News / Middle East

Jihadists and Islamists Clash in Syria

Jihadist fighters from the Jabhat al-Nusra group take up positions in Aleppo during a battle against Syrian government forces December 24,2012. Al-Nusra fighters are also accused of clashes with other anti-government rebels.
Jihadist fighters from the Jabhat al-Nusra group take up positions in Aleppo during a battle against Syrian government forces December 24,2012. Al-Nusra fighters are also accused of clashes with other anti-government rebels.
The gunmen came for Syrian Islamist rebel commander Thaer al-Waqqas riding in a battered white car.  As they arrived, he was shouting orders at a food supply depot in the town of Sermin, a few kilometers from the border with Turkey. He had no time to defend himself as the gunmen got out of the car and riddled him with bullets.
 
The killing of the northern commander of one of Syria’s largest rebel groups wasn’t carried out by gunmen loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but by men supposedly on the rebel side in the nearly two-year-long Syrian civil war.
 
No one has taken responsibility for the Waqqas’ killing on January 9, but the men of al-Farouq Brigade, the rebel group he led, have no doubt that the gunmen were fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra. This is the Jihadist group that has grown rapidly since its formation a year ago and is now one of the most effective rebel forces fighting to oust Assad. 
 
War within a war
 
The killing underscores not only the worsening divisions between rebel groups, say diplomats and Middle East experts. It also foreshadows a civil war within the civil war and highlights the growing rift in the region between Islamists and Jihadists. The fear is that the fighting among the rival rebel factions will get worse.
 
Western media often do not distinguish between Islamists and Jihadists, seeing them as interchangeable. Both groups subscribe to political Islam, believing that Islam should guide social and political as well as personal life. In the past, Islamists and Jihadists have often made common cause, drawn together to defend what they see as the interests of their religion against their own rulers and the largely secular West.
 
They both adhere to strict interpretations of the Koran and tend to be Salafist – Muslims who stress the importance of following the examples set by the Prophet Mohamed and the earliest Muslims. 
 
Michael Rubin, a former Bush administration official and now a scholar at the Washington D.C.-based think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, says Islamists and Jihadists were aligned most strongly before the so-called Arab Spring uprisings began two years ago. They united against those they considered despots and other, more secular rulers such as Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali, all of whom turned their backs on Islamic fundamentalism.

Jostling for power

But tensions are increasing between the two groups now as they jostle for power and disagree over how to govern. Egyptian liberals may see the country’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, as rigid and condemn him for ushering in a constitution they consider too Islamist and undemocratic. But for Jihadists, Morsi is making too many compromises and they reject his readiness to continue honoring the peace treaty with Israel.
 
Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's government take up positions near the town of Taftanaz, January 6, 2013.Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's government take up positions near the town of Taftanaz, January 6, 2013.
x
Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's government take up positions near the town of Taftanaz, January 6, 2013.
Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's government take up positions near the town of Taftanaz, January 6, 2013.
“This is a battle within Islam for the right to interpret the Koran and the primary dispute is over individual liberty versus collective identity,” Rubin says. He adds, however, that as Islamists take power in Arab Spring nations, they are being forced to deal with very practical issues and day-to-day demands that often require compromises they are reluctant to consider.
 
“If you are truly a Jihadist you believe you have a monopoly on the truth and the truth is God-given,” Rubin says.
 
It isn’t clear what provoked Jihadist gunmen to kill Waqqas. Some rebels say it was in retaliation for the murder four-months ago of an al-Nusra leader. Whatever the cause, the rivalry in northern Syria is growing rapidly between jihadists and the Islamist rebel brigades, such as Farouq, backed by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Not only in Syria
 
Disputes between the Islamists and jihadists also have sharpened elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa. Last September, jihadists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others. That attack earned the sharp reproof of horrified Islamist politicians.
 
Unnoticed in much of the media coverage of the Benghazi attack was that Libyans trying to protect the U.S. installations were from the Islamist-based militia, the February 17th brigade.
 
Libyan Islamists in the new government also have resisted a jihadist campaign to rid the country of all landmarks of Sufi Islam. The jihadists consider Sufism heretical and idolatrous.
 
Omar Ashour, a professor at Britain's University of Exeter, says rivalry between Islamists and Jihadists goes back to well before the Arab Spring.  “This rivalry has been there for four decades, from the late 1960s onwards.”  

As Ashour sees it, the dispute is “between the ones who say armed tactics are the most effective and legitimate means for social change and those who doubt its effectiveness or legitimacy.”

He points to a sharp disagreement between the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and a spin-off group, the Fighting Vanguard, who fought an insurgency between 1976 and 1982 against Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez. “You also saw violent clashes between Jihadists and Islamists in Algeria and in Egypt in the 1980s,” he says.

Ashour says the rivalry has intensified. “In the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions this rivalry has come to the fore. The Islamists have a unique opportunity to make measured changes.”

You May Like

South Korea Divided on Response to North’s Cyber Attack

In past five years, officials in Seoul have accused Pyongyang of hacking into banks, government websites, causing chaos and inflicting millions of dollars in damages More

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Bentiu

Residents have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy, but planning for the future remains uncertain as fear of attacks looms More

2015 Could Be Watershed for Syria Conflict

Republican control of US Senate in January could lead to more aggressive policy against IS militants in Syria - and against regime of Bashar al-Assad More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Sir Percy from: USA
February 19, 2013 10:23 PM
USA and Europeans cannot justify to support these people for regime change against Assad who accepts Muslims and Christians alike and is willing to cede more power to Sunnis.
They will not help USA or Israel.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil Wari
X
Adam Bailes
December 22, 2014 3:45 PM
In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil War

In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video Jane Monheit Christmas Special

Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Town of Bentiu

Six months ago, Bentiu was a ghost town. The capital of northern Unity State, near South Sudan’s important oil fields, had changed hands several times in fighting between government forces and rebels. Calm returned in November and since then, residents of Bentiu have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy. Bentiu’s market has reopened there are plans to start school again. But fears of new attacks hang heavy, as Benno Muchler reports from Bentiu.
Video

Video US Business Groups Press for Greater Access to Cuba

President Barack Obama's decision to do all he can to ease restrictions on U.S. trade, travel and financial activities with Cuba has drawn criticism from some conservatives and Republicans. People who bring tourists to the island and farmers who want to sell more food to Cuba, however, think they can do a lot more business with Cuba. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.

All About America

AppleAndroid