Syrian opposition

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This article is about Syrian opposition during the Syrian Civil War. For other historic opposition in Syria, see Syrian opposition (disambiguation).
Syrian Arab Republic

الجمهورية العربية السورية
Al-Jumhūrīyah Al-ʻArabīyah As-Sūrīyah
Capital Idlib (Provisional)[1]
Official languages Arabic
Government Semi-presidential republic
 •  President of the Syrian National Coalition Anas al-Abdah[2]
 •  Prime Minister Ahmad Tu'mah
Legislature General Assembly
 •  Formation 18 March 2013 
Syrian opposition
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Syrian opposition

The Syrian opposition (Arabic: المعارضة السورية al-Muʕaraḍah as-Sūrīyah‎‎ Arabic pronunciation: [ʔalmuʕaɾaˈdˤa ʔas.suːˈɾiːja]) is an umbrella term for the political structure represented by the Syrian National Coalition and associated anti-regime Syrian groups with certain territorial control and an alternative Syrian government, claiming to be the legitimate Syrian Arab Republic. The Syrian opposition evolved since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, from groups calling for regime change in Syria and who have opposed its Ba'athist government. Prior to the Syrian Civil War, the term "opposition" (Arabic "mu'araDah") had been used to refer to traditional political actors, for example the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change; that is, groups and individuals who have had a history of dissidence against the Syrian state.

The first opposition structures to form in the Syrian uprising were local protest-organizing committees. These formed in April 2011, as protesters graduated from spontaneous protests to protests organized by meetings beforehand.

"The core of the grassroots civil opposition is the youth, mainly from the working and middle-classes, in which women and diverse religious and ethnic groups play active roles. Many of these activists remain non-affiliated to traditional political ideologies but are motivated by concerns for freedom, dignity, social justice and basic human rights."[3]

The Syrian uprising phase, from March 2011 until the start of August 2011, was characterized by a consensus for nonviolent struggle among the uprising's participants. Thus the conflict could not have been yet characterized as a "civil war", until the organization of armed struggle began on the anti-government side. This occurred beginning from 29 July 2011, allowing the conflict to meet the international political definition of "civil war."

Opposition groups in Syria took a new turn in late 2011, during the Syrian Civil War, as they united to form the Syrian National Council (SNC),[4] which has received significant international support and recognition as a partner for dialogue. The Syrian National Council was recognized or supported in some capacity by at least 17 member states of the United Nations, with three of those (France, United Kingdom and the United States) being permanent members of the Security Council.[5][6][7][8][9][10] The Syrian National Council is considered to be influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood and include many affiliated members. The Islamic Front, a major anti-regime Islamist Sunni militia during the Syrian Civil War, is affiliated with the Syrian National Council.

A broader opposition umbrella group, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, was formed in November 2012 and has gained recognition as the "legitimate representative of the Syrian people" by the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG) and as a "representative of aspirations of Syrian people" by the Arab League.[11] The Syrian National Coalition was subsequently given the seat of Syria in the Arab League, with Ba'athist Syria representative suspended. The Syrian National Council, initially a part of the Syrian National Coalition, withdrew on 20 January 2014 in protest at the decision of the coalition to attend the Geneva talks.[12] Despite tensions, the Syrian National Council retains a degree of ties with the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. Syrian opposition groups held reconciliation talks in Astana, Kazakhstan in October 2015.[13]


The Ba'ath Party seized power in Syria in 1963 after a coup d'état. The head of state since 1971 has been a member of the al-Assad family, beginning with Hafez al-Assad (1971–2000). Syria was under emergency law from the time of the 1963 Syrian coup d'état until 21 April 2011, when it was rescinded by Bashar al-Assad, Hafez's eldest surviving son and the current President of Syria.[14] As the revolutionary wave commonly referred to as the Arab Spring began to take shape in early 2011, Syrian protesters began consolidating opposition councils.


The Istanbul Meeting for Syria took place on 26 April 2011, during Syrian civil uprising, and being first of its kind convention of the Syrian opposition. It was followed by the Antalya Conference for Change in Syria or Antalya Opposition Conference, was a three-day conference of representatives of the Syrian opposition held from 31 May until 3 June 2011 in Antalya, Turkey.

Organized by Ammar al-Qurabi's National Organization for Human Rights in Syria and financed by the wealthy Damascene Sanqar family, it led to a final statement refusing compromise or reform solutions, and to the election of a 31-member leadership.

