THE BLOG
12/16/2015 03:17 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2016

Riyadh Conference: What Makes It Different?

Nearly two years after the Geneva II peace talks failed to produce a political solution to the Syrian conflict, the Syrian opposition convened last week to discuss the prospect of a new round of negotiations with the government in Damascus to end a civil war, now approaching its 5-year anniversary. Inclusivity was the defining feature of the Riyadh conference, which included freedom fighters, ethnic minorities and representatives from all of Syria's major faith communities.

The diversity that characterized this most recent meeting came as a pleasant surprise and highlighted the collective responsibility Syria's opposition increasingly feels to chart a better future for the country. For those present, this burden of responsibility was strikingly visible on the faces of the attendees and could be heard in the words they issued.

As a conflict resolution expert and former diplomat, it was clear to us that the dialogue gave voice to a spectrum of opinions concerning Syria's war; yet despite our differing views, the discussion was characterized by civility, with individuals genuinely listening to the perspectives being offered by their counterparts. Motivated by the weight of Syria's tragedy, and the price being paid by the civilian population, the opposition cohesively worked together to identify solutions.

Significantly, Riyadh marks the first time that many opposition groups have had the chance to meet in person. This created a unique space for us to build bridges. Previous public rifts abated as opposition factions seized the collective opportunity to save the lives of Syria's future generations.

Although it has traditionally been difficult to produce a signed statement at the end of such a conference, at Riyadh we succeeded in producing a balanced communiqué. The participants' range of ideas were pieced together through pursuit of common ground and a shared vision for the future of the country. Among those present, it was common to hear condemnation of a regime that's destroyed the country and the rise of extremists within the war. But what really helped us move forward was the work of the Saudi mediator, who played an important and guiding role in the conference. Through his knowledge, diplomacy and personality, he created a conducive atmosphere for the representatives to convene.

An important outcome of the conference was the establishment of a committee responsible for the upcoming round of negotiations with the government in Damascus. This ideologically diverse, multi-faith and multi-ethnic committee includes 34 members, who will now be responsible for the formation of a final negotiation team to engage in the peace talks.

Even though the Syrian opposition has taken recent steps to achieve unity, major undertakings remain before Syrians will be able to bridge the gaps that have emerged among them over the past five years. However, there is real hope for a brighter future. Heading to the breakfast room on the conference's final day, we noticed two colleagues from distinctly different political backgrounds sitting together and sharing a meal.

Perhaps this is our new Syria.

Hind Kabawat and Hossam Hafez
Members of the High Negotiation Committee