Middle East

Tawhid backs Syrian National Coalition

Saleh, seen here speaking to rebel fighters in Aleppo last month, said Syria should be a "civil" state. (AFP PHOTO/ZAC BAILLIE)

BEIRUT: The Tawhid Brigade, a leading Islamist rebel group in the city of Aleppo, announced its support Tuesday for the opposition Syrian National Coalition and its rejection of an Islamic state for a post-Assad Syria.

The announcement was made in a video posted on YouTube, and issued on behalf of the Tawhid Brigade, the Revolutionary Military Council of Aleppo, and a Revolutionary Transitional Council for the city.

The speaker, Abdel-Qader Saleh of the Tawhid Brigade, asserts that “a free Syria is a civil state, with Islam as the basis of its legislation, and protection for all components of Syrian society.”

The mention of religion might rattle staunch secularists, but the current Syrian Constitution’s Article 3 stipulates that “Islamic jurisprudence is a primary source of legislation.”

Saleh goes on to say that Tawhid and the two rebel councils “understood” why other Islamist rebel fighters in Aleppo, claiming to represent more than a dozen groups, strongly denounced the newly formed opposition Syrian National Coalition two days earlier.

The Islamist rebel groups had slammed the National Coalition, formed earlier this month in Qatar, as a foreign-imposed “conspiracy” against the uprising against President Bashar Assad, now in its 20th month.

In the earlier video, the Islamist fighters also vowed that a post-Assad Syria would be an Islamic state, which sparked angry reactions by many supporters of the uprising via social media.

Flanked by half a dozen rebel figures, Saleh said the earlier statement was issued due to the “marginalization of revolutionary groups with an actual presence on the ground, which are leading the liberation fight in Aleppo.”

The National Coalition has vowed to be more representative than its predecessor, the Syrian National Council – but has yet to make good on its pledges.

Saleh hinted as much, declaring “support for the Syrian National Coalition, as long as it adheres to the objectives and aspirations of the revolution.”

But he demanded that the coalition widen its scope by including “revolutionary forces” on the ground, specifically by appointing them to the various committees and bodies that the National Coalition has promised to establish, in a bid to become a government-in-exile.

Saleh also supported the “unification of various rebel brigades,” pointing out that they should work toward the goals of “freedom, dignity and toppling the regime.”

Saleh ended by invoking the Islamic phrase “glory to God, his Prophet and the believers.” However, this is immediately preceded by the leading secular slogan of the uprising, namely “Long live a free and glorious Syria,” which is absent from the rhetoric of many hard-line Islamist factions fighting the regime.

The clarification of the stance by the Tawhid Brigade, seen as one of the leading, and staunchly “Islamist” rebel factions, was carried widely on pro-uprising Facebook pages, representing various parts of the country.

Several comments on Saleh’s statement, from a page representing the city of Homs, symbolized the give-and-take over the uprising’s political objectives.

The first is by an outraged Islamist who vows that Syria should never become a “civil” polity. He is followed by a person who says religious political models from Iran, Israel and the Taliban of Afghanistan should be rejected, while other countries – Bosnia, Malaysia, Turkey and Indonesia – were worthy of emulation.

A third comment advises both individuals to “take it easy,” and asks, “Have you started producing theories [about Syria’s future] already?”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 21, 2012, on page 8.




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