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The "independence flag" of Syria, used in the period of the Syrian Republic before the Ba'athist coup in 1963, has been widely used by protesters as an opposition flag and has been adopted officially by the Syrian National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army.

The Syrian opposition (Arabic language: المعارضة السوريةAl-Mu'aradah Al-Suriyah) is an umbrella term for groups and individuals calling for regime change in Syria and who oppose its Ba'athist government. The term "opposition" (Arabic "mu'araDah") is typically used to refer to traditional political actors; that is, groups and individuals who have a history of dissent against the Syrian state, rather than to describe all participants in the uprising against Assad rule in Syria. The first 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.

Current military situation in the Syrian Civil War:

  Controlled by the Syrian government
  Controlled by Kurdish forces
  Controlled by al-Nusra Front
  Controlled by other rebels

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

"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." [1]

The first phase of the Syrian Revolution, 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 cannot be characterized as a "civil war" until the organization of armed struggle began on the anti-government side. This occurred on 29 July 2011, allowing the conflict to meet the international political definition of "civil war."

Opposition groups in Syria took a new turn in 2011 during the Syrian Civil War as they united to form the Syrian National Council (SNC),[2] which has received significant international support and recognition as a partner for dialogue. The Syrian National Council has been recognised 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.[3][4][5][6][7][8] A new 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.[9]

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.[10] As the revolutionary wave commonly referred to as the Arab Spring began to take shape in early 2011, Syrian protesters began consolidating opposition councils.

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 includes organisations such as the Syrian National Council, the previous iteration of an exilic political body attempting to represent the grassroots movement. 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.[11] 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.[12]

  • 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 government of Bashar al Assad, and others, have accused the Muslim Brotherhood of being key players in the Syrian uprising that escalated into a civil war.[13][14] Other sources have described the group as having "risen from the ashes",[15] "resurrected itself"[16] to be a dominant force in the uprising.[17] Current leader is Ali Sadreddine Al-Bayanouni.
  • 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.[18][19] 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.[20][21] The president of the coalition, who is also a member of the SNC, is Randa Kassis.[22][23][24][25]
  • Damascus Declaration: Opposition bloc from 2005. Twelve members were sentenced to 2.5 years in prison in 2008. Syrian journalist and activist Michel Kilo launched the declaration, after the Syrian writer and thinker Abdulrazak Eid had written its first draft. Riad Seif, another democracy activist, became the first signatory.[26] The "five small opposition groups" signing the declaration were
    • the Arab nationalist National Democratic Rally
    • the Kurdish Democratic Alliance
    • the Committees of Civil Society
    • the Kurdish Democratic Front
    • the Movement of the Future.[27] The Movement for Justice and Development in Syria (MJD) also subscribes to the Damascus Declaration.[28] In a series of splits 2007-2009, most members left the Damascus Declaration, leaving the MJD and SDPP (see below) as the only remaining factions of any consequence, along with a number of independents.
  • Syrian Democratic People's Party: A socialist party which played a "key role" in the creation of the SNC.[29] 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.[30]
  • 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.
  • Assyrian Democratic Organization: A party representing Assyrians in Syria and long repressed by the Assad government, it has been a participant in opposition structures since the beginning of the conflict. Abdul-Ahad Astepho is a member of the SNC.[31][32]
  • 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."[33]
  • 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.
  • 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.[34][35] As of August 2014, the network supported civil disobedience and opposed local armed resistance and international military intervention as methods of opposing the Syrian government.[36] Key people are activists Razan Zaitouneh and Suhair al-Atassi.[37]
  • Free Syrian Army & Higher Military Council: Paramilitary that has been active during the Syrian civil war.[38][39] Composed mainly of defected Syrian Armed Forces personnel,[40][41] 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.[42] 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.[43][44] 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.[45]
    • Liwaa al-Umma: a paramilitary group fighting against the Syrian government in the Syrian civil war. The group was previously led by Mahdi Al-Harati, an Irish-Libyan who led Libyan rebel Tripoli Brigade during the Battle of Tripoli. In September 2012 it came under command of the Free Syrian Army.
    • 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 opposition groups

Other opposition groups

  • The Syrian National Council, a coalition of Syrian opposition groups based in Istanbul, formed in August 2011 during the Syrian uprising (which would soon become a civil war as armed brigades began forming on the rebel side after 29 July 2011.[60][61] Key people include chairman as of 2014 George Sabra, and former chairmen Burhan Ghalioun and Abdulbaset Sieda. The Syrian National Council withdrew from the Syrian National Coalition on 20 January 2014 in protest at the decision of the coalition to attend the Geneva talks.[62]
  • National Coordination Committee for the Forces of Democratic Change (NCC or NCB, for National Coordination Bureau): Syrian opposition bloc chaired by Hassan Abdel Azim[63] consisting of about 13 mostly left-leaning political parties and independent political activists, including three Kurdish political parties, and youth activists, operating within Syria and abroad.[64] The NCC gathers a large proportion of the secular political parties in the pre-revolutionary Syrian dissident movement, mainly leftists and Arab nationalists. Many of its leaders are veteran dissidents, some of them famous former prisoners of conscience. Many of the parties were splinter groups from the parties of the ruling National Progressive Front. It was the first major coalition formed during the revolution, in summer 2011. It was originally considered a chief rival of the SNC, and portrayed itself as Syria's "internal opposition" (in contrast to the exile-backed SNC), but it has lost influence as the conflict has become more militarized. While it has rejected military intervention and favoured dialogue with the government, it took an increasingly hardline stance towards the government since 2012 in favour of regime change.
  • National Democratic Rally: Banned opposition alliance formed in 1980 comprising five political parties of a secularist, pan-Arabist, Arab nationalist and socialist bent; Democratic Arab Socialist Union, Syrian Democratic People's Party, Arab Revolutionary Workers Party, Movement of Arab Socialists, Democratic Socialist Arab Ba'ath Party. In 2006, Communist Labour Party joined the coalition. The Rally originally signed the Damascus Declaration, but most members later split from the group. Among the Rally parties, only the SDPP is now active in the SNC, while most others have joined the NCC, a rival opposition alliance.
  • National Salvation Front in Syria: Founded in 2005 by former vice president Abdul Halim Khaddam who was exiled to Belgium, not a member of the SNC but supportive of its goals.
  • Syriac Union Party: A party representing the interests of Syriac Christians and affiliated with the Syriac Union Party in Lebanon (itself part of the anti-Assad March 14 Alliance). It has taken part in numerous opposition demonstrations, including storming the Syrian embassy in Stockholm in August 2012.[65]
  • Syria Martyrs' Brigade: an armed insurgent group fighting against the Syrian government in the Idlib province of Syria.[66] It is a loose coalition of localized forces, mostly composed of armed Syrian civilians who have joined the uprising.[67]
  • 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 wishes to replace Bashar al-Assad with the authoritarian state apparatus intact, and guarantee the safety of government members, while also making vague allusions to a "transition".[68] Rifaat has his own political organisation, the United National Democratic Rally.[69]
  • Syrian Revolution General Commission: Syrian coalition of 40 Syrian opposition groups to unite their efforts during the Syrian civil war that was announced on 19 August 2011 in Istanbul.[70]

Kurdish Supreme Committee

The Kurdish flag flies over cities in the Kurdish statelet that has emerged in north-eastern Syria.[71][72]

The Kurdish Supreme Committee is a governing body of Kurdish-held regions in Syria founded by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party and Kurdish National Council following cooperation agreement between the two sides, signed on 12 July, in Erbil under auspice of the Iraqi Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani.[73] Its member board consist of equal number of PYD and KNC members.[74]

  • Kurdish Democratic Union Party: Kurdish Syrian political party established in 2003 by Arab and Kurdish nationalists in northern Syria. The party is linked with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States, the European Union and NATO. The PYD does admit that the two parties have a close relationship, with the PKK not interfering with PYD management of Syrian Kurdish affairs.[75] It is currently not officially registered as a political party in Syria because the Constitution of Syria before 2012 did not allow political parties to be formed without permission.
  • Kurdish National Council: The Kurdish National Council was founded in Erbil, Iraq on 26 October 2011, under the sponsorship of President Massoud Barzani, following the earlier creation of the SNC. The organization was originally composed of 11 Syrian Kurdish parties, however by May 2012 this had grown to 15. The key difference between the KNC and the SNC is over their approach to the issue of decentralization, with the KNC pressing for Kurdish autonomy, whereas the SNC has rejected anything more than administrative decentralization.[76] The Kurdish National Council agreed to join the Syrian National Coalition in early 2013; the PYD criticized the KNC for doing so.[77]
    • Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria led by Dr. Abdel Hakim Bashar/ Nasreddin Ibrahim
    • Kurdish Democratic National Party in Syria led by Tahir Sfook
    • Kurdish Democratic Equality Party in Syria led by Aziz Dawe
    • Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party in Syria led by Hamid Darwish
    • Kurdish Democratic Unity Party in Syria led by Sheikh Ali
    • Kurdish Yekiti Party in Syria led by Ismail Hamo
    • Azadi Kurdish Party in Syria led by Mustafa Oso/ Mustafa Jumaa
    • Syrian Democratic Kurdish Party led by Sheikh Jamal
    • Kurdish Left Party in Syria led by Muhammad Musa
    • Yekiti Kurdistani led by Abdul Basit Hamo
    • Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria led by Abdul Rahman Aluji/ Yusuf Faisal
    • Kurdish Democratic Wifaq Party led by Nash’at Muhammad
  • Popular Protection Units: Paramilitary fighting against the Syrian government in Syrian Kurdistan. The group was founded by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party and Kurdish National Council and is responsible for maintaining order and protecting the lives of residents in Kurdish neighbourhoods.

Parliamentary opposition

The government itself is divided, with several factions calling for either a change of direction under Assad, or for the replacement of Assad and the continuation of the Ba'athist government.

  • Popular Front for Change and Liberation: Coalition of Syrian political parties and is currently the leader of the political opposition in the People's Council of Syria.[78][79] Coalition leader Qadri Jamil stated that there had been numerous violations in favor of their opponent, the National Progressive Front (Syria), in the Syrian parliamentary election, 2012.[80] The Popular Front for Change and Liberation brought together Jamil's People’s Will Party, Ali Haidar's Syrian Social Nationalist Party, and others.[81][82] Qadri Jamil and Ali Haidar got ministerial posts in al-Assad's new government in 2012.
    • Syrian Social Nationalist Party: Founded in Beirut in 1932 as a national liberation organization hostile to French colonialism, the party played a significant role in Lebanese politics and was involved in attempted coup d'etats in 1949 and 1961 following which it was thoroughly repressed. It was active in the resistance against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon from 1982 to 2000 while continuously supporting the Syrian presence in Lebanon. In Syria, the SSNP became a major political force in the early 1950s, but was thoroughly repressed in 1955. It remained organised, and in 2005 was legalised and joined the Ba'ath Party-led National Progressive Front. On 21 August 2012, Syria's Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said the Syrian government is prepared to discuss the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad.[83]
    • People’s Will Party: Syrian political party that is part of the Popular Front for Change and Liberation. Qadri Jamil is the founder of the political party.[81]
  • A new law on political parties was enacted along with constitutional reforms in 2012, allowing for new parties outside the National Progressive Front and thus officially permitting opposition to the government.[84] New parties were subsequently licensed: the National Development Party, Al-Ansar Party, People's Party, Solidarity Party, Syria the Homeland Party (Souria al-Watan), Democratic Vanguard Party, Syrian Democratic Party, Syrian National Youth Party for Justice and Development, Syrian National Youth Party, and Arab Democratic Solidarity Party. It is thought the new parties would function as "loyal opposition", although those that took part enjoyed little success in the 2012 parliamentary election. Some, such as the National Development Party and Al-Ansar, have subsequently shifted towards an anti-government stance, including talks with groups closer to the SNC[85]

List of opposition figures

  • Abdulrazak Eid, Syrian writer and thinker, participated in finding the Committees for the Civil Society in Syria, wrote the first draft of the Statement of 1000, and participated in drafting the Damascus Declaration, president of the national council of Damascus Declaration abroad.
  • Ammar Abdulhamid, leading Human-Rights Advocate, Founder of Tharwa Foundation, first Syrian to testify in front of American Congress 2006/2008, briefed Presidents of the United States, and called for Syria Revolution in 2006.[86]
  • Aref Dalilah, prominent economist, professor, former member of Syrian Parliament and a member of the Damascus Declaration
  • Burhan Ghalioun, former head of the SNC
  • Riad al-Asaad, a leader in the Free Syrian Army
  • Riad Seif, former head of the Forum for National Dialogue
  • Riyad al-Turk, ex-communist politician and liberal democrat
  • Haitham al-Maleh, leading human rights activist and former judge
  • Anwar al-Bunni, human rights lawyer, democracy activist and political prisoner
  • Maher Arar, Syrian-Canadian human rights activist
  • Marwan Habash, politician and writer and pre-Assad Minister of Industry
  • Michel Kilo, Christian[87] writer and human rights activist, who has been called "one of Syria's leading opposition thinkers"[88]
  • Kamal al-Labwani, doctor and artist, considered one of the most prominent members of the Syrian opposition movement
  • Tal al-Mallohi, blogger from Homs and world's youngest prisoner of conscience
  • Yassin al-Haj Saleh, writer and political dissident
  • Fares Tammo, son of assassinated Kurdish politician Mashaal Tammo
  • Bassma Kodmani, an academic and former spokesperson of the SNC
  • Radwan Ziadeh, co-spokesperson for the SNC
  • Randa Kassis, president of the Coalition of Secular and Democratic Syrians
  • Fadwa Suleiman, leader of protests in Homs
  • Razan Ghazzawi, prominent blogger
  • Samar Yazbek, Syrian author and journalist. She was awarded the 2012 PEN Pinter International Writer of Courage Award for her book, A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution. She fled Syria in 2011 but continues to be an outspoken critic of the al-Assad government from abroad, from Europe and the US.
  • Razan Zaitouneh, leader in the Local Coordination Committees of Syria and the 2011 Sakharov Prize winner
  • Muhammad al-Yaqoubi Sunni Muslim scholar and preacher, currently residing in exile in Morocco

See also


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