5 min read  | Politics

Riyadh tantrum aside, Jolani ‘has lost a lot of supporters among the Syrian people’


December 14, 2015

Riyadh tantrum aside, Jolani ‘has lost a lot of supporters among the Syrian people’

The leader of Jabhat a-Nusra, Abu Muhammad al-Jolani, criticized the Riyadh conference in an exclusive interview with pro-opposition Orient News over the weekend, denouncing all participating rebel factions as “treasonous” because the conference “was not in the interest of the Syrian people.” Instead, Jolani said, the conference was “in the interest of the [Assad] regime.”

The Saudi-sponsored Riyadh conference brought together a range of opposition representatives from the Syrian National Coalition, to Islamist factions including Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar a-Sham in the “most successful attempt to date to unify Syria’s fractious opposition,” wrote Syria analyst Sam Heller on Saturday.

All participants in Riyadh signed and adopted a final statement that laid out the principles for the upcoming negotiations with the Syrian regime, which included a clause expressing their “commitment to a democratic mechanism through a pluralistic system that represents all segments of the Syrian people, men and women, without discrimination or exclusion based on religion, sect or ethnicity,” according to a copy of the statement published by pro-opposition All4Syria on Thursday.

In addition to calling all participants traitors, Jolani acknowledged that Nusra had in fact impeded the most recent attempt at a ceasefire in East Ghouta. Truces represent “the first step towards a surrender,” he said.  

Syria Direct’s Mohammed al-Haj Ali gathered reactions to Jolani’s interview from five Syrians across the opposition spectrum.

Mousa Miqdad, a 35-year-old citizen journalist from the Daraa countryside

Those who went to Riyadh didn’t go to have fun or play. They went to the conference in Riyadh for a free Syria. They went to stop the blood being spilled daily while the rest of the world stands by watching. This work is not treachery. That was just Jolani’s reaction because he wasn’t invited to the conference.

Who sought to scuttle the ceasefire and why? Was it the people in East Ghouta who have experienced the bitterness of pain and who have lost all lifelines? Is a ceasefire forbidden in Islam? The prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, entered into a truce with the polytheists. This is evidence that a ceasefire is meant to reorganize and assemble the ranks once again and is not a sign of weakness.

Baybars a-Talawi, a 25-year-old journalist from the Homs countryside

Jolani is saying that everyone who attended the conference in Riyadh is a traitor because they have submitted to Saudi Arabia’s alleged policy of aiming for a political solution that includes keeping Assad. 

Not all of the factions active on the ground in Syria attended the conference. Thus many have criticized it, including Jolani.

The meeting is not compatible with any expected Syrian solution other than that of the regime joining with the opposition to fight the Islamists in line with the alleged goals of the United States and some Arab countries. Jolani views any solution in Syria that keeps Assad [in power] as a joke.

Yousef al-Bustani, a 24-year-old representative of the Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union (SYRCU) in East Ghouta

Actually, I was expecting to hear something that showed more awareness of the situation and sought to get closer to the other [rebel] factions. However Jolani’s message was one of intimidation and called the factions [attending the conference] treacherous. I expected him to call them infidels, but I didn’t expect him to sow this kind of dissention.

When the ceasefire in Ghouta was blocked, we demanded that Jabhat a-Nusra explain its opposition to it. But Nusra said that we were inciting the people against them, denying that they impeded the ceasefire. However on Saturday, Golani acknowledged that the opposite was true [and Nusra had in fact obstructed the ceasefire].

What happened in East Ghouta it is not a truce. Jabhat a-Nusra has entered into several truces such as in Kafariya and al-Fuaa. In Ghouta, we [merely] wanted a ceasefire.

Mustafa Ebdi, a Kurdish citizen journalist in Kobani

Despite the Islamic nature of Kurdish society, the Kurds have remained a distinct group linguistically, culturally, and historically. They served Islam. Also, the majority of the Kurdish revolutions have been moderate and Islamic in character with the goal of being liberated from despotism and occupation by the Turks, Arabs, and Iranians in order to recover their history.

Kurdish society in Syria is nationalist in character and not religious. Kurdish Muslims are not extremists and consequently are not part of Jabhat a-Nusra. None of them supports this extremist approach. There also aren’t any Islamic Kurdish political parties. They are all distinctly nationalist parties.

Of course we agree with him [Jolani] that Turkey is striving to realize its ambitions in Syria by announcing the [formation of] a Turkish buffer zone, which serves their interests and is not out of love for the Syrian people nor to defend them. Turkey strives to fight the Kurds and not IS.

Tasnim Muhammad a-Shami, a 39-year-old citizen journalist in the Damascus countryside

In general, this television interview doesn’t make any difference to me or to the Syrian people. This is the opinion of a lot of people because Jolani is prejudiced and only concerned about his own interests. He also talked about the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and how, in his opinion, the FSA isn’t present on the ground.

However the majority of the Syrian people see the FSA as representing them. How is it that he can abrogate the most important thing that has come out of the revolution, regardless of the mistakes of some in the FSA? We will not allow anyone to come along and refuse the existence of the FSA.

Specifically in regards to ceasefires with the regime, he [Jolani] allows himself to enter into ceasefires with the regime but forbids others from doing so. We recognize that ceasefires with the regime are first and foremost in the interest of civilians in that they keep them from being murdered by the regime and Russia. How can Jolani permit himself to enter into ceasefires [with the regime] but not anyone else?

Jolani is not able to help the factions in East Ghouta who lack equipment and ammunition. Where is the money that he got through prisoner exchanges with Lebanon and the regime? He is laughing in the face of reason. Does he think that the Syrian people will embrace lies like that?

We know very well that Jabhat a-Nusra is one of the most powerful factions in regards to equipment, ammunition, and money. Thus I refuse this interview and what he said in it. He has lost a lot of supporters among the Syrian people.

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