This is the third piece in a series on the Islamic Front, the largest alliance of rebel groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria. The first post can be found here, and the second post appears here.
On political matters, just as in religious affairs, the Islamic Front has staked out a hawkish position. Its officials say that they are firmly opposed to any peace deal with the regime and seem unwilling to hold talks even on minor matters.
Asked about the possibility of arranging local ceasefires or negotiating the delivery of aid to civilians across the frontline, a representative of the Islamic Front’s Political Office tells me that each proposal to do so will be judged “separately and according to the interests of the people.” But he adds that “we refuse to sit down with representatives of the criminal Assad regime because this would mean a betrayal of the blood of the martyrs and victims, and an acceptance of the Assad regime’s crimes. We will not betray the people’s trust in us.”
Refusing a Compromise Solution
The Islamic Front has no interest in a compromise or power-sharing arrangement that involves Assad. It seeks an Islamic state, and according to its manifesto it will settle for nothing less than the complete downfall of the regime, “which means to dismantle and bring to an end its legal, executive and judicial authority, including its army and its security institutions, and to put those of its adherents who have been involved in the shedding of innocent blood on trial in a just sharia court.”
A generous interpretation of the Islamic Front’s manifesto could argue that it hasn’t ruled out every political process, since it is willing to use “all means” in its struggle to overthrow Assad, “as long as they are [religiously] legal, feasible, and helpful.”
Then again, in Article 10 the manifesto specifies that the Islamic Front will not “participate in any political process that contravenes religion or locates sovereignty anywhere but in the law of Glorified and Sublime God. Any political process that does not recognize that legislation is the right of God, and of no one else, would run contrary to religion and thus be an illegitimate mean. It would not be possible for the Islamic Front to participate in it, or to recognize it, or to rely on it.”
Total Rejection of Geneva II
No one needs to wonder which “political process” the Islamic Front is talking about. Over the past two months since the front’s creation, the U.S. government has repeatedly said that it wants to invite the Islamic Front to participate in the Geneva II conference, a forum for discussing Syrian peace that is planned for January 22. But that idea hasn’t been very well received, to say the least.
The Islamic Front’s member factions are on record as saying that participation in the Geneva talks would amount to “treason” and that opposition members who go to the conference risk being put on trial in a revolutionary court. They have also condemned the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, a Western-backed body of exiled rebel politicians that is intended to lead the opposition delegation to Geneva II.
A spokesperson for the Islamic Front’s Tawhid Brigade, a powerful opposition group based in Aleppo, calls the Geneva II meeting “an attempt to extend the life of the regime,” while the front’s political head, Hassan Abboud of the hardline Islamist Ahrar al-Sham faction, dismisses the conference as “a tool of manipulation.” In an interview with Al Jazeera English this December, Abboud explained that he doesn’t accord this peace process any legitimacy whatsoever:
“No, absolutely not. The regime has put a precondition to the Geneva conference that it will not hand over power. So why would we go there? Who will go there? What would anyone negotiate for? By whose authority or power would anyone go to negotiate?” “Whatever comes out of it is binding only on the [National Coalition],” said Abboud, adding that he sees the entire Geneva II process “as an attempt to derail the goals of the revolution.”
To top it all off, Zahran Alloush, a powerful Salafi commander who heads the Military Office of the Islamic Front, has announced that he will ask “the leadership of the Front to agree to put the participants of both parties in Geneva II on a Wanted list.”
Trying to get the Islamic Front leaders involved in the Geneva talks is an admirable idea—but at some point, one should probably accept that no means no.
Previous posts in this series:
The Politics of the Islamic Front, Part 1: Structure and Support (January 14, 2014)
The Politics of the Islamic Front, Part 2: An Umbrella Movement (January 15, 2014)