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Who are the Syrian opposition?

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Who are the Syrian opposition?

A Syrian protester demonstrates for the ouster of Bashar al-Assad outside the Syrian Embassy on Oct. 29, 2011, in London, England.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Question: Who are the Syrian opposition?
Syrians have spilled out into the streets, risking their lives and sometimes paying with their in the process, to protest the tyrannical rule of Bashar al-Assad. But how is the opposition categorized and characterized, and is there enough organization to avoid a power vacuum if Assad is successfully ousted from office?
Answer: Local Coordination Committees

The LCC has brought the Syrian revolution to the outside world with its website that details daily attacks by Bashar al-Assad's forces and deaths, carries amateur video of protests and attacks, and utilizes social media to disseminate the information. The LCC dates back to March 2011, the launch of the widespread protest effort against the Assad regime, when communities pulled together to organize events in their areas. It now serves as an umbrella group to coordinate and share information from the local committees on a nationwide -- and, with the new media exposure -- global scale. The LCC, which encourages protest participation from all walks of Syrian society, is not political but broadly anti-government.

Islamists

Omnipresent in the Arab Spring revolutions, there are the forces who have long opposed the rule of Assad based on faith. Assad is an Alawite, a mystical sect based on Shiite Islam that holds most of the ruling offices as a minority in Syria. Nearly three-quarters of Syrians are Sunni, and some consider the Alawites to be non-Islamic. In particular, the Muslim Brotherhood -- which was banned in 1963 and was key in the bloody 1982 Hama uprising, then lapsed into a period of dormancy -- has seized on the protests to call for the ouster of Assad. The new Brotherhood has publicly taken a more measured stance than in years past, when it called for violent uprisings against Alawites and the implementation of Sharia law.

Kurds

The Kurds in Syria, who are Sunni, Christian and Alawite, are the country's largest minority and have long been discriminated against by the regime. Kurds have been among the anti-government demonstrations, especially in the northeast, and rage was stoked among Kurds in October 2011 when Mashaal Tammo, founder of the Kurdish Future Movement Party, was assassinated in his apartment. Syrian forces then fired into the crowd at Tammo's funeral procession, killing five. The incidents have inspired Kurds to get involved in the rebellion to a greater degree.

Assyrians

Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III, head of the Syriac Catholic Church, said that the overthrow of Assad should not be supported because of the persecution Syrian Christians, representing about 10 percent of the population, could suffer under a more Islamist government. But some Syrian Christians are taking an active role in the uprising. United formally under Syrian Christians for Democracy, the Assyrians both in Syria and in exile are active in the LCC and in the Syrian National Council. The group's vision statement, crafted in Decemeber 2011, states that Christians identify strongly with the revolution in response to years of repression from the Assad regime. The goal is to ensure that Christians involved deeply in the opposition will have an integral role in a post-Assad Syria and participate in the drafting of a new constitution that enshrines religious liberty alongside democracy.

Syrian National Council

This umbrella group formed in response to the 2011 rebellion as a government-in-exile of sorts, and operates out of Istanbul, Turkey. It runs the Syrian Free Army, composed of the Syrian soldiers who have defected in the process of widespread military crackdowns by Assad's government on civilians. The SNC rejected a deal with the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change that would have embraced dialogue to settle grievances with the Assad regime and discouraged any international military intervention, such as the no-fly zone that aided Libyan rebels in the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi (and has been called for in chants at many grass-roots anti-regime protests, especially as violence increased against ordinary Syrians). The SNC uses a Syrian flag from before the Assad dynasty began with Hafez Assad. It has the backing of the LCC, the Muslim Brotherhood, many Kurds and Assyrians.

National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change

This umbrella group includes many opposition figures long tolerated by the Assad regime, or who were once members of the regime, and thus has come under fire from many grass-roots activists. “The Syrian regime is very crafty and it sends people into the National Co-ordination Committee,” said Khaled Kamal, a Syrian opposition activist in Cairo. “It’s a regime front group. We don’t want to co-ordinate our strategy with agents of the regime.” Its ideology is leftist and nationalist, and includes three Kurdish opposition parties. It advocates dialogue with the Assad regime to hammer out differences. The NCC uses the official Syrian flag.

The grass-roots

These protesters, who may have seen themselves as unlikely activists at any other time, have taken to the streets of Syria out of a desire for democracy, demanding that Assad resign, and in protest to attacks on their neighborhoods or nearby towns. The grass-roots demonstrations have included student protests and exclusively women's demonstrations, or sit-ins by doctors, lawyers and other professional groups protesting conditions in the country. These myriad representations of society have bristled at what many see as political posturing by the organized opposition umbrella groups. “The opposition is not honest and has very huge political ambitions that make Syrian blood a second priority,” one activist in Homs told the Financial Times. “What I believe is happening is that the opposition are so busy with what they will get after toppling the regime that they are losing the main point. They should focus on one thing only: the toppling of the regime and fair trial for Bashar and his gangs.”

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