New ISW Report Examines Syria’s Internal Political Struggle

Contact: Stephanie Robson
(202) 253-1150
Washington, D.C. - As the international community debates how to slow the bloodshed in Syria, leaders in the Syrian government and the opposition have tried to use elections to gain popular support. Yet parliamentary elections in Syria and the presidential election at the Syrian National Council in May both led to more division. In a new backgrounder from the Institute for the Study of War, Research Analyst Elizabeth O’Bagy examines the effects of the May 2012 parliamentary elections in Syria and the power struggle within the Syrian National Council and other developing political opposition groups.
“Even though the elections were not free or fair by any international standards, they were an important propaganda victory for the regime,” O’Bagy writes. “The regime sought to promote a sense of normalcy that downplayed the crisis and encouraged perceptions of its continued power. This thin promise of ‘normalcy’ is essential for the Assad regime’s survival.”
“Syria’s Political Struggle: Spring 2012” also looks at the SNC’s identity crisis. An uproar after Burhan Ghalioun was reelected as president of the SNC in mid-May led him to offer to resign as soon as a replacement is chosen, so the SNC’s General Secretariat will have to find a consensus candidate in its June meeting in Istanbul. Meanwhile, other political opposition groups inside Syria are growing in influence. These new groups have further complicated the international community’s interaction with the opposition.
“International leaders have demanded that the opposition develop into a single organization in order to provide a clear channel for international aid and support and to steer the revolution in a certain direction. In so doing, the international community has predicated the success of the revolution on the ability of the opposition to unite behind a strong leadership – and has presented the SNC as the embodiment of this leadership,” O’Bagy writes. “This emphasis on a single, national-level organization has left Syrians who do not support the regime but do not trust the SNC with no alternative.”
O’Bagy’s previous report, “Syria’s Political Opposition,” published in April, details the groups, including the Syrian National Council, the National Coordination Committee and the grassroots political movement, that have organized protests and interfaced with the international community on behalf of the opposition since demonstrations started in March 2011.
This is the fourth report on Syria that ISW has published as part of its Middle East Security Project. Senior Research Analyst Joseph Holiday wrote “Syria’s Armed Opposition,” an in-depth look at the Free Syrian Army and its affiliates, and “The Struggle for Syria in 2011: An Operational and Regional Analysis,” an examination of the first months of the revolution.
To speak with a Syria analyst, please contact Stephanie Robson at [email protected] or at (202) 253-1150.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) is a non-partisan, non-profit, public policy research organization. ISW advances an informed understanding of military affairs through reliable research, trusted analysis, and innovative education. We are committed to improving the nation’s ability to execute military operations and respond to emerging threats in order to achieve U.S. strategic objectives.