Secretary of State John Kerry is in London today meeting with the Syrian opposition. Who exactly is the Syrian opposition? Purple Politics has created a guide informing you about the most prominent groups who are members of the Syrian opposition:
1) National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces
On November 11, 2012, Syrian opposition forces met in Doha, Qatar in hopes to recognize the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the country’s sole legitimate representative. Why is it important to formally recognize a single group as the “real” opposition group? Because then it becomes easier for outside countries and groups to send them financial and military aid and plan for the transition should they actually succeed in toppling the Assad regime.
The leaders of this group are Moaz al-Khalib who was chosen as the National Coalition’s first president. Khalib is a Sunni Muslim cleric who was once the imam of a major mosque in Damascus. Riad Seif, a veteran anti-Assad dissident, and Suhair al-Atassi, the descendent of a famous political family who also in the past has held one of the last open political discussion groups in Damascus, were elected vice-presidents of the National Coalition.
The National Coalition called for rebel and political opposition factions to unite under the Coalition’s leadership framework to “end Syrian’s suffering and transition Syria to a democratic, civil, pluralistic, strong and stable state.”
Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates were the first to recognize the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people followed by France, the UK, EU, and U.S. The following month, 100 countries followed suit in recognizing the National Coalition. Iran, China, and Russia were not included as they have backed President Assad.
The National Coalition is dedicated to upholding these principles:
- absolute indepdence for Syria
- preservation of the unity of the Syrian people
-overthrowing the Syrian regime, dismantling the security forces, and holding responsible parties accountable for crimes against the Syrian people
-uphold their commitment for a civil, democratic Syria
The National Coalition has the support of the rebel Supreme Military Council and the Free Syrian Army, but does not include the National Co-ordination Committee which represents the the oppositions groups who reject violence and want to negotiate with the Assad regime, something the National Coalition is vehemently opposed to. The Al-Nusra front, an Al Qaeda branch operating in Syria, is also not included in the National Coalition. The Al-Nusra front, the most aggressive and arguable the most successful rebel fighters in Syria, recently pledged allegiane to the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The National Coalition faced many problems and on March 24, 2013, Khalib (the president of the Coalition) resigned due to foreign powers placing too many condition on the aid to opposition and armed rebel groups.
The National Coalition has failed to assert overall control over Syria’s rebel groups including jihadist groups who have refused to recognize the coalition’s supremacy.
2. Syrian National Council (SNC)
The Syrian National council is a coalition of opposition groups formed in 2011. The SNC offered a credible alternative to the Syrian government and has served as a point of contact for the international community.
The president of the SNC, George Sabra, is a Christian and veteran dissident. The SNC is committed to these principles:
- working to overthrow the regime using all legal means
- affirming national unity among all component of Syrian society and rejecting all calls for ethnic strife
- remaining non-violent
- rejecting foreign military intervention
The SNC supports a democratic Syria, a “parliamentary republic with sovereignty of the people.” The SNC is dominated by Syria’s majority Sunni Muslim community.The SNC has had difficulty working with the Free Syrian Army, however, the two groups have agreed to co-ordinate their operations.
3. National Co-ordination Committee (NCC)
Also formed in 2011, the NCC consists of 13 left-leaning political parties, Kurdish political parties, and independent political and youth activitists. The leader of the NCC is opposition figure Hussein Abdul Azim. the NCC, unlike the Syrian National Council, supports dialogue with the Assad regime only on the condition of the withdrawal of the military from the streets and the end of attacks on peaceful protestors. The NCC is also opposed to any foreign intervention and prefers sanctions to increase pressure on Assad.
4. Free Syrian Army (FSA)
The FSA, also formed in 2011, was founded by deserters of the Syrian army and led by Riyad al-Assad, a former air force colonel. The group said it will work hand in hand with the people to achieve freedom and topple the regime. The FSA claims to have up to 40,000 soldiers however some analysts believe the number is closer to 10,000. The army is made up of mostly Sunni Muslims however its leadership is mainly Alawite. Several Western powers have pledged to provide millions of dollars in non-lethal aid to the FSA, including communications and intelligence support.
The UN Human Rights Council announced that it had documented instances of gross human rights violations committed by members of various FSA groups including torture and arbitrary executions.
Watch PBS Frontline’s program on Syria Behind the Lines