CAIRO (AP) — Egypt on Monday hosted a second meeting of Syrian opposition figures this year to try to find a political solution to the four-year conflict, saying it is championing a political process amid an international and regional focus on a military solution.
The two-day conference in Cairo was being mainly attended by secular politicians and tribal figures. There were no representatives from the Islamic and rebel factions battling to overthrow President Bashar Assad.
Organizers said the meeting is aimed at finding a formula for governing Syria based on previous U.N.-sponsored talks, which envisioned a transitional governing body including members of Assad's government and opposition figures.
"The political process has been frozen for a long time and escalating military operations have become the most attractive for international and regional efforts and capabilities, all at the expense of a political settlement," Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said at the start of the conference.
Previous efforts, including two rounds of U.N.-brokered talks, have led nowhere. Assad has refused international demands to step down. The opposition is meanwhile deeply divided among various Islamic and secular groups, often with competing regional sponsors and agendas.
Egypt is deeply suspicious of the Islamist groups that dominate the Syrian opposition, and has said it supports a political settlement that would include keeping part of Assad's government intact, according to a previous U.N. agreement reached in Geneva in 2012.
Cairo has been battling a growing Islamic insurgency and has faced a wave of attacks since the military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi nearly two years ago.
But Shoukry said his country it is well-positioned to mediate the Syrian conflict because it has not sought to arm the government or the rebels. Egypt's main Gulf ally, Saudi Arabia, is a leading sponsor of the rebels, while Russia, with which Cairo has sought closer ties in recent months, is a close ally of Assad's government.
Veteran Syrian exiled opposition figure Haitham Manna, who helped organize the Cairo conference, told the Associated Press that the meeting aims to unite as many groups as possible to discuss a national charter and a political roadmap.
"The basis of our work for more than a year is to bring together all the forces who see there is no room for a military solution and that a political solution is necessary," he said.
Egypt hosted an earlier meeting in January, where opposition figures drafted a 10-point document that backs a political solution, rejects any foreign military presence in Syria and limits arms to state institutions.
The former head of the Western-backed Syrian National Council was invited to this week's Cairo meeting, but the council itself was not.
The Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a key member of the SNC, said it was not invited. Morsi hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now outlawed in Egypt and officially branded a terrorist group.
"The Muslim Brotherhood doesn't count on the government of the (military) coup in Egypt," said Omar Mushaweh, a spokesman for Syria's Muslim Brotherhood.