Syrian opposition political groups: a brief look

The civil side of Syria’s opposition has largely been overshadowed by the armed rebel groups amidst the country’s devastating conflict. Aside from the Syrian National Council, the wider Syrian National Coalition, and the rival National Coordination Committee, pro-opposition parties, interest groups, and activist networks have not been widely documented since the early days of the war. In this post I hope to give the reader a sample of some of the groups still in operation after nearly six years of civil war. This is not meant to be a comprehensive or balanced view of the current Syrian civil opposition, merely a brief look. I tend to rely on Facebook a lot, so groups that don’t have Facebook pages may be underrepresented. Keep in mind that some of these groups may online exist online.

Kurdish parties and other groups operating in the Syrian Democratic Forces-controlled Rojava region will be saved for the next post, and after that I may look at pro-government parties (with which I am less familiar).

Note that I use “moderate Sunni Islamism” to denote Islamist groups that support religious freedom and equal rights for non-Muslims, as opposed to more solidly Islamist groups that support religious tolerance and limited rights for non-Muslims (or non-Sunnis).


Local Coordination Committees of Syria

Ideology: human rights, civil resistance. A decentralized network of civil councils and activist organizations that sprang up across Syria in reaction to the government’s crackdown on the initial protests in 2011. One of the most prominent and widespread opposition groups in Syria. It initially opposed armed opposition, even in late 2011 after thousands had been killed and the revolution became a civil war.

Muslim Brotherhood

Ideology: Sunni Islamism, Islamic democracy. One of the main political contenders in Syria’s early years of independence; it continued to be a very influential organization despite persecution, until the 1982 Hama massacre put an end to the insurgency launched by the Brotherhood and its radical offshoot, the Fighting Vanguard. The Brotherhood has since been highly influential in the exiled opposition, at times moving in more moderate or fundamentalist directions depending on the situation, but its reputation in Syria itself was damaged by the 1979-1982 insurgency; few protest groups or armed brigades, even those sharing similar Islamic democratic platforms, have been willing to identify with the Brotherhood. The organization’s administrative arm in the country, the Commission for the Protection of Civilians, and its most prominent armed affiliate, the Shields of the Revolution Council, were both defunct by early 2015. The Sham Legion, initially formed by defectors from the Shields of the Revolution Council, maintains very informal links with the Brotherhood.

Syrian Islamic Council

Ideology: Sunni Islamism, Islamic democracy. Formed in 2014 partly as a rival to the Brotherhood, though it also includes many Brotherhood members. It is more firmly based in Syria, as opposed to the more exile-oriented Brotherhood. Armed groups close to it include the Army of Mujahideen and the Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union.

Syrian Revolution Network

Ideology: liberal democracy, human rights, non-sectarianism. One of the first and most prominent opposition networks on social media, founded in January 2011.

Building the Syrian State

Ideology: liberal democracy, secularism, social justice. One of the few reformist opposition parties tolerated by the Syrian government. Recently worked with the Kurdish Democratic Unity Party in Syria (aka Democratic Yekiti). Strongly supports a political solution and has been supportive of the various peace plans and ceasefires. It reportedly lost many of its members in 2015 when the group’s leader fled to Turkey. Note: the organization’s Facebook page appears more active than their website.

National Building Movement

Ideology: liberal democracy, secularism. Possibly the most opposition-leaning party tolerated by the Syrian government. Founded by former members of Building the Syrian State after that party unraveled.

Assyrian Democratic Organization

Ideology: Syriac/Assyrian interests, social democracy? Supports the Syrian National Coalition. May have ties with the Assyrian Democratic Movement in Iraq.

Syrian Turkmen Assembly

A union of Syrian Turkmen political parties. Formally, it has control over the Syrian Turkmen Brigades; in reality, the “Syrian Turkmen Brigades” is nearly as loose a label as the “Free Syrian Army“, and not all predominantly Turkmen brigades have links with the Syrian Turkmen Assembly (the most prominent exception being the Seljuqs Brigade, which is part of the SDF). Note: their Facebook page appears to be more active than their website.

Ideology: Turkmen interests, moderate Sunni Islamism? Seems to be modeled after Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party in Turkey.

Ideology: Turkmen interests. Split from the Syrian Turkmen National Bloc. Originally I thought this party was more left-leaning than the National Bloc, but it may actually be more solidly Islamist and Turkish nationalist.

Ideology: Turkmen interests. Split from the Syrian Turkmen Democratic Movement. Like the STDM, I have been unable to determine this party’s ideological orientation. Note: their Facebook page appears more active than their website.

