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

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    Party's presumptive presidential nominee, her vice presidential pick deliver optimistic message in Florida as they campaign for first time together

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora