Skip to main content

Extrapolating on my previous publication: "E-Diplomacy and Beyond" to focus on who is driving the Syrian Revolution.

« We’ve got to figure out who is over there first, and we don’t really know that » -
An unnamed « U.S. official who expressed concern over persistent (intel) gaps »
Washington Post 23/7/2012

Reading Greg Miller and Joby Warrick’s article on how U.S. State agencies are finally exploring solutions outside the expat diplomatic realm (Friends of Syria, SNC, UN/SC, UNMIS) is tentatively uplifting, although, you have to wonder why now - after 20 000 deaths? Perhaps it’s the anticlimactic thud the stratospheric negotiations made hitting the wall at minimal speed, prompting all parties to take a sharper look at the realities of the terrain. It might also be that the massive diplomatic fail sharply contrasts with the simultaneous wins delivered by the armed oppositions on the ground - perceived successes that are snowballing into stronger support, and a relatively attractive landing ground for defectors. Gains that are leaving in their wake any expectations of regular outside help. This forced shift of focus - from the abstract to the concrete - is actually the only positive thing I can say about the Washington Post’s feature on confused U.S. intelligence agencies.

The article goes on to describe the various channels used to sniff out, vet and prep the armed factions. It’s a process that seems to be totally indirect, even deflected, either via Saudi Arabia and Qatar or Turkey and Jordan. Obviously Israel would also provide mountains of data, though here it doesn’t seem to come up much. There seems to be little engagement. All the sources in the article declined to reveal their identity citing security concerns. Ironically, identity is precisely what those agency sources are finding so elusive about the local Syrian opposition. But is it really?

Pinpointing the right partners to collaborate with was a major issue in the Libyan conflict too. Although the United Nations resolution 1973 relied on the principles of the Responsibility to Protect framework, safeguarding the civilian population through all necessary means, one of those “means” was shockingly overlooked: Social Media outreach by UN mandated agencies was rather very limited. Funnily enough, this was the space where most conversations actually took place. In a time of political upheaval, and without diplomatic staff available in the country, interlocutors change and communication channels dry up. Establishing a presence on the ground, whilst fundamental, cannot begin to cover all the interactions needed for large scale operations. During the Libyan conflict and to fill the gaps, thousands of civilians stepped up and took operations into their own hands. After months of  peaceful protesting ending in civilian bloodbaths without much action from outside help, this is precisely what the local Syrian opposition proceeded to do - on and offline. I would have thought that one year later, State agencies would have learned their Libya lessons, designed platforms and protocols, prepared contingency plans so that the ad-hoc communication operation I was part of then, would have grown into something far more professional: An effective outreach program spanning a broad spectrum of activities, from humanitarian to military intel. There are practically no political parallels to be drawn between the Syrian and Libyan revolutions apart from the scope of atrocities committed by the respective regimes and People’s right to self-determination. There is however one huge operational common denominator: the vast quantity of contextual information publicly available and the equally staggering number of players directly accessible via Internet. The information is there. You just have to know where to look.

This may be that moment in the  Syrian uprising’s timeline where International Dialogue has become little more than white noise, a distraction from the do-it-yourself wins provided by the Syrian armed opposition. So close to the end game, having done all of the heavy lifting and after so many souls lost, reticence on behalf of the local opposition, armed or not, to reach out now and share its sweet victory, would be totally understandable. A RUSI report A Collision Course for Intervention points out that the regional spill-over from the revolution may propel the wider international community to take a more hands-on approach. However, the pace of action has changed and has synchronized with on-zone events. If intervention, in any form, becomes a reality, those who have been passively  responding to local distress calls at their own leisure may find themselves furiously scrambling to connect with factions on the ground.

Until Syria’s massive stockpiles of chemical weapons have been secured and a viable stabilisation plan implemented, no party can afford to unglue their eyes from the screen and their ears from the ground.


