The TSP does not want to radically remake Syrian society. Although the group has called for the immediate dissolution of the ruling Baath Party, it rejects de-Baathifying government institutions because it does not want to lose Syria’s civil-servant class, most of whom are not in decision-making roles. The TSP would also maintain Syria’s independent local coordination committees (LCCs), which sprung up at the start of the Syrian uprising, so they can educate Syrians on the electoral process and the rule of law, while working hand-in-hand with the TSP’s representatives to execute decisions. In many localities, LCCs have already served as the primary entities maintaining law and order, managing trash collection and utilities, providing medical assistance, and offering other social services.
Of the minority groups in Syria, the Ismaili and Christian Assyrian communities were the most responsive to the TSP’s call to action and have participated as members; Kurds and Turkmen have also taken part in the group’s work. Alawites, an offshoot of the Shia sect, agreed to participate in discussions with the TSP’s leaders but refused to formally join the organization, out of fear that they would be endangering themselves as members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s clan.
Although the 1950 constitution does make reference to Islam as the religion of the state, it also explicitly protects the right of religion for all: Chapter 1, Article 3 states, “Freedom of belief shall be guaranteed. The state shall respect all theistic religions and shall protect the free exercise of all forms of worship consistent with the public order. Personal rights of religious communities shall be respected and observed.” Nevertheless, the TSP’s organizers admit that it has been difficult to convince Syria’s minority populations that they will be protected in a future Syria based on a system of equal representation and not on a quota system, as in Lebanon. Many minorities hope Western countries will ultimately impose a quota-based system through an internationally brokered peace settlement (like Geneva II) to ensure that they obtain a specific number of seats in any new governing structure.
In 2011, the TSP’s founders convinced 86 members, selected by LCCs, to represent their communities in the body. Unable to physically meet for fear of attack, members coordinated their efforts online. Funding was limited to Syria-based donations, which have been sparse compared with the outside money received by other opposition groups. That same year, however, the Syrian government began to target the TSP’s members. Today, many have been killed, captured, or forced to flee Syria. Only 16 TSP members remain inside the country.
The TSP has criticized the SOC, the Syrian opposition’s primary government-in-exile, for its ready acceptance of foreign funding from the U.S., its European allies, and other countries in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. This funding, the TSP and other Syrian activists argue, comes with strings attached that are not always in the best interests of Syrians inside the country. Qatar, for example, has allegedly funded Ahrar al-Sham, a sectarian rebel group that has refused to negotiate with the regime to end the conflict. Organizers also criticize the SOC’s failure to attract members of the opposition in Syria. For decades, they argue, the Syrian opposition overseas dreamed of overthrowing the Assad regime, but was unable to do so primarily because it lacked the strength or influence on the ground. Although the SOC has tried to engage Syrians inside the country, there have been practical hindrances, including a lack of secure communications equipment and constant targeting by the Syrian regime.