The Antalya conference was succeeded by a Muslim Brotherhood-organized followup meeting two days later in Brussels, and another one in Paris that was addressed by Bernard Henri Levy.[15] It however took a number of further meetings in Istanbul and Doha, before at yet another meeting on 23 August 2011 in Istanbul created a permanent transitional council in form of the Syrian National Council.[16]

Political groups

The Syrian opposition is not a rigid political structure, but a loose alliance of anti-regime political and armed groups dominated by Syrian Sunni Arabs, with Syrian National Coalition being the most prominent of those. In December 2015, the Syrian opposition convened in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,[17] with 34 groups present at the convention. The convention of the opposition was dominated by the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and included also the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, as well as militant groups of Jaysh al-Islam and the Southern Front. As of December 2015 convention, the Syrian opposition notably excluded the Kurdish PYD party and its affiliates, as well as Salafist groups such as Al-Nusra Front; the powerful Ahrar al-Sham organization was invited for the Riyadh convention, but decided to withdrew due to disagreements with other parties.[17]

Syrian National Coalition

Official logo of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is a coalition of opposition groups and individuals, mostly exilic, who support the Syrian revolution side and are against the Assad government ruling Syria. It formed on 11 November 2012 at a conference of opposition groups and individuals held in Doha, Qatar. It has relations with other opposition organizations such as the Syrian National Council, the previous iteration of an exilic political body attempting to represent the grassroots movement; the union of the two was planned, but has failed to realize. Moderate Islamic preacher Moaz al-Khatib, who had protested on the Syrian street in the early nonviolent phase of the uprising, served a term as the president of the coalition, but soon resigned his post, frustrated with the gap between the body and the grassroots of the uprising inside Syria.[18] Riad Seif and Suheir Atassi, both of whom had also protested on the street in Syria early in the uprising, were elected as vice presidents. Mustafa Sabbagh is the coalition's secretary-general.[19]

Notable members of the Coalition:

Syrian National Council

The Syrian National Council (al-Majlis al-Waṭanī as-Sūri) sometimes known as SNC,[22][23] the Syrian National Transitional Council[24] or the National Council of Syria, is a Syrian opposition coalition, based in Istanbul (Turkey), formed in August 2011 during the Syrian civil uprising against the government of Bashar al-Assad.[25][26]

Initially, the council denied seeking to play the role of a government in exile,[27] but this changed a few months later when violence in Syria intensified.[28][29][30] The Syrian National Council seeks the end of Bashar al-Assad's rule and the establishment of a modern, civil, democratic state. The SNC National Charter lists human rights, judicial independence, press freedom, democracy and political pluralism as its guiding principles.[31]

In November 2012, the Council agreed to unify with several other opposition groups to form the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces with the SNC having 22 out of 60 seats.[32][33][34] The Council withdrew from the Coalition on 20 January 2014 in protest at the decision of the coalition to attend the Geneva talks.[35] However the Council still sends representatives to the Coalition.[citation needed]

Notable members of the Council:

  • Syrian Democratic People's Party: A socialist party which played a "key role" in the creation of the SNC.[36] The party's leader George Sabra (a secularist born to a Christian family) is the official spokesman of the SNC, and also ran for chairman.[37]
  • Supreme Council of the Syrian Revolution: Syrian opposition group supporting the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad's government. It grants local opposition groups representation in its national organization.
  • Syrian Democratic Turkmen Movement: An opposition party of Syrian Turkmens, which was constituted in Istanbul on 21 March 2012. The leader of Syrian Democratic Turkmen Movement is Ziyad Hasan.

National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change

The National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), or National Coordination Body for Democratic Change[38] (NCB), is a Syrian bloc chaired by Hassan Abdel Azim consisting of 13 left-wing political parties and "independent political and youth activists".[39] It has been defined by Reuters as the internal opposition's main umbrella group.[40] The NCC initially had several Kurdish political parties as members, but all except for the Democratic Union Party left in October 2011 to join the Kurdish National Council.[41] Some opposition activists[who?] have accused the NCC of being a "front organization" for Bashar al-Assad's government and some of its members of being ex-government insiders.[42]

Relations with other Syrian political opposition groups are generally poor. The Syrian Revolution General Commission, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria or the Supreme Council of the Syrian Revolution oppose the NCC calls to dialogue with the Syrian government.[43] In September 2012, the Syrian National Council (SNC) reaffirmed that despite broadening its membership, it would not join with "currents close to [the] NCC".[44] Despite recognizing the Free Syrian Army on 23 September 2012,[45] the FSA has dismissed the NCC as an extension of the government, stating that "this opposition is just the other face of the same coin".[40]

Notable members of the Committee:

