There is no better representation of the catastrophe experienced by the Syrian people with the military opposition in general, and the political opposition in particular, than the symbolic one crafted by the English novelist George Orwell. Criticizing the tyranny of the state and political repression during Stalin’s era, Orwell’s allegorical work titled Animal Farm, speaks succinctly:
“The animals rise up against Mr. Jones, the owner of the farm where they live, as he treats them with cruelty and violence, monopolizing the farm’s wealth and production for himself and his cronies. The pigs take control of the farm, managing its affairs in lieu of Mr. Jones. However, soon the pigs become even more oppressive than Mr. Jones. Whenever the other animals object to the pigs’ policies, the response from the pigs becomes a famous phrase on the farm: “Do you want Mr. Jones to come back and rule over you?” The frightened animals reply: “No, we will accept the current situation.”
This is the reality of the Syrian people with the corrupt military opposition in the areas referred to as “liberated,” as well as the reality of Syrians in Turkey with the official opposition sheltered in Turkish territory.
The official Syrian opposition has miserably failed, losing the complete trust of the revolutionary street. Many observers of the Syrian situation even argue that it is not accurate to label such groups as “the opposition” anymore because they have lost all the characteristics of a national opposition. This includes entities like the National Coalition, the Negotiating Committee, the Constitutional Committee, the Astana delegation, the interim government, and the military factions known as the Free Syrian Army.
Why Revolutionary People Lost Trust in Syrian Opposition?
The loss of trust in the official Syrian opposition by the Syrian revolutionary street can be attributed to several reasons:
- This opposition is no longer representative of the revolutionary street, as the individuals currently leading it, more than 90% of them, are directly subject to Turkish decisions and interests.
- The individuals in this opposition are not elected. If we exclude members representing the Muslim Brotherhood organization, we find that the majority of them do not truly represent a Syrian component. There are disagreements and objections among the components’ members regarding the personalities claiming representation, present in the coalition and its affiliates, regarding the legitimacy of representing the same component.
- The official opposition lacks a real vision for a solution in Syria. Moreover, it does not have a project for the future of Syria, nor does it have the slightest idea of achieving a political or military solution, if a military solution exists.
- The National Coalition also lacks a political vision for the future of Syria, and it has no plan to achieve any goal. It raises only one slogan: the need to overthrow the regime to replace it.
- The official opposition has not presented its vision for the future shape of the Syrian state. Whether it should be Islamic, given the dominance of Islamists in the opposition, or secular, or liberal, is a crucial matter. There is no written concept about this; instead, there are slogans, statements here and there, and some declarations that lead us to say that they have not decisively addressed this very important issue for the future of Syria. Moreover, the behavior of this opposition among its members contradicts significantly with democratic and political participatory concepts. The opposition tends to adopt a policy of exclusion and expulsion for anyone with a dissenting opinion in its policies.
- This confusion and accompanying failure, along with the opposition’s disregard for the public opinion, stem from their certainty that their actions, corruption, and failed policies will not be held accountable. Consequently, they show little interest in the opinion of the revolutionary street.
- The interim government lacks any vision or project for state management, nor does it have a plan for administering the areas under its control. Instead, it is subject to the orders of the Turkish governor to whom its regions near the Turkish states are affiliated.
- The Negotiating Body has not made any effort so far to understand the spirit of the Security Council’s resolutions, especially Resolution 2254. As for the Constitutional Committee, it lacks a clear vision for the future of Syria. Even the opposition, including the Constitutional Committee, has not yet agreed on the future name of the state. Will it be called the Syrian Arab Republic, the Syrian Republic, or the State of Syria? There is also no agreement on the future flag of Syria, or any governance model for Syria, whether it should be parliamentary, presidential, or a mixed system between them. As for the Astana delegation, its sole task was to calm the military situation, as it was a Russian/American desire.
