As the armed conflict between jihadists groups and the Syrian Kurdish militia moves into Arab-majority territories, both sides have increasingly relied on support from local Arab tribes to tip the balance.
If the Syrian regime recaptures Old Homs, it will further cement Bashar al-Assad’s grip on an area of Syria he truly cannot afford to relinquish.
The former Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda has become an important driving force behind the global jihad, in its current guise as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
The emergence of the Sham Legion, a moderate Islamist rebel group, may be a significant political development because, until its formation, only more conservative and Salafi-oriented brigades had managed to merge into ideologically coherent countrywide alliances.
While the ideology, politics, and public messaging of the rebel factions making up the Islamic Front have been streamlined effectively, initial hopes for closer organizational and battlefield unity have not yet borne fruit. Five months after its creation, the Islamic Front seemingly remains a rather wobbly umbrella movement.
Made up of thousands of fighters, the Mujahideen Army dominates a chunk of the strategically important countryside west of Aleppo and exerts influence over at least some of the main supply routes from Turkey to Aleppo.
It is far too early to tell whether it will have any impact on the ground, but a new Syrian rebel leadership is finally taking form after the splits of this spring.
The institutional split within the Syrian opposition's Free Syrian Army may reflect foreign countries' disputes, but it also reflects the opposition's organizational chaos and personal rivalries.
To understand the split in the Free Syrian Army that arose last month, one needs to understand the divisive history of the FSA's institutions.
Successfully navigating shifting rebel politics, the Islamist group called the Ansar al-Sham Brigades has become one of the key players in the Syrian opposition's powerful Islamic Front.
The remarkably nonsectarian and democratic statement signed by rebel factions in southern Syria in February was likely only a ploy by rebel commanders to get more foreign support by declaring their opposition to extremism.
Syria’s indigenous Islamist traditions still remain a formidable force on the ground. It would be a grave mistake to imagine that Sunni Islamism in Syria could be neatly categorized into the best known, best organized, most violent, or most visible groups.
Ajnad al-Sham appears to be the second-biggest rebel coalition in the Damascus area, and on the local level, the coalition seems to serve as a counterweight to the Islam Army as well as to more hardline jihadis, like al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
The Supreme Military Council (SMC) issued a statement announcing that it had expelled its own chief of staff, Salim Idris. But confusion reigned—and soon thereafter, an SMC commander called the decision a “coup."
The rebel groups' armed offensive in southern Syria helps clarify where they think the real renegotiation of power in Syria is taking place: on the battlefield.
Despite the radicalization and despair that has set in on the opposition side, some combination of international pressure and real political opportunity could still have an influence on the insurgency’s ideological choices.
The Islamic Front has presented unified positions on a number of issues, but in one case the Islamic Front has had trouble reconciling its stated ideological agenda with political reality—namely, the Kurdish question.
The Umma Initiative, launched by Saudi Salafi preacher Abdullah bin Mohammed al-Moheisini, calls for an immediate ceasefire between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other rebels, and the election of a joint arbitration court from a list of ten independent religious scholars.
Most of Syria’s large rebel groups have explicitly distanced themselves from the Geneva talks.
The Islamic Front argues for social and educational work to help develop the public’s Islamic consciousness, but it rejects the idea that Syrians could ever be allowed to vote on whether to have sharia law, or Islamic law, or to what degree.