Yet another accurate analysis of a topic mired in confusion and or misinformation. It is with no doubt that the strong appearance of the religious groups and the increasing religiosity among the Syrian people and the rebels was mainly due to the fact that they had no other choice. The first image in this article is enough to sum up the whole ordeal. The brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations early in the revolution and the continuous, unimaginable scale of the massacres by the criminal regime, coupled with the blatant disregard by world powers forced many chivalrous men around the Arab and Muslim world to leave everything behind and head straight to the harsh, bloody battlefields of the Syrian revolution. Among these people are a few dozen (up to a few hundred at most) of battle-hardened Islamist fighters with experience fighting the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviets, Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S. and experience fighting against some of the many totalitarian regimes in the region. Though these individuals remain a minority among foreign fighters in Syria, their strong ideology and extensive battlefield experience makes them the elite force of the Syrian revolution and the most painful for the regime.

The most prominent (and possibly the only) group encompassing mostly foreign Islamist fighters is indeed “Jabhat Al-Nusrah” meaning the “Victors’ Front” and “victors” is the closest English term I could think of which in this case means those who come to the aid those in need. What makes this group stand out despite its small size is the type of operations it carries out. Most of the group’s major operations are “martyrdom” or suicide operations involving a fighter driving a car laden with explosives into a regime military base or a checkpoint manned by “shabbiha” (regime thugs). These operations were used effectively in Iraq and Afghanistan against foreign military targets and the group is employing the same tactic resulting in great physical and mental devastation on regime forces. The group refuses to affiliate itself with the Free Syrian Army due to the FSA’s diverse spectrum of ideologies some of which do not concord with the group’s strict Islamist identity. This is a cause of concern for some Syrians and those who are looking toward a free, democratic nation. Being a Libyan rebel however and following the fate of similar groups in Libya I can say with confidence that once the revolution is over, the group will have to succumb to the will of the people. The Arab Spring changed the dynamic of the struggle in the region and has transformed the conflicts from being those of dictator/occupation vs. jihadi groups to those of massive popular uprisings sweeping away totalitarian regimes and quickly shunning away any forces seen as a threat to the ambitions of the people.

The other two major religious leaning groups in Syria are “Ahrar Sham” and “Liwa Al-Tawheed”. These two groups are many times larger and more active than “Jabhat Al-Nusrah” and comprise almost wholly of Syrian youth and with a negligible foreign presence. These groups are far more moderate than the Nusrah Front and have shown a great degree of tolerance toward other, non-religious leaning groups. Though not officially affiliated with the FSA, these groups have shown willingness to collaborate with the FSA and have carried out numerous joint operations with others. These two groups have made it clear through comments made by their leaders on numerous occasions that their job ends with the defeat of the regime and that they will accept any form of government chosen by the Syrian people.

In terms of sheer numbers however, the great majority of Syrian rebels belong to the Free Syrian Army. Almost every city in Syria has some kind of local FSA presence. This usually starts with defections of the sons of the city or town who then quickly grow to form a resistance force in the area. The FSA is made up of thousands of defected soldiers and thousands of ordinary Syrian men who have taken up arms to liberate their country. In addition to those, there are dozens of FSA groups representing a wide spectrum of ideologies some are religious leaning and some liberal. There are also mixed groups such as “Liwa Al-Ummah” which was started with a few dozen Libyan fighters of no dominant ideology and has now grown to several thousand members mostly Syrians. All of these groups consider themselves the military arm for the political opposition and are under the leadership of Colonel Riad Al-As’ad.

Despite the media uproar, the identities of the Syrian rebels are widely known to the Syrian people and to those who monitor the situation there. Vilifying some of the groups who have come to the Aid of the Syrian people when the rest of the world turned a blind eye to their plight will only further strengthen Syrians’ negative sentiment toward the West and may cause for future divisions among the opposition that would likely make the transitioning period much more difficult. As a Libyan who had witnessed the events of the 17 of Feb Revolution first hand, Syria is a similar recipe and despite the anticipated bumps along the road, I strongly believe that Syria is in good hands.

Advertisements