Dafna H. Rand and Nicholas Heras write: Syria’s civil war is heading toward a point of no return. Advances by the Islamic State (IS) in eastern and northern Syria and the resurgence of other jihadi organizations in northwestern Syria are pushing the remnants of the so-called “moderate” armed opposition squarely into the Syrian regime’s line of fire. Any hope that a secular, nationalist movement can govern post-Assad Syria is rapidly waning.
In the south of the country, however, an important force could represent an alternative to both the brutality of the regime and the jihadis. A coalition of secular and nationalist rebels known as the Southern Front (SF) has been able to hold territory for many months in the governorate of Daraa, 90 miles south of Damascus. Its model of rule deserves greater scrutiny: The coalition, which binds together roughly 50 armed groups, has generated a singular example of civil-military governance in Syria — creating a “third way” of local governance that threatens Bashar al-Assad’s depiction of the Syrian opposition movement as extremists and terrorists.
Since 2013, the SF coalition has relied on a combination of strategies to hold ground in Daraa. It has co-opted and forged tactical alliances with the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front; it has coordinated with the local militias and the tribes in the areas; and it is holding the military and ideological line against IS, al-Nusra Front, and other militant Salafist organizations, while fighting off the advances of the Assad regime and its auxiliary forces. [Continue reading…]