Jabhat al-Nusra and the Syrian Opposition’s Failure

Hazem al-Amine reports how the Syrian opposition may have damaged its cause by failing to support the US decision to label the jihadist Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization.

al-monitor Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers in Yabrud, near Damascus, Nov. 16, 2012. The banner reads: "Friday of Support Syrian National Coalition."  Photo by REUTERS/Raed Al-Fares/Shaam News Network.

Topics covered

western diplomats, us, syrian, russian, muslim

Dec 18, 2012

The reaction of the Syrian opposition — with its various groups — to Washington’s decision to add Jabhat al-Nusra to the list of terrorist groups has caused confusion and raised questions. The rare consensus in condemning this decision is unparalleled in the way the opposition perceives Syria's future and the revolution’s developments.

This reaction was expressed by the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Muslim Brotherhood. The reaction came despite the controversy raised by Jabhat al-Nusra’s activities in various Syrian regions and the urgent need to save Syria from terrorism, which many factors come together to suggest is already occurring.

It has become legitimate to accuse the Syrian opposition of behaving badly, since there have been mounting concerns, not insignificant concerns about groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra. The experience gained from places like Iraq, Yemen and Pakistan — reaching to the Gulf and Somalia — have all proven that Salafism-jihadism can never be included within the framework of national aspirations, and that these groups will inevitably turn against any consensus or formula in relation to a modern state.

The experience has also proven that postponing a resolution to the crisis — represented in such groups — before a resolution matures will kill it in its infancy .

The regime in Yemen employed such groups in its war against South Yemen, until the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda imposed its control over large areas in unified Yemen.

Pakistan has also suffered at the hands of the Pakistani Taliban in the border province in Northern Waziristan, in the knowledge that Afghani and Pakistani branches of the Taliban were created under official Pakistani auspices.

The Iraqi model is probably the closest — both in time and geographically — to the Syrian revolution’s consciousness. Iraqi governorates in the west and north have hosted al-Qaeda, helped to create its local branches, and believed that they were going to be used against the United States.-led occupation. This lasted until the group turned against the Iraqi people themselves, branded their “resistance” with terrorism and made death the only political activity in Mesopotamia.

Jabhat al-Nusra, which the Syrian opposition groups rushed to defend following the American decision, is a Salafist-jihadist group. This is the first sign that indicates the group’s weak — or rather non-existent — national character. Further proof is that a Jordanian national, who is the son-in-law of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was appointed its leader or emir.

Moreover, the group has proclaimed that it is fighting the “[Alawite] regime,” not a regime that violated its powers and oppressed Syrians, killing 40,000 people.

Jabhat al-Nusra has brought hundreds of non-Syrian militants into Syria. This is a fact that cannot be denied, and no one has denied this. This means that Arab militants, who made stopovers in different countries, are now in Syria and it will not be easy to get rid of them after the fall of the regime. 

The most prominent sign [of the group’s foreign character], which should awaken Syrian sensitivity towards such groups, is the absence of a Syrian model in the group’s main positions. Syrian leaders and muftis are not a part of its organizational structure.

Experts believe that Jabhat al-Nusra has imported the “Islamic State of Iraq,” which existed within the al-Anbar governorate of Iraq. Two factors made this theory plausible.

The first is that most of Jabhat al-Nusra’s Syrian members participated in fighting in Iraq. Some had returned from Iraq and turned into sleeper cells in Syria until they woke up following the revolution, whereas others recently returned after many years in Iraq.

The second factor, which shows that Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq are likely to be linked, is the significant decrease in violence in Iraq. This is partially caused by the fact that some of al-Qaeda’s activities have been moved into Syria through Jabhat al-Nusra and other salafist-jihadist groups.

This experience must be for Syrians a “return to the beginning,” given that several other experiments have failed in the region.

Based on that, condemning the US decision seems shocking. The Syrian opposition is aware of the real need to deal with the international sensitivity towards these groups. Thus,  the opposition consensus in rejecting the decision seems to represent a break with this sensitivity, or even a total absence of politics, if we consider that politics involves measuring one’s interests in relation to calculations of loss and gain.

If we disregard the Syrian direct loss as a result of Jabhat al-Nusra’s violence and killings in the Levant — with the violence of the regime that seems to be more lethal — the loss produced from a distai of world values will certainly exhaust the future of Syria.

“The National Coalition will internally lose if it disregards Washington’s decision [to designate Jabhat al-Nusra as terrorist] and doesn’t condemn it,” a member of the National Council said.

The answer creates additional concerns over Syria and its revolution; it means that Jabhat al-Nusra managed to establish a working  environment and [pushed] the revolution’s command to avoid [fighting] against it!

Salafist-Jihadist groups were never keen before to establish an incubator like-social environment. Rather, they stood against most of the communities despite the sectarian harmony. In Syria, this harmony didn’t serve the contradiction between a local, absolute and international faith espoused by this group.

Rushing to believe that clashing with Jabhat al-Nusra will not serve the revolution seems to be a failure at more than one level; it is a failure in distinguishing between the people’s values and upcoming ideologies and a failure in examining the experiences of neighbors and the resumption of bloodshed from where it ended in Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen.

As for the biggest failure, it is reflected in neglecting what these groups represented for global awareness.

More importantly, the regime is at the peak of its violence and has used Jabhat al-Nusra to advertise a particular image of the revolution.

The US decision to add Jabhat al-Nusra to the list of terrorist groups was a part of US-Russian negotiations, the outcome of which appeared as soon as the American decision was issued, with a Russian reference to the opposition’s  advancement and the regime’s weakness.

How is politics being practiced in the coalition’s refusal of Washington’s decision?

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