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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Amid divisions, Al-Qaeda exploits Syrian uprising

On Feb. 11, al-Qaeda leader Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri posted an eight-minute video urging a jihad to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization,” Zane F.  Kuseybi, a second-generation Syrian, said in an email interview. “They have no central focus or goals beyond creating havoc by indiscriminate killing.”

Kuseybi continued, “They have no place and are not welcome in Syria. Their call for support of the democracy movement in Syria diverts attention to the terrorist al-Qaeda message, which only reinforces their true purpose, (creating havoc). There is no true desire to help the Syrian people.”

The video is the most obvious sign to date of al-Qaeda’s attempts to support the opposition in Syria, according to the BBC’s Jim Muir. In the video, al-Zawahiri encourages all Muslims everywhere to support the Syrian uprising.

“If we want freedom, we must be liberated from this regime. If we want justice, we must retaliate against this regime,” said al-Zawahiri.

Whereas al-Zawahiri urges retaliation, the civil uprising in Syria is more rooted in democracy and human rights.

“What drives the Syrian movement is counter to what al-Qaeda wants,” said Max Carter, campus ministry coordinator and director of the Friends Center.

“I would rather see more non-violent resistance,” said Carter. “I am not in favor of supplying weapons or going in with troops ourselves. In terms of being ‘risky,’ non-violence is risky, but violence is risky too. People are killed either way. But non-violence is more positive in the long term.”

According to the BBC’s Security Correspondent Frank Gardner, al-Qaeda is exploiting Syria’s sectarian tensions to promote violence, by using many Sunnis’ pre-existing hatred for the ruling minority.

One group that is trying to counter the sectarian divisions within Syria is the Syrian National Council. The SNC consists of seven opposition groups that could offer a viable alternative to al-Assad. The Syrian National Council serves as a single contact point for the international community, according to the BBC.

Another group competing for the governance of Syria is the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, which is made up of 13 left-leaning political parties, three Kurdish political parties, and several independent political and youth activists.

In addition to these two groups, the Free Syrian Army consists of army deserters based in Turkey.

“Seven months into the uprisings, the Syrian opposition has yet to develop a united voice and platform,” Randa Slim, a scholar at the Middle East Institute said in “Meet Syria’s Opposition,” published by the Middle East Channel. “Unless these disparate groups unite and present a credible and viable alternative to the Assad regime, both Syria’s fearful majority and the international community will find it difficult to effectively push for meaningful change.”

Both sides are strong and will continue to pursue their goals. The presence of competing groups could leave Syria vulnerable to al-Qaeda’s negative influence However Kuseybi believes that is unlikely.

“Both the regime and the opposition are resilient and won’t be defeated easily,” said Helena Cobban, internationally known reporter and author, in her blog. “Trying to find a democratic way out of this impasse still seems like the best — indeed only — way forward.”

Even though the opposition groups are vastly different, they most likely will agree that al-Qaeda should not be involved, Cobban explained.

“We (I) fully expect that the free-Syria resistance groups within Syria will distance themselves completely from the al-Qaeda ‘call to arms,’” said Kuseybi.

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