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The Syrian Political Opposition: What Went Wrong?

The uprising against the decades-long Assad rule in Syria started as a series of peaceful demonstrations; however, the brutal crackdown of the Assad regime transformed the uprising into an armed rebellion. The opposition has been characterized by disunity, power struggles, and lack of direction, while half-hearted international backers with conflicting agendas have deepened the divides within the opposition, directly or indirectly empowering the Assad regime. Three main shortcomings have hindered the political opposition from creating a meaningful bloc which could independently advocate for the rights of the Syrian people and enjoy widespread legitimacy at home and abroad: representation deficit, dependency on outside actors, and the irrelevance of the political track.

The Syrian Political Opposition What Went Wrong
Syrian opposition body (HCN) members (From L-R): Syrian Chairman of the National Coordination Committee for the Forces of Democratic Change Hassan Abdel Azim, member of the Syrian National Coalition and the National Coordination Body Safwan Akkash, Head o
 

Evolution of the Opposition

In 2011, when civilian unrest broke out against the decades-long Assad rule in Syria, I penned an article for Insight Turkey in which I attempted to make sense of the opposition movement that was in the making in Syria. The opposition, then mostly confined within the scope of the political arena and manifesting itself via peaceful street demonstrations, was an unharmonious body sharing little more than a distaste for Assad rule. The opposition was anything but a unified body; its diverse members were still trying to figure out what they were in for. It was a liquid formation which was shaped mostly by external factors, especially by Assad’s brutal dealing with the protests. In other words, Assad’s brutal handling of the peaceful protests played a key role in transforming both the protests and the opposition. Still clueless about how to force Assad either to reform or to leave, the opposition wandered around trying to unify its ranks and join together to find a viable roadmap. Their key dilemma then was, “how to deal with a violent crackdown by state actors through peaceful means and without foreign help.” The group within the opposition that was suspicious about Assad’s will and capability to reform, I continued, “may come to a point where they resort to armed struggle, actively seek foreign help, or both.” 

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