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The War between Jihadists and the Free Syrian Army - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A Salafi jihadist leader in Jordan was quoted as saying, “A war will break out between jihadists and secular fighters (the Free Syrian Army) if President Bashar Al-Assad falls.” This threat can be interpreted in tow possible ways. It is either part of the Syrian regime’s campaign of intimidation or an honest statement expressing the agenda of jihadist groups in the region. Both possibilities are catastrophic.

The statement, hinting at a possible war between jihadist and secular fighters in Syria, was attributed to the Al-Qaeda supporter known as Abu Sayyaf. Since he was speaking from Jordan, the statement is akin to an observer making judgments from the outside, but its timing only serves Bashar Assad. The Syrian president is facing an uprising led by the majority of the Syrians, whom he claims are terrorists with links to Al-Qaeda.

Abu Sayyaf’s statement corroborates the Syrian regime’s allegations. When one hears such statements, they instantly think: Is it better for Syria is ruled by an evil man with smart clothes like Bashar Assad, or an evil man dressed in shabby clothes and carrying a sword? Unfortunately, many could fall for this and believe the situation in Syria is now a choice between Bashar Assad and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Here they would choose Syria’s Assad instead of Afghanistan’s Taliban and Al-Qaeda. They would not accept a Somali version of Syria and they would not fight for Damascus to become another Timbkutu.

This terrifying vision is based on the following scarecrow: The fall of Assad means the rise of Zawahiri, Jabhat Al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda. But why do we assume that overthrowing the Assad regime, which is a popular demand, would inevitably be followed by Al-Qaeda’s seizure of Damascus? The truth is that Abu Sayyaf is merely enhancing Assad’s propaganda; a campaign designed to intimidate the Syrians who have been struggling for two years to topple a regime that has suppressed them for forty.

It is an attempt to intimidate the countries that support the revolution such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It is an attempt to intimidate the global powers and other European countries, which, despite their reluctance, are tightening the noose around Assad’s regime on the financial and economic level, and will have a major role in establishing a future Syrian state.

But we do not want Abu Sayyaf to lie to us, and we, ourselves, do not want to lie to others. Yes the situation in Syria is very dangerous. Iran and Russia are exerting great efforts to support and protect the Damascus regime, and they hold the key to why Assad remains in his palace to this day. Amid a campaign of intimidation, starvation and genocide, it is normal for groups to emerge seeking vengeance, and for segments of society to support extremism. However, it is certain that Assad’s regime, along with Hezbollah and Iran, are encouraging terrorist groups and facilitating their entry into the opposition in order to cause alarm within the international community, which is fighting Al-Qaeda today in Yemen, Afghanistan and Mali. It would not make sense for the west to support any revolution raising an extremist flag.

Abu Sayyaf said that “if Assad is toppled, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or those who oppose the ideas of Jabhat Al-Nusra will request all Islamic groups to immediately put down their weapons…Here a clash will take place, and the losses will be grave. We cannot say how exactly, because we cannot pre-empt events.” In turn, we say to Abu Sayyaf that the extremists will fail and the Syrian people will fight them. Look around; Al-Qaeda has failed everywhere. It failed in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and even in Somalia. It is currently besieged in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It is a Takfiri group acting against 90 percent of the Muslim community.

I personally think that Abu Sayyaf’s statements are a free service to Assad in order to frustrate the rebels’ courage, raise the Syrians’ suspicions regarding their revolution, and intimidate the wider world. The majority of Syrians are against Al-Qaeda and Salafi jihadism. The overwhelming majority of the Syrian rebels are defectors from the Syrian army; young men who have risen up against injustice. They are neither jihadists nor Al-Qaeda affiliates. If Jabhat Al-Nusra is really affiliated with Al-Qaeda, it will end like all other Al-Qaeda organizations; in failure. But if it is genuinely a Syrian revolutionary group, there will be a place for it among the others. What we have to understand is that the FSA is the overwhelming power. It is genuine and patriotic, and its religious slogans must be understood in context and not considered as extremist. Christian fighters often draw the cross and Jews carry the Torah. It is piety not extremism, and it is normal for people to express their religion.

The FSA’s agenda is to build a new country while Al-Qaeda’s agenda is destruction and bloodshed. This is why the latter failed and why religion will always overcome it. The US did not succeed in its war against Al-Qaeda in Iraq but Sunni tribes managed to eliminate it. The Syrian people are civilized, moderately religious, and will not allow the evil of Al-Qaeda to replace the evil of the Assad regime. They will do what the Saudis, Egyptians, Algerians, and Jordanians did, and what the Yemenis are doing no, by fully rejecting the terrorist organization’s ideology. Therefore, we do not need to fear that jihadists will thwart the Syrian revolution.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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