Statements attributed toBogdanov about the departure of the Syrian President did not succeed in diverting much attention from the subject of Jabhat al-Nusra, which was heavily covered in the meeting of the Friends of the Syrian people in Marrakech. Mohamad Tayfur of the Muslim Brotherhood pre-empted the conference sessions by saying that the decision of the U.S. administration to classify Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization is considered to be a wrong and hastily-made decision, and this was followed by the speech of the Chairman of the Syrian National Coalition who said at the conference that the U.S. administration should reconsider its decision. There followed statements of support for Jabhat al-Nusra, particularly from non-Islamist names in the Coalition.
It is no secret that the entry of armed opposition to the city of Aleppo was coordinated between Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Tawhid Brigade which sees itself as part of the Free Army in the north of Syria. Although the Islamic colour of the al-Tawhid Brigade is familiar, the formation of the Brigade exclusively from Syrians did not give it the same status as Jabhat al-Nusra, which consists mainly of foreign fighters and is subject to the Emir appointed from outside Syria.
Jabhat al-Nusra from its first statement of 23/12/2011 after a suicide bombing in Damascus created a great mystery for the armed opposition and those in exile. Statements by members from the Executive Bureau of the Syrian National Council, which considered this organisation as having been formed by Syrian intelligence to tarnish the image of the Free Army, remain all over pages of the Internet. The Syrian human rights defenders of were the first to speak seriously about the nature of Jabhat al-Nusra, and the abolition of al-Qaeda’s old fatwa of the Syria land corridor (ardh mamar) (to Iraq) to this land becoming their headquarters (ardh maqar); and how this organisation switched to one of the most attractive groups of foreign jihadists coming for jihad against the secular and the Alawi sect al-Nusayri and the Shiites. After less than a month, the Director of the SOHR assured us that the number of al-Nusra fighters had exceeded three hundred. Today we can simply increase the figure more than ten times, with respect to foreigners only.
Since last January, human rights defenders and National Coordination Body have been demanding that the Turkish government stop allowing foreign fighters, because they are living with the virus of sectarian hatred and blind violence, and disrespect for international humanitarian law. They especially contribute to the abortion of the democratic project and target societal groups on the basis of sectarian and religious affiliation, regardless of their stance towards the political regime. The Syrian National Council had in Tunisia the same position in his statement of 24 February 2012: “The Syrian people reject all attempts to exploit the uprising by foreign Jihadi and sectarian fighters. The SNC requests the Friends of Syria assistance to help neighbouring states secure their land borders with Syria to stem the flow of unwanted foreign fighters”. Jabhat al-Nusra targeted non-Sunni people without discrimination, as well as targeting operations of all organs of the State. In this military strategy lie the main points of convergence between the Muslim Brotherhood movement and Syrian Salafist jihadists who meet with Jabhat al-Nusra in one goal rejecting separation between the political regime and the State. Since the declaration of Decree 49 of 1980, which sentences any member of the Muslim Brotherhood movement to death, there was no longer any actual presence of this movement in the State apparatus, or even inside Syria. From this position, the Syrian Islamic political movement considered the Syrian state as alien to them, although the number of workers in institutions and their families amounted to nearly eight million Syrians. The early slogans of the Muslim Brotherhood targeted the military institutions as if they were Assad’s army, and this Jabhat al-Nusra considers them to be Nusayri’s army. This intersection of views and programmes was behind the reluctance of minorities and secular Syrians towards armed groups which had clearly taken a Sunni Islamist appearance. The role of secular democrats was marginalised, and the lead was given to funding armed action by the various Islamic sides.
This dangerous deviation did not stop any of the sides from supporting the armed opposition; the Gulf States considered Islamisation as a protection from potential democracy in Syria which would pose a real threat to its political and medieval system. At the same time Erdogan’s government considered this Islamisation necessary for the marginalization of forces of secularism in Turkey as well as in Syria, and isolation of the Syrian Kurdish political power. The Western countries sufficed to monitor the scene, concentrating on the basic overthrowing of the Syrian regime.
The Islamic liberal conservative coalition was expressed through the Syrian National Council which, faced with the qualitative and quantitative presence of the foreign fighters, did not hesitate to financially and military co-operate with them, as did the leaders of the various armed groups in the north of Syria. Despite all the promises made to the American delegation in Tunisia to break off from and confront foreign jihadists, the co-ordination continued on the ground, and the parties to the coalition in Doha agreed to consider all those who fight to overthrow the regime as part of the revolutionaries and the revolution, and that any confrontation between the Syrians and the foreign jihadists and national dissidents will necessarily pour benefit on the interests of the Syrian regime.
The U.S. Deputy Secretary of State found himself isolated in Marrakech when he classified Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist. The British and French remained silent, and the EU, the Nobel Prize winner for Peace of this year, did not say a word about the practices of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.
The gathering in Marrakech did not stop there; this approach created a real horror within popular circles in Syria, and tempered enthusiasm among a wide range of the armed opposition. Jabhat al-Nusra which is accepted in jihadist and Takfir circles is rejected by the vast majority of people, and the confronting by the Syrian army of those foreigners confirms it to be not a suppressor of the popular movement as was the case, but the guarantor of the unity of the country and cohesion of the diverse society, whereas this alliance between foreign jihadists and Syrians carries all the risks of tearing the country, religious extremism and long-term sectarian war, and persecution of minorities and the various civilian groups.
Is this the drunkenness of expecting military victory from one week to another as the participants proclaimed at the Marrakech conference, or is it an additional stabbing of the political solution which Lakhdar Brahimi is attempting to devise with the help of U.S. – Russian? The answer will not come from conferences, but will be decided by the battles on the ground which, in the absence of the violence subsiding, will last a long time, even after the fall of the regime.