Post-Geneva 2: Focus on 'Terrorism' not Regime-Change

Abdel Bari Atwan

Talk about the removal of the Syrian regime is gradually taking a back seat as the ‘terrorism’ issue becomes increasingly important for the international community. This means that terrorism will increasingly become the backbone and main theme of the Syrian developments in
2014.

As agreed by Syria’s friends and foes alike, terrorism is what the jihadist Islamic groups are practicing, whether their attacks on the regime forces or their attacks on the other “moderate” Islamic factions that joined their forces, through indirect Saudi mediation, to uproot all the groups that adopt Al-Qa’idah’s original ideology in Syria, groups that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United States had warmly
and publicly welcomed at the beginning of the Syrian crisis.

In his successful “Eight O’clock” programme on MBC channel, daring Saudi journalist Dawud al-Shiryan angrily attacked those whom he called
“Twitter preachers”, accusing them of luring young Saudis to “the jihad fire” in Syria. He described this jihad as a “fatal lie.” This angry outburst was the beginning of a major political and media shift, not only on the level of the Syrian crisis, but also on the level of the entire Arab region, and an introduction to a new, agreed-upon strategy.

Al-Shiryan broke taboos that only a few months ago no one dared to come near. He strongly attacked [Saudi-based Syrian cleric] Sheikh Adnan al-Ar’ur and his sons, accusing them of trading in jihad and raising funds in its name from Saudis and others while young Saudis travel to Syria to be killed.

He asked on his official Twitter page: “Why don’t these people go to Syria and practice their activity from there?”

The support for and solidarity with Al-Shiryan in the semi-official Saudi  newspapers suggest that the Saudi government is not far from this
position. We might not be exaggerating if we say that the Saudi government, in fact, adopts and supports this position. It is not unlikely that the government gave relevant instructions.

The Saudi-funded Al-Arabiyah channel, MBC’s sister, has for more than 10 years been broadcasting a weekly programme called “Death Industry” aimed at fighting “terrorism” based on Saudi and Western criteria. Presented by Rima Salhah, the programme, which enjoys advertising support from leading companies, hosts everyone who opposes and criminalizes this terrorism.

The Arab countries, particularly the Gulf states, have started to show deep concern over the influx of Saudi young men into Syria to join the jihadist groups, especially as reliable sources estimate the number of these youths at more than 10,000, mostly between 16 and 30 years old, with some of them holding high academic degrees from leading American and European universities.

There is fear, or indeed alarm, that these people might establish Islamic “emirates” in Syria and use them as bases for combat missions in the Gulf, particularly in Saudi Arabia. This is why the focus was on the known clerics who use social media channels to call for jihad in Syria, and earlier in Afghanistan. These clerics were blamed for recruiting the young men who were killed or martyred in Syria.

Some preachers realized what colleague Al-Shiryan’s outburst really meant, as it criminalized them and incited the Saudi and Gulf society against them. They, therefore, rushed to absolve themselves of the accusations. The first to do this was Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, the known Saudi preacher and deputy of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, chairman of the Senior Muslim Scholars Association. He denied that he incited people to go for jihad in Syria and asked Al-Shiryan to prove his claims or meet him in courts.

Four key factors prove that this campaign against the “jihadist groups” is coordinated and agreed upon by Arab and Western governments and that it will be the headline of the next stage:

1. The British House of Commons (parliament) on Thursday voted for a plan that Home Secretary Theresa May proposed to strip terror
suspects of their British nationality. This means that anyone who leaves for jihad and fights in Palestine, Egypt, Syria, or Iraq under the banner
of groups classified as terrorists for adopting the ideology of Al-Qa’idah or resisting the Israeli occupation (?HAMAS) or engaging in similar activities will not be able to return to Britain, dead or alive, because he is a threat to British security.

2. The delegations of the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition agreed for the first time to discuss the issue of terrorism in Syria. Perhaps this is the only agreement the two delegations reached in Geneva conference sessions. They disagreed on everything else.

3. The Turkish forces bombed a convoy for the Islamic State in Iraq and SYria (ISIS) near the border in northwestern Syria. A bus, a truck, and a pick-up in the ISIS convoy were destroyed under the pretext that two Turkish Army vehicles were firedupon near the border post of Cobanbey by ISIS fighters.

4. Turkey, through its Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, has repeatedly demanded that all foreign fighters leave Syria. The same demand was made in the joint statement that was issued at the end of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Tehran. It might be worthwhile to remind people that Turkey opened its territory for foreign fighters and their weapons to cross into Syria at the beginning of the crisis to speed up
the fall of the Syrian regime.

What can be concluded from the four points, taken separately or combined, is that there is agreement among the countries  involved in the Syrian crisis, whether superpowers like the United States and Russia or regional like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey, not to turn Syria into a focal point and a magnet for “jihadist Islam”, as happened in Afghanistan and, to a lesser extent, in Iraq and Libya.

In other words, there is an agreement to leave the issue of “fighting” to the Syrians only, regardless of their ideologies. This explains the tolerance towards Al-Nusrah Front and the effort to liquidate ISIS, which would facilitate a compromise between the Syrians at the end of the day.

In the first round of the recently concluded Geneva 2 conference, the delegations of the regime and the opposition sat in one room without shaking hands. In the next round, the pictures will be different, now that the psychological barrier has been broken. This is a big development. We will read about the first handshake of its kind and about the start of an agreement on steps to fight “terrorism”, the common grounds between the two sides, with a postponement of the discussion of a transitional government to a later stage.

It is obvious that some known leading clerics have understood the message well and eased their calls for jihad in Syria in particular. It was interesting that Sheikh Muhammad al-Urayfi, whose sermons in support of the Egyptian revolution, from Egyptian forums, attracted thousands of people, toned down his political rhetoric and talked in the sermon he delivered at Imam Muhammad bin-Abd-al-Wahhab’s mosque in Doha last week about the need for children to be kind to their parents, not making any mention of what is happening in Egypt, Syria, or Iraq.

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3 تعليقات

  1. Thank you for this insightful article, there are few clear pieces of analysis in the UK press about Geneva 2. When you previously wrote for Al Quds you frequently referred to the pressure building in the region that would lead to fighting, with many locations for this to start. I wonder if you ever reflect on current events and how you judge them as worse than you could ever have imagined or are they as expected. I wonder too if a time of peace will come and if we will ever know the emotional condition of those who let slip the dogs of war

  2. Thank you Mr. Atwan for this article first, second, in my opinion, I think that the world decision making especially from the US side they couldn’t affect the regime and the resistant front represented by (Islamic resistant) in Lebanon.
    Al’ Quseir battle, shows the weakness of all the other front from military action perspective, also in the media and political actions, the so called “rubles” and all their supporters they still very far to go along with the regime an it’s supporters. MB

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