National Democratic Rally

Ideology: leftism, secularism. A dissident alliance formed by five left-wing parties in 1980. Six constituent parties today:

Ideology: social democracy (historically Leninism). Split from the Syrian Communist Party in 1973. Known as the Syrian Communist Party – Political Bureau until 2005, when it renounced communism. The party is a prominent participant in the Syrian National Coalition’s government in exile and is also a member of the Progressive Alliance, a spin-off of the Socialist International.

Ideology: Nasserism, democratic socialism. Split from the Arab Socialist Union Party of Syria (which remains pro-government) in 1980. Less stridently anti-regime than the SDPP (see above), sometimes resulting in squabbles between the two parties. The DASU was (and possibly still is) also a member of the NCCNote: the party’s Facebook page appears more active than their website.

Ideology: Marxism. Split from the Ba’ath Party in 1966. It was a member of the NCC but left a few months after its formation.

Ideology: Arab socialism. Split from the pro-government party with the same name.

Ideology: left-wing Ba’athism (i.e., opposition to neoliberal economic reforms of Hafez al-Assad), democratic socialism. Split from the Ba’ath Party in 1970. Left the NCC in 2015. It is represented in the Syrian Democratic Council, the legislative body of Rojava.

Ideology: Leninism. Split from the original Syrian Communist Party in 1976. It left the NCC in 2015. Note: the party’s Facebook page appears more active than their website.

Damascus Declaration

Ideology: human rights, democracy. An opposition alliance from 2005. Founding members included the National Democratic Rally and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Most of its affiliates have left, and the group has largely become defunct, though it is still active on social media.

Movement for Justice and Development in Syria

Ideology: centrism, economic liberalism, moderate Sunni Islamism. The party of Anas al-Abdah, who was elected president of the National Coalition in March 2016. Founded in 2006. The party itself may be defunct, as its website has long been offline.

Together for a Free and Democratic Syria Movement

Ideology: liberal democracy, secularism. It was strongly against the arming of the opposition and supports a political solution to the war.

Citizenship for Civil Action (Muwatana)

Ideology: liberal democracy, secularism. Appears supportive of the National Coalition. It was connected at one point to Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa, an FSA group in Raqqa governorate that fights alongside the YPG (though not always harmoniously) as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Upcoming Syria

Ideology: Alawite interests. A 2015 pro-rebel Alawite party. Supports the National Coalition.

National Unity Movement for the Liberation of Syria

Ideology: liberal democracy. At least at one point, it had links with a few small FSA groups, including Liwa Jisr Horan and the Tahrir al-Sham Division, both members of the FSA’s Southern Front.

Political Authority of the Forces of the Syrian Revolution

Ideology: liberal democracy, Arab nationalism. Identifies as Islamic but sees the war in non-religious terms.

Islamic Rally for Syria

Ideology: Sunni Islamism, Arab nationalism.

Free Popular Current

Ideology: liberal democracy. Opposes the SDF’s federalist project. Supports the National Coalition.

Syrian Freedom Youth

Ideology: liberal democracy. Emphasis on non-sectarianism. Opposes the SDF.

Syrian Future Youth Movement

Ideology: liberal democracy. Focuses on Aleppo.

Syrian Youth Movement – Sun

Ideology: liberal democracy. Focuses on Deir ez-Zor. Possibly related to the Syrian Future Youth Movement.

Hasakah Youth Union

Ideology: unknown, possibly Arab nationalism? Hostile to the PYD/YPG and the SDF.

Coalition of Arab Clan and Tribal Youth

Ideology: Arab nationalism, Sunni Islamism? Opposes the SDF.

Freemen of Houran League

Ideology: unknown. Active in the Houran region of southwestern Syria, mostly in Daraa governorate.

Syrian Turkmen Development Party

Ideology: Turkmen interests, moderate Sunni Islamism, anti-Kurdish sentiment? Strongly supports Turkey.

Syrian Front

Ideology: liberal democracy, secularism, economic liberalism, women’s rights. Formerly known as the Syrian National Front. Opposes federalism, but not necessarily hostile to the SDF.

Syrian Movement for Renewal

Ideology: liberal democracy, moderate Sunni Islamism, Arab nationalism, women’s rights. Emphasis on balancing respect for Syria’s supposed Arab and Islamic character with respect and equal rights for minorities.

Syrian Popular Movement

Ideology: liberal democracy, women’s rights, secularism. Opposes federalism, but not necessarily the SDF itself.

Syrian Revolution Coordinators

Ideology: liberal democracy? Opposes the SDF.

