News / Middle East

Syrian Opposition Has Many Faces

Rebel forces have been fighting the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad for nearly 18 months.  But many experts and Western politicians say it is unclear who makes up the Syrian opposition.

Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at The London School of Economics and Political Science, says there is more than 100 armed Syrian oppositions.

“There are multiple factions and sensibilities and points of view within the opposition, outside and inside Syria,” he says.  “You are talking about Islamists - not only the Muslim Brotherhood.  You also have Salafis.  You have moderate Islamists.  You have nationalists.  You have secularists.  You have leftists,” he adds.  “It is one of the most complex and complicated portraits that one can really draw, when one talks about the Syrian oppositions.”

Splits Within Syrian Opposition

Gerges says that inevitably, there are splits within the various groups.  “Not only are there major cleavages among opposition groups outside Syria, in particular the Syrian National Council and other groups, you also have a major divide between the opposition inside Syria, or rather armed opposition groups inside Syria and opposition groups outside Syria.”

Analysts point out that one way of looking at the opposition is that it is divided, fragmented, inefficient and does not present a coherent alternative to President Bashar al-Assad's government.

But Nadim Shehadi, a Middle East expert with London’s Chatham House, sees the opposition in a different light.  

“The other way of looking at it is that division is its strength.  Division is, in a way, a sign of a healthy political society.  This is the whole of Syrian society, with all its historical diversity and ethnic diversity and ideological diversity emerging for the first time,” he says.  “This is what will create a democracy in the future.  The expectation of a united opposition under a strong leader is a wish for another dictator.”

Analysts say it will be interesting to see whether opposition factions will be able to put aside their differences and govern Syria if, as opposition forces predict, Assad is forced from office.

Syrian Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass (July 2012 photo)Syrian Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass (July 2012 photo)
x
Syrian Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass (July 2012 photo)
Syrian Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass (July 2012 photo)
Leadership Under General Manaf Tlass?

One person who has been identified as a possible transitional government leader is General Manaf Tlass, who defected to France a few weeks ago.  Tlass’s father, Mustafa Tlass, was for many decades Syria’s defense minister, and Manaf Tlass was a childhood friend and a close and trusted aide to Bashar al-Assad.

But many experts, including Fawaz Gerges, say Tlass is tainted by his former association with the Syria's president.

“Many of the opposition members, in particular inside Syria, remember the Tlass family as a very close family to the Assad family,” Gerges says.  “Its history, its close, long history with the Assad family does not really allow it to play a critical role in the post-Assad regime.”

Analyst Nadim Shehadi adds that the opposition outside Syria does not have legitimacy inside the country.  Even the Syrian National Council based in Istanbul is seen as too close to Turkey.

Shehadi says the real political revolution is happening on the ground in Syria.  “And this is what is getting the regime mad.  The regime can handle violence, and can prevail over violence and has been promoting violence.  The regime can survive 10 years with the violence," says Shehadi.  “But the regime cannot accept for one single day that there is a legitimate opposition, political opposition against it.  They still describe them to this day as mercenaries and part of the conspiracy against Syria.”

Many experts say the opposition is still a long way from gaining the upper hand because it appears that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is ready to fight to the end as did former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid