Islamists in powerful position as Syria conflict enters 3rd year

March 28, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

SyriaSyria, March 27, 2013: The conflict in Syria entered its third year this month. More than 70,000 people have been killed, over three million displaced and much of the nation’s infrastructure destroyed. Hope of a political solution has all but dissipated, and as the official opposition is in a state of disarray, Islamist units are asserting their strength, imposing sharia law in rebel-held areas. Sectarian strife is tearing apart communities in which people of different creeds used to live peaceably together. Where will it end?

Despite key losses, such as in Aleppo, the country’s largest city, and the advance of the rebels in the north-eastern provinces of Deir al-Zour and Raqqah, President Bashar al-Assad has given no indication that he is willing to step aside.

Meanwhile, the opposition National Coalition does not seem to have the strength or support to force his ouster. True, it has received some international recognition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and was this week invited to take the country’s official seat at the Arab League summit in Qatar.

But the National Coalition has struggled to establish effective leadership and broad support among the Syrian people. The resignation of its president, Moaz al-Khatib, on Sunday (24 March) left the coalition in disarray and also weakened the prospect of a political solution to the crisis. While Mr Khatib had pushed for talks with the Syrian government, the interim prime minister, Ghassan Hitto, elected last week, rejects dialogue.

Announcing his resignation, Mr Khatib complained about foreign powers that he said were withholding aid from the Syrian rebels while trying to control their every move.

Western governments do not seem to know what to do with Syria, recognising perhaps that they are choosing between a rock and a hard place: they are opposed to Assad’s government and back the National Coalition politically but have refused to supply arms  to the rebels for fear that these will fall into the hands of extremists. The UK and France, however, last week pushed the EU to lift an arms embargo and indicated that they may take action alone if their European partners remain reluctant.

ISLAMISTS ASSERT STRENGTH

Syria has been ravaged by two years of brutal fightingSo with both the government and the official opposition lacking the strength to prevail, a third force has been coming to the fore and may hold the key to the country’s future.

Numerous Islamist militias have been fighting the battle against the regime on the ground and have established a reputation as the rebellion’s most effective forces. The al-Nusra Front (also known as  Jabhat al-Nusra), which has been designated a terrorist outfitrganisation by the US because of its suspected links to al-Qaeda, has emerged as the most prominent. It has won the respect of many Syrian people for both its success on the battlefield and the way it has helped meet the practical needs of civilians.

The Islamists control bakeries and the distribution of essential resources such as flour and fuel in areas they have seized. And they are imposing sharia law. The al-Nusra Front is the driving force behind a new Sharia Authority, known as the Hayaa, that has been established in Aleppo. It adjudicates on crimes and family matters such as marriage and divorce, and it also administers issuesareas such as property and vehicle ownership.

A spokesman for the Hayaa said that the codes applied are “derived from the Islamic religion” but the more extreme sharia punishments, such as cutting off the hands of thieves, are not applied, because Islamic law requires that these are suspended during war.

Christians remaining in Aleppo continue to be targeted. More than 300 from different churches gathered for a united day of prayer on 15 March to mark the second anniversary of the uprising. They narrowly avoided danger: three rockets had been fired at the church where the meeting was taking place a couple of hours before it began, causing some damage.

Then on 20 March, the rebels attacked an Armenian Christian neighbourhood, exploding twelve mortars in the area. But they were fought back by government troops.

Aleppo It is neverthelesshas become a disturbing microcosm of what could become of the whole country if the Islamists emerge ascendant in this ever-splintering conflict.

They are in a powerful position. Without them, the National Coalition probably cannot force Assad out and win sufficient support among the people. But with them, the coalition is unlikely to secure extensive military support from the West.

When the US designated the al-Nusra Front a terrorist organisationutfit in December 2012, the National Coalition and other opposition groups did not distance themselves from the Islamists but rather condemned Washington’s decision, showing where their allegiance lies.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said:

It is becoming increasingly apparent that Islamists will are likely to play an influential role in the future of Syria. They are already asserting their authority and imposing sharia law. But while they are building support among the Syrian people, there are many within the country who are fearful of its becoming an Islamic state in which their rights and freedoms are denied. This scenario would leave the Christian minority in an especially vulnerable position and the future of the once strong Church in serious jeopardy.

– barnabas edit

Enter Google AdSense Code Here

Comments are closed.