Free Scholars, Preachers, and Advocates for Syria

Ideology: moderate Sunni Islamism. A group of religious clerics that emphasizes freedom of religion and interfaith dialogue. Note: the group’s Facebook page appears more active than their website.

Ulama Front of the Levant

Ideology: (moderate?) Sunni Islamism. Note: the link above is to the Aleppo branch, which appears to be the main branch and is more popular and more active than the central organization’s page.

National Movement of Free Officers

Ideology: Arab nationalism, anti-Alawite sentiment, anti-Shia sentiment? Sunni Islamism? Opposes the National Coalition.

Syrian Revolutionary Movement

Ideology: Arab nationalism, moderate Sunni Islamism, anti-Shia sentiment?

Syrian Revolutionaries’ Gathering

Ideology: liberal democracy. Focuses on reporting casualties, especially civilians.

Syrian Revolutionaries’ Union

Ideology: moderate Sunni Islamism? Opposes the SDF.

Syrian Promise Current

Ideology: liberal democracy, secularism, women’s rights. Opposes federalism.

Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research

Ideology: human rights, minority interests, prisoner rights. A legal advocacy and monitoring group established in 2004. Note: the organization’s Facebook page appears more active than its website.

Working Group for Syrian Detainees

Ideology: human rights, prisoner rights. Reports on the detention of activists and other civilians by rebel groups as well as government forces.

International Campaign to Save the Syrian Detainees

Ideology: human rights, prisoner rights. Similar to the Working Group for Syrian Detainees.

National Collective Mass in Syria

Ideology: liberal democracy, Arab nationalism, moderate Sunni Islamism, left-leaning economics, social liberalism. Founded in 2012.

Gathering of National Action

Ideology: Arab nationalism? Opposes the SDF.

Syrian Democratic Gathering

Ideology: liberal democracy. Opposes the SDF, but not as solidly opposed as some other rebel parties.

Syrian Democratic Union

Ideology: liberal democracy, ethnic/religious pluralism. Opposes the SDF. Founded in 2013; human rights activist Michel Kilo was its leader at least at first.

Syrian National Dialogue Forum

Ideology: secularism, non-sectarianism. Critical of the SDF but not entirely opposed. Hosts many talks and lectures by academics, analysts, and activists.

Unity Movement for the Forces of the Syrian Revolution

Ideology: Arab nationalism. Supports Turkey and opposes the SDF.

National Commission to Support the Syrian Revolution

Ideology: Arab nationalism? Appears to be affiliated with former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam, who fled the country in 2005, protesting the Syrian government’s alleged role in the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was close to Khaddam. Khaddam has previously led a group called the National Salvation Front in Syria, which may or may not still be active.

Support the Syrian Revolution Foundation

Ideology: unknown. Particularly critical of jihadist groups.

Spectra Movement for Syria

Ideology: liberal democracy, social justice, minority rights, women’s rights. Possibly inactive, as it has only made two posts in the last two years.

Revolutionary Resistance for the Liberation of Syria

Ideology: secularism, Arab nationalism?

National Fraternity Party of Free Syria

Ideology: liberal democracy, non-sectarianism.

Syrian Dialogues

Ideology: human rights, non-sectarianism, secularism? Holds discussions on various aspects of Syria, the revolution, and the war.

Syrian Peaceful Movement

Ideology: non-violence, civil resistance. Particularly focuses on the protection and raising of Syrian children. Note: the organization’s Facebook page appears more active than their website.

Syrian Organization for the Defense of Human Rights

Ideology: human rights. Focuses on the suffering of civilians under the government’s bombing, particularly in Aleppo.

Federation of Syrian Youth Organizations

Ideology: moderate Sunni Islamism. Aims to unite pro-opposition youth groups.

Syrian National Assembly

Ideology: liberal democracy. Supports an internationally-mediated political solution to the war.

Syrian General Authority

Ideology: liberal democracy, non-sectarianism. Emphasizes the importance of a transition period following a theoretical rebel victory over the government, aiming to preserve the government’s key functions and prevent societal collapse.

National Bloc in Syria

Ideology: liberal democracy, secularism. Emphasis on equality and unity.

Call of the Syrian Homeland

Ideology: liberal democracy. Emphasis on opposition unity across ideological divides.

The Syrian Nation

Ideology: secularism. Kind of like a pro-opposition version of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party – emphasis on Syrian identity over all other religious or ethnic identities; very critical of Arab nationalism. Wants to reincorporate not only the Golan Heights (a common view among Syrians on all sides) but also the Hatay province disputed with Turkey, provided the local population assents. Distrusts Turkey.