Other groups affiliated with Syrian opposition

  • Muslim Brotherhood: Islamist party founded in 1930. The brotherhood was behind the Islamic uprising in Syria between 1976 until 1982. The party is banned in Syria and membership became a capital offence in 1980. The Muslim Brotherhood has issued statements of support for the Syrian uprising.[47][48] Other sources have described the group as having "risen from the ashes",[49] "resurrected itself"[50] to be a dominant force in the uprising.[51] The Muslim Brotherhood has constantly lost influence with militants on the ground, who have defected from the Brotherhood affiliated Shields of the Revolution Council to the Islamic Front.[52]
  • Coalition of Secular and Democratic Syrians: nucleus of a Syrian secular and democratic opposition that appeared during the Syrian civil war. It came about through the union of a dozen Muslim and Christian, Arab and Kurd parties, who called the minorities of Syria to support the fight against the government of Bashar al-Assad.[53][54] The Coalition has also called for military intervention in Syria, under the form of a no-fly zone similar to that of Kosovo, with a safe zone and cities.[55][56] The president of the coalition, who is also a member of the SNC, is Randa Kassis.[57][58][59][60]
  • Syrian Turkmen Assembly: A recently formed assembly of Syrian Turkmens which constitutes a coalition of Turkmen parties and groups in Syria. It is against the partition of Syria after the collapse of Baath government. The common decision of Syrian Turkmen Assembly is: "Regardless of any ethnic or religious identity, a future in which everybody can be able to live commonly under the identity of Syrian is targeted in the future of Syria."[61]
    • Syrian Turkmen National Bloc: An opposition party of Syrian Turkmens, which was founded in February 2012. The chairman of the political party is Yusuf Molla.
  • Local Coordination Committees of Syria: Network of local protest groups that organise and report on protests as part of the Syrian civil war, founded in 2011.[62][63] As of August 2011, the network supported civil disobedience and opposed local armed resistance and international military intervention as methods of opposing the Syrian government.[64] Key people are activists Razan Zaitouneh and Suhair al-Atassi.[65]
  • Syrian National Democratic Council: formed in Paris on 13 November 2011 during the Syrian civil war by Rifaat al-Assad, uncle of Bashar al-Assad. Rifaat al-Assad has expressed the wish to replace Bashar al-Assad with the authoritarian state apparatus intact, and to guarantee the safety of government members, while also making vague allusions to a "transition".[66] Rifaat has his own political organisation, the United National Democratic Rally.[67]
  • Syrian Revolution General Commission: Syrian coalition of 40 Syrian opposition groups to unite their efforts during the Syrian civil war that was announced[by whom?] on 19 August 2011 in Istanbul.[68]

Syrian Interim Government

At a conference held in Istanbul on 19 March 2013, members of the National Coalition elected Ghassan Hitto as prime minister of an interim government for Syria. Hitto has announced that a technical government will be formed which will be led by between 10 and 12 ministers. The minister of defense is to be chosen by the Free Syrian Army.[69]

Territorial control

Military situation in the Syrian Civil War as of May 31, 2016.
  Controlled by Syrian Government forces
  Controlled by Kurdish forces (Rojava)
  Controlled by al-Nusra Front
  Controlled by Syrian opposition forces

(For a more detailed map, see Cities and towns during the Syrian Civil War)

Syrian Opposition has presence in 9 Syrian governorates, though none is fully under the control of the entity. Governorates with partial opposition control include:

In April 2015, the interim seat of the Syrian Interim Government was proposed to be Idlib,[70] in Idlib Governorate.

Military forces

The military forces associated with the Syrian Opposition are currently largely defined by the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council, which is mainly relying on the Free Syrian Army (with links to Syrian National Coalition) and the Islamic Front (Syria) (linked to Syrian National Council) coalitions. Initially, the Free Syrian Army was perceived as the ultimate military force of the Syrian Opposition, but with the collapse of many FSA factions and emergence of powerful Islamist groups, it became clear to the opposition that only a cooperation of secular military forces and moderate Islamists could form a sufficient coalition to battle both the Syrian Baathist forces and radical Jihadists such as ISIL and in some cases al-Nusra Front.

Members of the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council:

  • Free Syrian Army: Paramilitary that has been active during the Syrian civil war.[71][72] Composed mainly of defected Syrian Armed Forces personnel,[73][74] its formation was announced on 29 July 2011 in a video released on the Internet by a uniformed group of deserters from the Syrian military who called upon members of the Syrian army to defect and join them.[75] The leader of the group, who identified himself as Colonel Riad al-Asaad, announced that the Free Syrian Army would work with demonstrators to bring down the system, and declared that all security forces attacking civilians are justified targets.[76][77] It has also been reported that many former Syrian Consulates are trying to band together a Free Syrian Navy from fishermen and defectors to secure the coast.[78]
    • Syrian Turkmen Brigades: An armed opposition structure of Syrian Turkmens fighting against Syrian Armed Forces. It is also the military wing of Syrian Turkmen Assembly. It is led by Colonel Muhammad Awad and Ali Basher.
  • Islamic Front: An Islamist rebel group formed in November 2013.[79]

List of opposition figures

See also


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External links