Feature: Syrians worried about growing influence of extremists
Rosalinda L. Orosa (The Philippine Star) - July 28, 2013 - 1:00pm

DAMASCUS (Xinhua) - Most Syrians, having undergone four decades of secular rule, seem averse to the prospect that the power to rule their country may one day fall in the hands of some Islamic fundamentalists.

Syrians' resentment at the extremists, who are taking advantage of the ongoing to crisis to expand their influence, is becoming increasingly manifest in their daily conversation and comments on social media websites.

Even those sympathetic to the rebels at the start of the crisis have become disillusioned with them, as they have come under the sway of al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaida-linked group whose main goal is to establish an Islamic state in Syria.

Frustration is also creeping up on Syrians as they feel the road back to security and stability is obscure and drawn-out.

"We were looking for more freedom and felt the revolution would give us more benefits... However, we now feel we are moving backwards and will soon return to the medieval era," said Hanadi, 49, a private sector employee.

She said whoever still thinks what happens in Syria is a revolution is lying to themselves. "It's anything but a revolution for freedom."

"How could they bring us freedom if they (the rebels) themselves are captives held by the extremists?" she questioned.

Ahmed, in his 50s, agreed with Hanadi. "Al-Nusra Front fighters come up every day with a new unimaginable fatwa, or religious edict."

He pointed to a new fatwa imposed in the northern city of Aleppo, which forbids eating croissants because they are in the shape of a crescent, the emblem of an Islamic state.

The fatwa claims that the Europeans eat croissants during festivals to celebrate their victories over the Muslims.

Syrians post cynical comments on social media sites, poking fun at such fatwas, the latest of which ban women from driving cars and force little girls to wear veils.

Residents of some hotspots in northern Syria, where al-Nusra Front is active, said that the group has banned smoking and listening to music, and has set up its own courts and applies its own interpretation of Islam.

Islamic hardliners control large swathes of Aleppo, which are governed by a group of "chieftains" who consider the land as a " liberated Islamic emirate."

Clashes also erupted lately between al-Nusra fighters and the rebel Free Syrian Army, who has grown at odds with the former's extremist views.

Western diplomats said recently that more than 100 battalions of the Syrian Free Army, some operating in Damascus' countryside, might soon turn against al-Nusra Front and other Jihadi groups.

Daily Telegraph disclosed recently that hundreds of defectors have started returning to the army because they are frustrated with the failure to achieve the revolution goals and the penetration of the Islamists in their ranks.

David Shedd, deputy director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, warned that extremist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra have been the most successful in operations against troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Left unchecked, he said, more radical elements of the opposition would have a greater role, eclipsing moderates in a post-Assad Syria.

Al-Nusra Front's leader, Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, has reportedly called for the establishment of the rule of Islam and Sharia in Syria, rejecting the political process and elections.


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