December 19, 2013

Updates On Syria [12.19]: Salafist Scholar Defends Assad Regime, Kurds Ask World Powers To Be Represented As A Separate Delegation At Geneva II, Flynt Leverett on the Syria Conflict

1. An excerpt from, "It's Salafist vs. Salafist in Syria's civil war" by Reese Erlich,, December 18:
Sheikh Abdul Salaam Al Harash, a representative of the Muslim Scholarship Association in Syria, strongly disagreed with that view. He's a pro-government cleric living in Damascus. When the fighting first began, Harash said, it pitted government supporters against opponents.

But Sunni governments in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have thrown support to the rebels. "The conflict has taken on a religious character,” he said.

Harash brings an unusual perspective to the issue because he described himself as a Salafist, an ultra-conservative religious trend most often associated with extremist rebels. Salafism arose among Muslims in the later 1800s as a reaction to western philosophies and colonial expansion. Believers practice a strict interpretation of Islam but do not necessarily involve themselves in politics.

Most Salafists worldwide reject violent extremists who kill civilians in the name of Islam and anti-imperialism. Harash, for example, believes in a fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran, but accuses rebels of distorting Salafism when they attack the Assad government.

“The religion hasn’t changed, but the Muslims have,” he said with a chuckle. Harash's religious views are similar to conservative evangelical Christians in the US who also favor immigration reform.

They see no contradiction between conservative religious views and liberal social policy. Harash said the Assad government represents progress for women and religious minorities in Syria. “We support development and social equality, not like in Saudi Arabia where women can’t drive.”

He rejected the idea that the US and western countries support moderates who want a liberal, democratic government in Damascus. He said the US is willing to deal with anyone. "The US wants a pro-US strongman in power," he said. "Is creating a McDonald’s culture worth all this bloodshed?”
2. An excerpt from, "Syrian Kurds demand separate delegation in Geneva II peace talks" Al Akhbar English, December 19:
Kurdish officials said they would seek approval to send a separate delegation to Switzerland from the United Nations and the United States and Russia, which have been the driving force behind the planned talks, known as "Geneva II."

"We have agreed to a shared delegation made up of the main Kurdish parties. We won't finalize the details until we can talk to foreign powers and the United Nations to see if they will accept," said Abdelhami Darwish, head of the Democratic Progressive Party.

PYD leader Abdelsalam Ahmed said Kurdish leaders would put their case to Lakhdar Brahimi, the international envoy on Syria, but would also seek to convince the United States and Gulf Arab countries, which have backed the rebel fight against Assad.

The Kurdish demand could complicate preparations for the long-delayed peace conference due to open on January 22. Brahimi has set a December 27 deadline for delegations to be named.

"Russia is willing to accept a third bloc for the Kurds but it is other powers, particularly America, which insist on a two-party negotiation," the PYD's Ahmed said.

"If they insist on a single umbrella opposition group, we will go with the opposition as part of a unified Kurdish legal council within it, but we strongly believe in the principle that the Kurds deserve their own representation."
3. An excerpt from, "You Can’t Make Sound Policy by Disregarding Reality—Flynt Leverett on the Syria Conflict", December 18:
How it compares to other conflicts:  In Syria, it’s not really a Sunni-Shite divide; it’s more a divide between those who want to live in a nominally secular state and those who want to live in a Sunni Islamist state. In Libya, there was certainly an Islamist element in the opposition to Gadhafi, but you don’t really have the kind of sectarian divide in Libya or Egypt that you do in Syria.

The geopolitical context of the Syrian conflict is also different. Syria, in the end, is more geopolitically important than, say, Libya or Yemen.  That’s one reason the Assad regime has enjoyed more international support than Gadhafi did in Libya.  The United States was able to get a UN Security Council resolution authorizing an intervention in Libya in March 2011.  Russia and China abstained on that resolution, letting it go through, but both came to believe that the United States and its partners have abused this resolution.  Moscow and Beijing quickly concluded that letting the Libya resolution through had been a mistake—a mistake they were determined not to repeat where Syria is concerned.