BEIRUT

Middle East

Code of honor document draws praise, criticism

Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra members gesture while posing on a tank on Al-Khazan frontline of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province May 17, 2014. (REUTERS/Hamid Khatib)

BEIRUT: Two leading religious figures have responded to a “code of honor” announced over the weekend by the Islamic Front alliance of rebel militias and four other groups.

The Islamist militias Saturday unveiled the document, which calls for the establishment of a state based on “freedom and justice” and does not contain the term “Islamic state.” The code urges a focus on Syrian fighters and explicitly condemns the extremism of groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, did not sign the document, although it has engaged in joint military activities with many of the signatories.

Saudi Arabia’s Sheikh Moheiseni, a Syria-based figure believed to be a leading source of inspiration for the Nusra Front, said the document contained a number of vague phrases and represented a step backward for the objectives of Islamists.

In a series of tweets that commented on the code, Moheiseni said the Islamic Front’s own charter, issued late last year, was more explicit about the need to establish a state whose legislation was fully religious.

Moheiseni hinted that the new code appeared to reflect a desire to reassure foreign countries by embracing concepts closer to “Western democracy,” which he said stood in opposition to Islamist political objectives.

Sheikh Ahmad Moaz Khatib, the former head of the opposition-in-exile National Coalition, praised the document. Pro-opposition news outlets said Khatib made the comments in a letter to an Islamist rebel group, the Asala wa Tanmiya Front, which did not sign the code.

“It does not hurt you that you were not invited to the first meeting [which resulted in the announcement] – you should study the document and discuss it,” Khatib said.

The code of honor represented a “positive development in terms of a sound political reading [of the situation] on the part of the rebels.” Khatib added.

“I hope this awareness increases to the point it saves us all from a long period of injustice,” he said.

Observers have speculated that the code of honor was an attempt to curry favor with Western backers of the armed uprising who have hesitated to provide rebels with anti-aircraft weapons. They said it both moved away from explicitly Islamist language, while also isolating the Nusra Front, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 20, 2014, on page 8.

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