As the revolution morphed from peaceful protests into civil war, it was hard to identify a strong, credible alternative to President Bashar al Assad. That’s been a major obstacle to ending the fight, through any negotiated or enforced transition to a democratic Syria.
More than 20 months into Syria’s uprising a unified opposition coalition has begun to emerge. A National Coalition of opposition leaders took shape at a November meeting in Doha and took Cairo as its base. This latest grouping of Assad opponents has gained recognition from key European countries and regional powers, in hopes they can capably manage an end to the fight and a political transition.
Why did it take so long for a strong opposition to coalesce? The voices opposed to Assad have fractures and frictions among themselves – political and military groups with conflicting values and visions for a future Syria.
The holdup was also a function of Syria’s peculiar politics. Over more than four decades of Assad family rule, political life in Syria has been severely restricted. Opponents of the regime were regularly harassed, jailed, killed or forced into exile. Over time, that weakened the few political parties that dared to challenge the Assad regime.
After the people in Daraa took to the streets in March 2011 they quickly formed grassroots committees to guide the demonstrations and handle the humanitarian needs of the injured and displaced. The process was replicated across the country, creating a diverse network of local groups leading the opposition against President Bashar Al Assad.
That left the revolution without a clear or coordinated representative as protests continued to bubble up from the ground. They were Syrians raising their voices, many of them for the first time, and they operated without a single leader or central command.
As of now, no single group represents the Syrian revolution with enough influence on the ground to negotiate and enforce a ceasefire. Western countries hope the Syrian National Coalition can amass enough clout to set up an effective transitional government, but for now what exist is a panorama of players, each with some influence over the situation.
The opposition itself is divided into political groups and military forces, each with a different set of demands and a unique vision for what should happen next. In theory, they’ll need to work together in order to forge a future free Syria.
But as the war drags on analysts say that it’s the brigades fighting the Assad regime who gain greater influence. Among those brigades, it’s extremist militant groups like Jabhat al Nusra who’ve emerged as the most powerful – they have better weapons, wealth, and organizational infrastructure than more moderate Muslim fighters. That’s why analysts fear Syria’s war is radicalizing the country; jihadi groups represent a minority view in Syria, but they’re gaining more power through the fight.
The Palme Center on Syria’s Opposition: Divided they Stand
Carnegie Middle East Center’s Syria in Crisis: The Personalities
Institute for the Study of War: Syria’s Armed Opposition – Jihad in Syria
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