Many imagine Syrian rebel groups as one dimensional militias. Simple clusters of armed men loosely organized for irregular fighting. This image is incorrect however, as these are increasingly complex organizations that systematically raise funds internationally, provide services, organize politically, and embark on public relations campaigns.
Almost all groups have Facebook and Twitter accounts and some have websites. Their internet presence is managed by dedicated staff often described as a group’s “information department.” Branding is important to Syrian rebel groups. They all have unique logos and often publicize their attacks as well as the services they provide in an effort to attract donors and gain influence. Suqour al-Sham’s media department, for example, is run by Ahmad Assi who produces long montages of Suqour al-Sham raids and writes articles for the group's website.
Syrian rebels also provide services. During the recent Eid holiday, the Muhajirin wal-Ansar Battalion within the Suqour al-Sham Brigade, distributed food to needy supporters. They publicized the effort with interviews and videos, promoting in an image of the unit as a protector and provider. The Luwa Brigade in Maarat al-Numan, run by Mahdi al-Harati, an Irish citizen who led a prominent rebel group in Libya before coming to Syria, recently opened a hospital with supplies sent by supporters in Libya. Again, maximum effort was made to promote the endeavor.
Rebel groups’ core mission of defense goes beyond fighting the regime. During a recent election in the Jebel al-Zawiyah town of Maar Zeita, local rebel groups provided security and crowd control. Rebel leaders are also dealing with local crime in the northern border regions. Fighting the regime requires organizational structures as well, and some groups have controlled arms depots from which they distribute arms to their men, while others produce their own rockets in metal workshops.
In the north, rebel leaders make frequent trips to Turkey to meet with foreign and exiled supporters and sometimes host their patrons inside Syria. Powerful rebel groups seek out large funders based in the Gulf with whom they build enduring relationships. One example of this is the Luwa Brigade's relationship with the Haiah Shaabiyah l-Daam al-Thawra al-Sury (The Popular Commission to Support the Syrian Revolution) in Kuwait, an organization supported by many prominent Kuwaitis. The Luwa Brigade has publicly thanked the commission and its leaders, Sheikh Hjaz al-Ajmi and Sheikh Arashid al-Hajri on multiple occasions.
“Chaos” does not accurately describe the situation in Syria. When the Assad system broke down, local political entities emerged organically in the rebellious regions. These local entities operate on many levels, including the political, military, and economic. Binding these entities together to form a state is a huge challenge, but on the village level, order already exists in rebel-held Syria.