By contrast, the Syrian opposition appeared deeply divided on other issues. Asked about “a federal model” for post-Assad Syria, responses suggested one-third were in favor, one-third opposed and one-third “don’t know.” Asked about their institutional affiliation, responses were even more fragmented. The Free Syrian Army came in first, but with just 17 percent; the Syrian National Council and the Local Coordination Committees tied at 11 percent; all the rest split among a variety of other groups or no group at all.
Looking abroad for a political model, there is greater consensus. Three-quarters gave the United States and France positive ratings — with those Syrians who have found refuge in the West the most likely to rate the United States highly. Among other predominantly Muslim countries, the Islamist states Saudi Arabia and Egypt each received a favorable score on this question from just one-quarter of the Syrian opposition overall. Democratic Turkey rated three times as high, in league with Western models — but 45 percent of those surveyed also said Turkey had too much influence over the Syrian National Council, which is based in that country.
These rankings changed significantly when the question was about foreign “treatment of the Syrian opposition.” Here, France, Qatar, Turkey, Libya and Britain got the highest ratings (averaging 5.3 to 5.5 out of 7); the United States got 4.9, followed closely by Saudi Arabia (4.7) and Egypt (4.2). Even more significant were the exceedingly low scores — 1.5 or less — on this question for Iraq, China, Russia and Iran.
What does Syria’s opposition want from the outside world? Large majorities offered the strongest possible support for a no-fly zone, humanitarian safe zones, and “far greater armaments and training for the Free Syrian Army.” But fewer than half strongly supported “invading Syria to bring down the Assad government”; and 22 percent are opposed to any outside military intervention. Asked who should lead such intervention, Turkey got the most votes, followed fairly closely by France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and NATO.
All in all, the data show that most Syrian opposition activists are far from being Islamic fanatics or extremists. They solidly support religious tolerance, legal equality, freedom of expression and a constitution that mentions religion respectfully but is otherwise secular. They look to Western or moderately Islamist Turkish political models, while rejecting those of Saudi Arabia and especially Iran. And they want Western help, while not requesting any boots on the ground. The argument that providing this help might result in trading Assad’s hostile secular dictatorship for a hostile Islamic one does not square with these facts.