The territories ruled by the Syrian opposition are being reorganised. The leaderless revolution has given way to a seizure of power by vanguardist and ideological organisations, be it the PYD in the northeast or HTS, the former local branch of AQ, in Idlib. However, these organisations cannot resist the regime’s military threat to reconquer the territories or the Turkish intervention by themselves. They need to manage the internationalisation of the conflict to protect themselves and find space in the broader strategic game around Syria.
This is the strategy of HTS. After emerging from the matrix of AQ’s global jihad, since 2017 HTS has sought to ‘institutionalise’ the revolution by imposing its military hegemony and full control of the institutions of local governance. The group has thus marginalised the revolutionary milieu, other Islamists and the threat posed by AQ supporters and IS cells in Idlib. HTS’s domination was followed by a policy of gradual opening and mainstreamisation. The group has had to open up to local communities and make concessions, especially in the religious sphere. HTS is seeking international acceptance with the development of a strategic partnership with Turkey and desires to open dialogue with Western countries.
Overall, HTS has transformed from formerly being a salafi jihadi organisation into having a new mainstream approach to political Islam.