The Syrian Civil War: Who Are The Rebels And How It All Started

Fatimah Mazhar
The Syrian civil conflict goes further back than the Arab Spring.

Syrian Civil War

While the revolutionary fervor sweeping the Middle East at the time may have prompted protests, the disagreement between Syrian opposition groups and the ruling Ba’ath Party of Syria started in the 1970s when Bashar al-Assad’s father, Alawite Hafez al-Assad, was president.

Islamic Uprising In Syria (1976-1982)

Syrian Civil War

Sunni-Islamists in 1976 launched an offensive against Alawite Hafez al-Assad’s rule, which according to the rebels was seen as a ‘long campaign of terror.’ People saw Assad Sr. as a tyrant who wouldn’t allow opposition groups to progress.

The movement went on for six years but eventually ended when the Syrian armed forces killed 10,000- 40,000 people in the city of Hama.

Damascus Spring (2000-2001)

Hafez successfully ruled as the President of Syria until his death in 2000. When his son Bashar took over, the oppressed political climate was expected to change but it didn’t. According to human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human RightsWatch, Bashar carried on with his father’s legacy of repression. He reportedly killed, tortured and imprisoned his political opponents which eventually led to another anti-government movement known as the Damascus Spring.

It was short-lived and less violent as compared to the Islamic Uprising since it consisted of private meetings and forums of opposition groups in which they would discuss political matters. It was one of the very first signs of popular disapproval of Bashar al-Assad’s governance.

Read More: Syrian Civil War: What Is Happening In Syria? Who Has The Highest Stakes In The Deadly War?

Arab Spring:

A decade later, those who opposed Assad’s government poured onto the streets in what began as movement to oust the Syrian dictator. That year in March, thousands of protesters gathered in cities including Damascus, Aleppo, al-Hasakah, Daraa, Deir ez-Zor, and Hama to carry out mass demonstrations against their government.

But Assad’s forces responded with brutality, which ultimately resulted in the emergence of several armed rebel groups. Thus began the Syrian civil war.

The Rebel Groups:

Syrian Civil War

The most prominent armed rebel groups are the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the Syrian Liberation Front, the Syrian Islamic Front and the Jabhat al-Nusra Front.

While the FSA claims to be non-sectarian, the Islamic Front and Liberation Front are mostly Islamist groups who want to replace Assad’s governance with religious Muslim law.

The Jabaht al-Nusra, however, is the most aggressive of the four and has been officially recognized as a terrorist organization because of its adherence to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. This is one of the strongest reasons why the United States is being criticized for its support of the Syrian rebel groups.

Although the rebel groups started off as “saviors” and “warriors” who wanted to rid the Syrians of tyranny and oppression, they somehow turned into terrorist-like figures, mainly consisting of Sunni Islamists, who are now carrying out mass killings of regime forces and civilians which include a huge number of Shiites and Christians. Just last month, eleven people, mostly Christians, were gunned down near a town in central Syria by rebel fighters. There are also reports of rivalries amongst these militant groups. In August, al-Nusra members killed a commander of the FSA.

Off and on distressing videos of these rebel fighters surface on the internet in which they can be seen committing gruesome acts. For example, a disturbing footage showing a Syrian rebel commander ripping out and eating the heart of a Pro-Assad fighter went viral in May.

Moreover, some reports speculate that the horrific chemical gas attack, which claimed almost 1,300 lives last month, was carried out by the rebel forces and not by Bashar al-Assad.

The descriptions are murky but the fact that militants and factions of terrorist organizations have now joined rebel fighters in their goal to overthrow Assad is undeniable. Getting rid of Bashar al-Assad by helping these rebels doesn’t guarantee peace and democracy for the people of Syria, which is why many countries and their people have been denouncing the United States’ for seriously considering military intervention in Syria.