Syrian Revolution Coordinating Calvary

Ideology: Christian interests, Christian-Islamic unity, secularism.

Network of Christians in Syria to Support the Syrian Revolution

Ideology: Christian interests, especially those of Assyrians/Syriacs. Opposes federalism and is critical of the PYD.

Syrian Christians for Peace

Ideology: Christian interests, non-sectarianism, humanitarianism. Based in the United States. Opposes federalism and is critical of the PYD.

Syrian Feminist Lobby

Ideology: feminism/women’s rights, liberal democracy. Note: the organization’s Facebook page appears more active than its website.

Syrian Women’s Network

Ideology: feminism/women’s rights, liberal democracy.

Syrian Leftist Coalition

Ideology: Marxism, secularism, women’s rights, minority rights. Opposes Arab nationalism.

Syrian Communist Party

Ideology: secularism, Leninism, Stalinism? Presumably a split from one or both of the two “official” Syrian Communist Parties, SCP-Bakdash and SCP-Unified (both are pro-government).

Revolutionary Left Current in Syria

Ideology: secularism, leftism (mainly Trotskyism and anarchism). Maintains links with the Fourth International, an international Trotskyist organization. It established a small armed wing called the People’s Liberation Faction in 2014, which dissolved later that year due to harassment by Islamist and jihadist groups, especially al-Nusra. It has been critical of the PYD but is not opposed to the SDF and has even worked with pro-SDF parties, such as the Syrian National Democratic Alliance.

National Alliance for the Forces of the Syrian Revolution

Ideology: liberal democracy. A broad group of political parties, societies, and NGOs. Opposes the SDF. Although some of the founding signatory groups stress religious pluralism, the NAFSR’s Facebook page exhibits some anti-Shia and anti-Alawite sentiment, as do some of the groups listed as signatories. Some of the organizations represented at the 2014 founding include:

Ideology: moderate Sunni Islamism, centrism. Critical 0f Saudi Arabia; opposes Wahhabism as “takfiri” and sectarian. Supports Turkey and condemns opposition activists like Haytham Manna for working with the SDF.

Ideology: liberal democracy, ethnic/religious pluralism.

Ideology: moderate Sunni Islamism? Trains judges. Seems to recognize the National Coalition.

Ideology: conservatism, moderate Sunni Islamism, Syrian Turkmen interests? Emulates Erdogan‘s Justice and Development Party; strongly supportive of Turkey.

Ideology: conservatism, moderate Sunni Islamism, Syrian Turkmen interests. Appears to be newer and more active than the above party of the same name; unknown if the two are linked. Proclaims to be “tolerant” and “respectful” of all people, but opposes Alawites and calls them “Nusayris“.

Ideology: unknown. Opposes the SDF.

Ideology: Sunni Islamism, anti-Shia sentiment? Opposes the SDF. Note: the party’s Facebook page appears more active than their website.

Appeal for Syria

Ideology: mixed. Launched in late 2015 in preparation for international negotiations. Critical of the National Coalition; wants to reorganize and relaunch it in order to better represent the Syrian people and the revolution’s ideals. Signatories include a number of individuals and groups in Syria and abroad, such as:

Ideology: liberal democracy.

Ideology: moderate Sunni Islamism? Arab nationalism? Particularly critical of external intervention in the revolution and subsequent war.

Ideology: leftism, secularism. Especially critical of fundamentalist and jihadist rebels like Jaysh al-Islam and Jabhat al-Nusra/Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. Supportive of humanitarian negotiations and ceasefire attempts. Opposes the SDF.

Ideology: liberal democracy, women’s rights, secularism, Arab nationalism. Centered around Dr. Imad Eddin Mahmoud Khatib, an academic and former member of the National Coalition. Appears to be related to (possibly a split from?) a pro-government party of the same name. Opposes the SDF’s federalist project, but also appears critical of Turkey. Heavily critical of the current state of the rebellion.

Ideology: liberal democracy, Arab nationalism. Appears to identify as Sunni, but sees the war in non-religious terms. Hostile to the National Coalition.

Syrian Commission for Justice and National Salvation

Ideology: liberal democracy. A gathering of opposition groups and figures with a plan for a post-Assad transition, particularly emphasizing law and order. Opposes the SDF. Among the signatories are several parties I have already listed above: the Solidarity Party, Center Party of Syria, the Damascus Declaration, the Syrian Communist Party, and the Justice and Development Party in Syria (one of them, I don’t know which). Note: the organization’s Facebook page appears to be more active than its website.

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