Here is a DIY101 toolkit to get you started : Understanding the armed and peaceful Syrian opposition:


  • Let’s start with the basics constantly updated Wikipedia pages:

Free Syrian Army
Syrian Opposition
  • And Holliday's in-depth analysis of the armed opposition - The Syrian Armed Opposition
  • One of my favourite blogs features (amongst many interesting posts) the arms, equipment and expertise available to the armed oppositions. Brown Moses Blog. Another great site is .processing
  • Visual aides to figure out who is where and when - Maps of troop positions by @markito0171 (updated fanatically)
  • To get a sense of the volume of civil dissent - Daily peaceful protest maps: @SyriaUprising (also on twitter) provides daily updates and thoroughly documented map of where the scores of daily peaceful protests occur throughout Syria. Most of the footage shows how these protests are attacked by regime regular army or shabiha.

View Syria - Monday 23/07/2012 in a larger map
  • Syria Streams Map locates live and recorded footage from inside Syria

Afficher Syria Streams sur une carte plus grande
  • If you have a twitter account you can follow @Bambuser for alerts on live footage of the Syrian regime army shelling civilian populations in real time. Activists risk their lives to present these images to the world.

  • To interact with others on the live events or get an instant translation by an online community member, you can log on to the Syrian Freedom Livestream here and ask the team for help.
  • Join in the dialogue by following the twitter list of people on the ground or close enough to care (English).

  • Moving on to local committees: Most of the resources below, although presenting factual information, footage and images, do have a spin to them. Dissecting the narrative is precisely the kind of information that can contribute to understanding affiliations and penchants.

Coordinating Councils:
Local Coordination Committees Syria
Syrian Revolution General Commission
Supreme Council of the Syrian Revolution

Political (not local):
Syrian National Council

Mussalaha - a local initiative which originated in Homs, is definitely worth keeping an eye on, as it is scalable.Some opposition groups believe this to be a pro-regime operation, as it also reaches out to one or two Assad government ministers. It is an inter-faith, a-political movement, which in some cases is providing an interesting "3rd way". Currently their activities are relayed via the Vatican State media, but hopefully they will have some non-partisan platform soon.

FSA Chief of Staff Mustafa Ahmed Sheikh’s Youtube Channel
Rastan Military Council Youtube Channel

Granted, these resources do not explicitly mention where the money comes from and goes to, but for those who feel a little more curious, most channels and websites do provide contact details. Feel free to leave comments or ping them directly.

An updated version of the DIY101 Syrian Opposition Toolkit can be found HERE

Originally posted to Collective Conscience on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 09:04 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  There is one aspect of the situation in Syria (5+ / 0-)

    which I don’t see addressed here - the Kurdish takeover and potential establishment, with Iraqi Kurdish aid, of an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria.

    As I understand it almost all of the area along the northern border of Syria, from Afrin in the west to Al-Malikiyah in the east, is under the control of Kurdish groups.

    There are two or three exceptions. Some parts of Azaz, which is north of Aleppo, seem to be under Kurdish control, while others seem to be under FSA control. Tell Abiad still seems to be under the control of the Syrian government, with the permission of the Kurdish groups, so that the border post can be kept open. The situation in Jarabulus, which is heavily Turkoman, is unclear but I have heard that many/most of the Turkomans who live in the area have come to Turkey, so Jarabulus may be under Kurdish control since the areas south and east of the town are heavily Kurdish.

    I also wonder how the rapidly developing food insecurity situation in Syria, and the lack of financial support by countries around the world for efforts to address it, will have an effect on events in Syria.

    Lamb chop, we can quibble what to call it, but I think we can both agree it's creepy.

    by InAntalya on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 10:06:58 AM PDT

    •  Kurdish Syria & Relief Funds (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      InAntalya, sofia, native, roadbear

      Thank you for your comment InAntalya.
      I couldn't go into all the different complications of the Syria conflict in this post (I put everything in the same bag - silly me- when talking about the sectarian fabric). Yes this is indeed an interesting aspect, especially with Turkey's recent concessions to more moderate Kurdish factions (accepting SNC head Sayda as interlocutor, Kurdish taught in some public schools). Kurds also have a complex network of influence. So, not being expert in the matter - I'll leave that for others to untangle.

      As to the food insecurity within Syria, the more disgruntled citizens are with the Assad regime faces (financial, social etc) the more it will play into the hands of the local opposition (note, not the reps in exile).

      So it all comes down to getting the right info. My point in this post was to highlight that untraditional channels such as open source intel available on the web might help to grasp the complexity of "who are the networks driving the revolution?".

