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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact 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.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs