In response to the dearth of academic studies written on the Syrian opposition, this study reviews the various Syrian military organizations that are currently active against the Syrian regime, and discusses the circumstances that led to their formation, their intellectual and political character, their links, and the parties that finance them. This analysis argues that these organizations may be divided into two main movements: one with a secular outlook and the other with Islamist leanings. The author maintains that these different military groups emerged spontaneously, and that their birth was a reaction to the violence of the regime rather than an intentional political act. Moreover, the lack of clarity and vision among the majority of these groups is further aggravated by the fact that these military formations and their command structures were largely created by individuals with low levels of education.
Two years after the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, and more than a year after its metamorphosis into an armed uprising aimed at bringing down the regime through military means, failing to topple it peacefully, the map of the Syrian opposition military formations is beginning to take shape. Although these formations still lack a coherent structure or central authority that is capable of unifying them-and continue to multiply to the point that there are now hundreds of military groups-it is indeed possible to distinguish two major currents within the armed Syrian opposition: secular-leaning military formations, the majority of which are part of the Free Syrian Army, and the Islamist brigades.
This study examines the most prominent formations of the armed Syrian opposition that are active on the ground, and investigates their emergence and the circumstances that led to their creation, in addition to studying their main trends, the parties that fund them, and the relationships between their various components. Lastly, this paper examines the potential scenarios for the evolution of the relationship between the armed opposition groups, and the impact these scenarios could have on the course of the Syrian revolution and the future of Syria as a whole. The study concludes that these formations share a clear aim, and that they all agree on the necessity to bring down the despotic regime; they disagree, however, on everything else, including the identity of the prospective state and its political system. The main factors that contribute to the lack of clarity of vision among the majority of the military organizations include: the spontaneous development of the majority of these groups, the fact that they came more as a reaction to the violence of the regime than as the result of intentional political acts, and the illiteracy of many who created and lead these groups. By shedding light on these issues, this study aims at filling a major gap in the academic studies that focus on the armed Syrian opposition.
*This study was originally published in the second Edition of Siyasat Arabia (May-June 2013). Siyasat Arabia, published by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, is a bi-monthly, peer-reviewed journal that specializes in political science, international relations, and public policy.
It was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English Editing Department. The original Arabic version can be found here.
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 In the first draft of this paper, a third movement-foreign fighters-was identified. Despite their small numbers, as evidenced by numerous studies and intelligence reports, the majority of these are active ideologically and on the ground as part of the Islamist brigades. It is also important to note that this paper does not seek to identify the entirety of the armed factions, as there are over 600 of them according to some estimates; instead, this report focuses on the most prominent and efficient of these groups. Finally, I wish to thank a number of field activists, whose names cannot be mentioned for security reasons, who contributed much effort toward the accomplishment of this report.