For Assad Defectors, Joining the Opposition Isn’t as Easy as It Sounds
Syria’s former Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, who announced his defection from the Assad government Monday, is one of several high-ranking Syrian government officials to defect in recent months. But if it’s increasingly clear that Assad officials are eager to separate themselves from the regime, it’s not yet clear what role they will be able to play in the Syrian opposition.
For regime defectors, joining the FSA at all is an involved process. Mohammad Shakaki, an FSA member in Amman who coordinates healthcare services and aids Syrian soldiers in defecting to the FSA, told us that the burden is on defectors to alleviate the rebels’ suspicions. For rank-and-file defectors, their clothing is first burned to destroy any concealed surveillance devices. Any weapons are then taken away from them, and they are interrogated at length on their past activities, with special scrutiny given to whether they were engaged in killing civilians or FSA soldiers. “We are afraid of spies,” he said.
Samer (he requested that his real name be withheld for security purposes), is an FSA member in Jordan who told us that there is a great fear among rebels of Assad sympathizers joining the FSA as a front to extract information for the regime. He describes how newly joined members have a trial period of one to three months in which they are strictly watched, and only after a full investigation are they trusted. When asked what happens to Assad moles found within the FSA, Samer merely pointed to the sky.
Even if defectors pass their probationary period, most find themselves funneled into a division of the FSA that has little to do with the major operations conducted by rebels untainted by an association with the Assad government. Only in rare instances are those from the former group allowed to integrate with the latter. Hijab will soon begin working with the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) media in Doha, Qatar, but most Syrian officials who defect to the FSA are not appointed to official positions within the opposition group.