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

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid