Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Syrian Opposition's Internal Civilian Leadership Emerges

While Syrian rebel leaders have become household names across the Middle East, the opposition’s civilian leadership inside Syria has remained in the shadows. Their survival required maintaining anonymity, staying deep underground while organizing Local Coordination Committees and provincial Revolutionary Committees to coordinate the import of food and fuel, establish schools and hospitals, publicize regime atrocities, organize local elections, and generally begin the process of establishing governance in liberated regions.

Rebel groups are involved in many of these activities as well, sometimes in partnership with the unarmed opposition structures and sometimes on their own. The problem is that the rebel leaders have been the only ones publicizing their efforts to provide for the Syrian people and establishing themselves as charismatic leaders. If this pattern continues, rebel leaders will be positioned to become the dominant political leaders while the civilian opposition leaders emerge from the shadows too late to build national networks of popular support.

Fortunately, the civilian opposition leadership inside Syria is beginning to emerge from the shadows as the regime contracts. The Idlib Revolutionary Council has been out front of other councils, publicizing some of its members in mid-July. The council recently held elections, bringing in a new leadership. Not only has the council publicized the names of the election winners, it has also posted their pictures. Despite their emergence from the underground, the civilian leadership does not appear to be cultivating a popular following through displays of charismatic leadership. This may change, however, as Syria’s internal civilian opposition becomes comfortable operating in public.

The Idlib Revolutionary Council's new leader, Ghazi al-Bakri (holding the microphone)

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