The Civil War in the Syrian Opposition: How Long Can the Free Syrian Army Hold Off Its Islamist Rivals?
If you want to know where the fourteen month-old Syrian revolution against President Bashar al-Assad is headed, the case of Walid al-Boustani provides a useful rubric. Al-Boustani led an ill-fated “Islamic Emirate of Homs” that lasted only a few weeks. Apparently the locals did not appreciate having an “Emir” who kidnapped and murdered their people while claiming to wage jihad against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. And so in March 2012 a local brigade of the Free Syrian Army executed the Lebanese-born al-Boustani, amidst accusations that the jihadist was not only a traitor to the Syrian revolution but also, in fact, an agent of the Syrian regime.
The incident is part of a larger clash that has mostly gone overlooked in the Western media—namely, the struggle between Syria’s two main armed opposition groups, groups that represent two radically different visions for Syria’s future. In that way, it’s not enough to simply know—as a recent article in the New York Times pointed out—that Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with assistance from the CIA, are funneling arms and cash to certain Syrian rebel groups via intermediaries in Turkey. It’s also important to know that the other rebelgroups—those with an Islamist political agenda—that the United States and its allies have decided not to support are distrusted by the Syrian people themselves. Indeed, Washington’s largely hands-off approach to the Syria crisis has so far been greatly assisted by the Syrian public’s broad rejection of the hardcore Islamist rebels. But there’s no telling how much longer America’s strategic interests and the Syrian people’s sympathies will remain in sync.