A Salafi jihadi leader in Jordan was quoted as saying that “a war will happen between jihadists and secular fighters (Free Syrian Army) if President Bashar al-Assad falls.”
This threat has two explanations when analyzing it. It is either a part of the Syrian regime’s intimidating campaign or an honest statement that expresses the agenda of jihadist groups. Both possibilities are catastrophic.
The statement, on a possible war between jihadists and secular fighters, was attributed to al-Qaeda supporter and jihadist nicknamed Abu Sayaf. His statements are those of a spectator beyond borders but their timing only serves Assad, who is facing an uprising by most of the Syrians, whom he says are terrorists with links to Qaeda.
Abu Sayaf’s statement coincides with and serves allegations of the Syrian regime. When one hears such statements, he is obliged to ask himself: Is it better if Syria is ruled by an evil, elegantly dressed man like Bashar al-Assad or an evil man dressed in shabby clothes who carries a sword?
Unfortunately, many will prefer Assad over Zawahiri and choose “Syria’s Assad” instead of “Afghanistan’s Taliban (and Qaeda).” Many will not accept a Somali Syria and will not fight for Damascus to become another Timbkutu.
This terrifying visualization is based on a scarecrow that says: the fall of Assad means the rise of Zawahiri, al-Nusra Front and Qaeda. But why do we assume that toppling the Assad regime, which is a popular demand, will definitely be followed by Qaeda’s seizure of Damascus? The truth is: what Jordanian Abu Sayaf says is what “Abu Sayaf’s Assad” says, a campaign designed to intimidate Syrians who has been fighting for two years to topple the regime that has suppressed them for 40 years.
It is an attempt to intimidate countries which support the revolution such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It is an attempt to intimidate superpower countries 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 the modern Syrian state later.
We do not want Abu Sayaf 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 making great efforts to support and protect the Damascus regime, and they hold the secret behind why Assad remains in his palace today. It is normal that groups that seek vengeance and social segments that are supporting extremism will be born amid the campaign of intimidation, starving and genocide. However, it is definite that Assad’s regime, along with Hezbollah and Iran, is behind encouraging terrorist groups or paving the way for them to be among the opposition in order to intimidate the international community which is fighting Qaeda today in Yemen, Afghanistan and Mali, it would not be reasonable for foreign powers to support a revolution that raises Qaeda’s flag.
Abu Sayaf says: “If Assad is toppled, the Free Syrian Army or members of it who oppose the ideas of Nusra will request other Islamic groups to immediately give up their weapons…A clash will happen here, and losses will be grave. We cannot say how so as not to preempt events.”
We say they will fail and that the Syrian people will fight them. Look: Qaeda failed everywhere. It failed in Algeria, Saudi, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and even in Somalia. It is besieged in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a takfiri group against 90 percent of the Muslim community.
I personally think that Abu Sayaf’s statements are a free service offered to Assad in order to frustrate rebels’ courage, raise the Syrians’ suspicions regarding their revolution and intimidate the world. The majority is against Qaeda and Salafi jihadism. The overwhelming majority of the Syrian rebels are defectors from the Syrian army and are young men who revolted against injustice. They are neither jihadists nor Arabs or foreigners from Qaeda. If Nusra is really affiliated with Qaeda, it will end like all Qaeda organizations did; it will fail. But if it is a Syrian revolutionary group, it will find a place for it among the others. What we have to understand is that the FSA is the overwhelming power. It is real and patriotic, and its religious chants must be understood in their context and not considered as ones that agree with Qaeda’s mentality. Their chants are akin to what Christian fighters do in their armies; they draw the cross sign, and like what Jews do; they carry the Torah. It is piety not extremism, and it is normal that most people are pious and expressive of their religion.
The FSA’s agenda is building a new country while Qaeda’s agenda is destruction and blood. This is why the latter failed and why pious people fought it. The U.S. failed in its war against Qaeda in Iraq, while Sunni tribes managed to eliminate it. The Syrian people are civilized, moderately religious and will not allow the evil Qaedato replace the evil regime of Assad. They will do what the Saudis, Egyptians, Algerians and Jordanians did and what the Yemenis are doing in rejecting the organization’s mentality and men. Therefore, we should not make the hypothesis of the alternative, jihadism should not be a reason in thwarting the Syrian revolution.
This article first appeared in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 07, 2013.
(Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.)