Syrian moderates fear being edged out of uprising
Some of Syria's moderate opposition members worry they are losing a place in the fight against the regime as better-armed, more experienced hard-line groups proliferate.
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“Wherever the extremists go, they try to impose themselves on the population. This is a civilian revolution, and it contains all the elements of our society,” says Abu Karam, the battalion leader.Skip to next paragraph
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Among the groups that have caused the greatest concern is Jabhat al-Nusra, a conservative Islamist group now fighting among the Syrian opposition. Last week, the US State Department classified the group as a terrorist organization, saying it had ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq, which was a major force within the anti-US Sunni insurgency.
Many Syrians do not agree with the classification of Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization and harbor conflicted feelings about the group. Its fighters, many of whom are foreign, have experience fighting in Iraq and Libya, among other places, and provide expertise to less-experienced fighters. The group is also well equipped. Both aspects make the militant organization critical to the opposition’s ability to effectively challenge the army of President Bashar al-Assad.
Ideologically though, the group represents a marked departure from Syria’s longstanding moderate tradition. Opposition fighter Abu Osama started fighting with Jabhat al-Nusra before the group had fully formed, but decided to leave when they asked him to pledge a loyalty oath that could require him to fight for Jabhat al-Nusra in other countries when the war ended. He’d also grown concerned about some of the group's ultra-conservative practices.
“They’re always accusing people of being infidels,” he says. “They consider [Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed] Morsi to be an infidel because he’s not applying the sharia law in Egypt.”
A number of opposition fighters now say that they fear an eventual battle with the group if and when Mr. Assad is no longer in power. Among those moderates who doubt such an extreme scenario, they still say they worry about the influence such a group could have on a new government in Syria.
“Jabhat al-Nusra is not going to accept someone saying, ‘Thanks for your help, now please go.’” says Abu Mohammad, commander of the opposition’s Dar al Wafa Battalion and a member of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. “We’re really betting on the awareness of the young people” to know better than to support Jabhat al-Nusra’s political agenda.