Michael Lüders: “The opposition is anything but united”
Who’s actually behind the Syrian opposition? Who’s intervening in the conflict now? What about human rights abuses committed by the rebels? Rebecca Donauer spoke with Middle East expert Michael Lüders about these issues.
Rebecca Donauer for ARTE Journal: What different groups make up the Syrian opposition?
There is no single Syrian opposition. There are different opposition groups in Turkey, in France, in Great Britain and of course inside Syria. The predominant block is the Syrian National Council based in Istanbul. The Council is a collection of different individuals and intellectuals, and relatively little is known about the level of support they enjoy among the Syrian population. The fact that the Council supports the Free Syrian Army has been very well received inside Syria itself, but the opposition is anything but united. It has a convoluted structure and is probably a temporary phenomenon. If things in Syria calm down, then the Muslim Brotherhood is once again most likely to emerge from the struggle with Bashar al-Assad as the strongest political force in Syria.
Why is the opposition so convoluted?
It’s been impossible for the political opposition in Syria to organise itself for the last 40 years. Organisation has only been possible abroad. Every attempt to organise opposition inside Syria has been repressed. The issue is further complicated by the fact that Syria’s population is made up of ethnic-religious blocks. In a state like this, it’s natural that group identities also heavily influence the political conduct of the members of the various groups. To put it plainly, a Druze is not going to eagerly support a Christian political party any more than a Christian is going to be enthusiastic about supporting a Sunni party. This of course weakens the opposition, which has been comprised up to now of an assortment of different people, many of great moral integrity, who genuinely want to achieve a democratic transformation in Syria but who are simply starved of the possibilities for achieving this.
There have been recent reports of human rights abuses by the opposition…
The Free Syrian Army is absolutely prepared to report on its own Facebook profile of violence against soldiers in very graphic language. They talk about the complete destruction of the enemy or of having slit the throats of government soldiers. So the Free Syrian Army is not driven solely by noble motives. Fundamentally, it should be said that what we’ve seen in Syria in the last few months, an uprising of parts of the population against the government, the regime, is now being overshadowed by foreign interventions. Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states are increasingly involving themselves in Syria’s internal politics. In particular, they finance the Free Syrian Army, pay the soldiers’ wages and deliver weapons through Turkey, Iraq or Lebanon. At the same time, the USA is becoming louder in signalling that it can imagine intervening in Syria. This means that in the end Syria’s future won’t be decided on the basis of what the Syrians themselves want. Instead, it will come down to what the outside forces that are exerting more and more influence on the opposition decide is the right path.
Intelligence services report that al-Qaeda is infiltrating the Syrian opposition…
To say infiltrating is surely an exaggeration. But it’s obvious that anywhere the order in a country breaks down and an opposition forms, radical Islamists are also going to be a part of the mix. It’s impossible to seriously assess whether they are really linked to al-Qaeda or not. But there are sure to be radical Islamist forces involved using the instability for their own ends.blog comments powered by Disqus