The Strategic Logic of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham

This article lays out the key events leading up to, and the strategic thinking behind, the 2017 emergence of Syrian insurgent group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (the Body for the Liberation of the Levant), the latest iteration of Syria’s former al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusrah. To frame that strategic logic, it employs political scientist Peter Krause’s Movement Structure Theory, which posits that national movements led by a single hegemonic group tend to be more successful. For definitional reasons, Krause’s theory likely does not have predictive utility in the case of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which is to some extent transnational and thus governed by different motivations and rules. Still, Krause’s theory nonetheless provides a useful lexicon to describe the insurgency in Syria’s north-west and the rationale for Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s hegemonic dominance of that insurgency as the group has itself articulated it. The article also briefly evaluates Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s apparent prospects, as of November 2017, and their implications for the broader applicability of Krause’s theory.

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