Khatib, Haytham Manna, Aref Dalila and Jihad Makdissi – a telltale move that reflects the “future Syria” the Egyptian government is looking towards.

The third fact is that these Syrian guests have two things in common: they are all secular, with not a single Islamist among them, and second, they are all against arming the opposition and toppling the regime by military means.

The question is whether this new move is entirely Egyptian or has been made in coordination with Egypt’s allies in the Gulf, the US, the UK and France, the writer said. Saudi Arabia has been the greatest supporter of the Syrian National Coalition.

Therefore the Egyptian initiative, if it has been coordinated with Riyadh, might indicate an imminent change in the Saudi policy towards the Syrian conflict. This argument is backed by the fact that Riyadh has indicated that it is willing to open a dialogue with Iran over all contentious issues, including Syria.

Egypt might have the most active role in the Syrian crisis in the future and the would-be president, Mr El Sisi, might announce his support for the Syrian regime under the banner of fighting terrorism.

Both Mr El Sisi and Syrian leader Bashar Al Assad are hostile towards political Islam, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. And, of course, their victory is certain in their respective elections.

Meanwhile, Areeb Rantawi remarked in the Jordanian daily Addustour that the Syrian regime is making steady progress on the battlefield while the opposition is making gains on the political front.

While a delegation from the SNC made an unprecedented visit to the US to meet President Barack Obama and other senior officials, the Syrian government and its allies were ecstatic about retaking Old Homs and establishing control over most parts of the strategic governorate.

Similarly, while the Syrian delegation was paying a crucial visit to France to meet the French president, Francois Hollande, and receive the Syrian embassy building in Paris, the Syrian regime was making remarkable victories on two fronts, breaking a year-long rebel siege of a prison in Aleppo in the north and mounting a surprise offensive on rebels in Daraa in the south.

The order of the day is that the Syrian regime is winning on the ground at home, whereas the opposition is succeeding abroad, politically and diplomatically, amid reports that some pro-opposition Arab countries have renewed efforts to grant the SNC Syria’s Arab League seat.

But as it stands, it is military support that the Syrian opposition needs most, as the Syrian army troops continue to make headway in the war. In the meantime, the West, concerned about the growing influence of extremists, remains hesitant about supplying the opposition with game-changing weapons.

The regime, the writer said in conclusion, will continue to make breakthroughs on the ground, the opposition will continue to be divided and fight each other, and the international community will keep backing the SNC politically and financially, and to a lesser degree, militarily.

The battle in Syria will run for a very long time unless there is a deal between the US and Russia, and a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of which seem unlikely in the near future.

aezzouitni@thenational.ae

Published: May 22, 2014 04:00 AM

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