- The political and military opposition is severely divided. The political opposition tends to adopt the principle of exclusion among its ranks, while the military opposition tends to follow the principle of depletion. Between political exclusion and military depletion, the Syrian people have suffered, living through a catastrophe in every sense of the word.
- The state of disarray and rift between the political and military opposition has become immense and disappointing for the aspirations of the revolutionary street, despite both being entirely subject to Turkish decisions. It is as if each side represents a separate state with no connection to the other.
- The Turkish side overseeing the Syrian situation does not allow the Syrian political and military opposition to communicate with the international community unless it is through Turkish channels.
Turkish Control Over Syrian Opposition
After the regime regained control of the city of Aleppo from the opposition, Turkey decided to take over the decision-making of the official political opposition as well as the military opposition entirely. The Turkish government perceives the opposition as minors, and their consultation in decisions made by the Turkish government is not permitted. The Turkish policy towards the opposition is based on the principle of “do or do not” and “agree or disagree,” exerting complete guardianship over them.
Regarding the National Coalition, its president is now appointed by Turkey, as well as the vice-presidents and even the Secretary-General of the Coalition is appointed by Turkey. Turkey also determines the names to be included in the political body of the Coalition and assigns individuals from the Coalition to supervise this during the electoral process, ensuring that no person unwanted by Turkey passes.
Recently, the situation of the Coalition has further deteriorated, with all decisions of the Coalition requiring Turkish approval. In many cases, these decisions may have originated from Turkish authorities, to be later approved by the Coalition. The situation has become more humiliating and contemptuous towards the Syrian opposition, as the individuals deciding these matters on the Turkish side are low-ranking employees in the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT).
As for the interim government, its president relinquished all his powers to the Turkish governors in managing the affairs of the areas controlled by the opposition. Consequently, the Turkish governor began making simple administrative decisions related to the Syrians residing in the liberated areas. The negotiating body and the constitutional committee have also fallen under the influence of Turkish authority in their decisions and the selection of their personalities. Other parties outside the coalition, such as the Coordination Body, the Moscow Platform, the Cairo Platform, and some independents, are no longer able to pass any decisions.
Regarding the Free Syrian Army, the Turks have complete control and dominance. Each faction is led by a Syrian military figure with a bad reputation, prioritizing personal interests and executing Turkish orders without any objection or discussion.
As for the local councils, they are purely formal, and executive decisions are returned to four Turkish governors from the southern Turkish provinces (Governors of Antakya, Gaziantep, Kilis, and Urfa). These governors manage the local councils and oversee the implementation of all projects, whether in health, education, services, or even judicial matters and security control.
What does Syrian Opposition Hide from its Supporters?
All of what we mentioned above happened after the Kerry/Lavrov understandings in 2016, through many exciting meetings between them, which reached seven sessions between the two parties between February and August. The last session was on August 2nd; It was said that it lasted more than five hours; It ended with an agreement between the two sides on two basic paragraphs.
The first: cooling the military reality on the ground between the warring parties in preparation for the resumption of negotiations for a political solution. As it is not possible to resume negotiations for a political solution without cooling the military action until it freezes over the entire Syrian geography. The regime also interprets a paragraph in Security Council Resolution 2254 that says: The political solution is linked to a ceasefire. The ceasefire is linked to progress in the political solution.
Second: The work to cool the military actions starts through the Astana track; The American side agreed to the Astana track on the condition that the regime adheres to this on the ground.
When the political process resumed in Geneva to reach an agreement on the second paragraph of the (Kerry/Lavrov) understanding, the Russians, Turks, and Iranians agreed to give the Astana process a political dimension. The three aforementioned parties decided to begin work as follows:
- Introducing the Constitutional Committee into the Astana process; Although the mission of the Constitutional Committee is political.
- They replaced the head of the Astana military delegation with a political figure from the opposition.
- They agreed to work together to cool military operations between the regime and the opposition; And working on a political solution in Astana, but the Americans objected to that. They withdrew from the path because it became inconsistent with the aforementioned (Kerry/Lavrov) understandings! With their agreement to Astana, the paragraph related to cooling military operations.