  •  Not as inside as your links but the Guardian has (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Louisiana 1976, roadbear

    a live update page going.

  •  About Wikipedia articles (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shenderson, roadbear

    Speaking from experience, the more controversial the subject, the more the contents of the article will change -- sometimes quite violently between two very different points of view.

    Consider the article on the Free Syrian Army, just to pick one at random, but relevant to the subject. If you find a controversial article, the best practice is to link directly to the latest version (which is here as I write this). Doing so will prevent a contentious editor from subverting you by rewriting the article on the fly. As an exercise, compare the two links, & see if they have changed in a significant way.

    You can look for edit wars like this by examining the history of the article, which is always available by clicking on the words "Page history" to the left of the article body. Studying this article, for example, we can see a number of edit wars over the content. Sometimes these reversions are explained in the comments, but often they are not. Some clues for these edit wars can be found by reading the Talk page, but often one has to look at the changes, then look at the contributor's edit history, to determine just what is going on, & maybe who is right.

    Just some hints I've learned over the years. Unfortunately, knowing too many of these tricks means I often spend far too long trying to understand who are the combatants & what their agendas are, than making constructive changes to the content -- which leads to burnout. :-(

    •  fanatically updated (0+ / 0-)

      Well, anything that takes sides is probably "spun". I won't tell my revolutionary friends, but I do look at pro-Assad material too. Not pretty, but it helps to understand when, where and why certain stories are put out. Usually, my yard stick are a few reporters and sources on the ground. Since part of my job is PR, I usually manage to strike a balance. But I agree, figuring out who said what when can be tiring - but its part of the process.

  •  Joseph Holliday? (0+ / 0-)
    It’s also an important study because it deals with that murky issue of popular and effective Islamist rebel groups that should probably not be classified as extremists.
    Syrian Comment

    I remember when the uprising was first sold to us, it was a secular uprising. Remember the 'Gay Girl in Damascus?'

    As the months continued, it slowly morphed in the news. Now we have  'Islamist rebel groups that should probably not be classified as extremists.'

    What a phrase!

    I mean this comes at a day that an idiot judge declares Iran partially responsible for 9/11. Demands them pay part of a 6 billion dollar pay out. CNN just echoes this nonsense without questioning just how stupid this is.

    But then again, they helped sell the war on Iraq by giving air time to assholes that claimed Saddam was behind 9/11. Meanwhile, Saudi funded Salafists run amok in Syria and we say nothing. CNN walks right buy the 'Al Berri'tribe getting summarily executed by their FSA hosts, and doesn't say a word.

    •  True - but... (0+ / 0-)

      "The gay girl in Damascus" also had a Libyan counterpart who didn't get as much mainstream media attention, but when he passed, everyone was sad until they realised it was a hoax. So honestly - that was just a distraction. Irrelevant considering how many real people are living through hell.

      As you should know, any story will morph - the situation on the ground is fluid and external factors also tend to nudge the story this way and that. So why should Syria be any different?
      Especially since, and I'm sure you would be able to grasp this as well, that jihadist probably thought this revolution was a great oppertunity to branch out. They already knew the route having travelled through Syria (Thx to Assad) to Iraq - Now they are travelling the other way. They saw how ridiculously little the "west" is doing and they jump on the occasion to fill the gaps. So yes, there has been an influx of Jihadists. If you read the ISW report, which is fairly recent, but prob needs an update since Aleppo you'll see that brigades tend to lean towards more moderate religious beliefs. Yes, in Syria most are deeply religious, especially in the face of death, but that does not make them "extremists" or "radicals".

      Even within the Jihadi ranks you have varying degrees of animosity towards "enemies". The very extreme fringe waging war on anyone who is not as religious as they think they are.

      As for the extrajudicial killing of the Al Berri's. Thats shocking, and I'm glad the video did make it out. The FSA doesn't say a word on much. they don't put out statements.  They probably don't even have a common play book yet. Establishing common rules of engagement would mean to have to have control and enforcement - there simply isn't enough manpower for that.
      So no, I'd be surprised the HQ would put out a statement. If they do, it would be welcome.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site