The cooling of military operations between both parties (opposition and the regime) continued for three years until March 5th when it was achieved. Here, an agreement was reached among the influential international parties in the Syrian situation that each party would remain in the territory it controls until a political solution is reached.
What happened was that the process of cooling the military situation was considered a solution by both the opposition and the regime. Consequently, there is no objection for the political solution to be delayed, and it is up to the Syrian people affected by both sides to turn to God until He decrees a matter that is bound to happen.
Here, Geir Pedersen introduced the notion of “step by step,” which is a procrastination of the Syrian issue and is nearly impossible to implement. It is not a solution, and it is not fundamentally present in Resolution 2254 unless the resolution is interpreted under the concept mentioned, “confidence-building measures,” which Pedersen explained based on the step-by-step approach, such as the release of some detainees and the return of some displaced people to their areas.
Since 2020, there has been no progress, no consideration of a solution to the Syrian disaster, and no will for a solution among all conflicting parties. Military conflicts persist here and there, which can be tolerated within specific conflict zones. If they expand, the Russians, Turks, and even Americans intervene to return the situation to a state of cooling. This is what the opposition conceals from its supporters.
What’s the evaluation of Syrian opposition?
The current situation of the official Syrian opposition is dismal and disheartening for the revolutionary street. Syrians residing in the north and those living in Turkey are experiencing significant frustration, with little hope for improvement. This sense of disillusion extends even to those who have acquired Turkish citizenship. Many of them, including those with Turkish citizenship, are considering leaving for Europe as refugees. Some have already arrived in Europe, disillusioned with the Turkish situation and its dominance over the conditions of Syrians and the Syrian opposition.
The number of Syrians currently in Turkey is estimated at around 3 million. Their economic conditions are very distressing, living in dire situations with few employment opportunities to sustain themselves. They face constant threats of deportation to northern Syria. Even members of the opposition themselves are finding it increasingly difficult to bear the economic burdens of living in Turkey.
What’s the solution
This very deteriorating situation requires the Syrian political and military opposition to work in one of two directions: either to correct this situation and end Turkish control over it. Or find an alternative that works outside Turkey.
As for reform, it requires the following: Perhaps the opposition will regain some of its patriotism:
- Easing absolute Turkish control over the political and military opposition.
- Restructuring the coalition on the basis of true representation of all Syrians.
- Completely changing the interim government and its work program.
- Presenting real projects to the interim government that will make people rally around it.
- Supervising projects implemented by organizations; As it became rife with corruption; This corruption was reflected in a failure to implement these projects.
- It is necessary to find banks that can deliver aid funds to organizations and institutions in a regular manner without going through Turkish banks. Which controls the price of the dollar while disbursing the funds transferred to those organizations.
- Search seriously for rational and wise national figures; that has the charisma to lead organizations and supervise their projects.
- Work seriously to find a political solution to the Syrian issue; The Syrian people are experiencing a disaster that no people in the world can bear it.
As for finding an alternative:
It involves forming a substitute body for the official opposition to achieve reform within opposition institutions. Political blocs emerging in Europe, where the majority of intellectuals, politicians, and technocrats of various specialties reside as refugees, take on this role. They have a significant space of freedom to work and express opinions, with some enjoying the trust of a large sector of Syrians.
These political blocs declare themselves and are self-established, provided they present a comprehensive vision for a Syrian solution based on relevant UN resolutions. This way, they can gain legitimacy in presenting themselves to the international community as an alternative to the opposition, which has become unconditionally dependent on Turkish decisions and interests.
Is reform or finding an alternative possible? So far, the hope is very weak, perhaps even non-existent.
 There is no clause in the Coalition’s rules of procedure calling for or allowing the accountability of its members; On the principle of no voice above the sound of battle.
 – The following are the main points of the agreement reached by the Kerry/Lavrov Understanding on Syria:
All publishing rights and copyrights reserved to MENA Research Center.