Freedom House

The Dangers of Supporting the Free Syrian Army

The issues surrounding political change in Syria are multifaceted and much more intricate than is being reported in the western media, yet the conflict continues to be painted in simplistic black and white terms — as a battle between a dictator who brutalizes his people and the FSA, which is supposed to represent the aspirations and future freedom of the Syrian people. In fact, of the approximately 23 million citizens in Syria, around 8 million are minorities such as Christians, Druze, Alawites, and Kurds, who are represented solely by the government. At least a third of the Syrian people support President Assad by default. Many others support him by virtue of alliances with his support base.

The Free Syrian Army has been acting more like a force opposed to the citizens of Syria than a force intended to secure their freedom. For example, it has in the recent past stolen wheat reserves intended for the residents of Aleppo and sold it to private Turkish grain traders, expropriated stocks of pharmaceuticals and forcibly resold them back to its owners, and ransacked schools. The FSA has also been targeting the infrastructure of the country, knocking out power to millions of Syrian citizens. Do ‘freedom fighters’ typically attack critical infrastructure that impacts ordinary citizens on a mass scale? These are hardly the actions of a ‘liberation force.’

In some areas the FSA controls, it has implemented a Sharia law enforcement police force that is a replica of the Wahhabi police in Saudi Arabia — forcing citizens to abide by the Sharia code.

This is being done in a secular country which has never known Sharia Law and is the type of action also being implemented in northern Mali, where the West has officially declared its opposition to the al Qaeda government that took control earlier this year. If what is happening in FSA controlled areas of Syria is representative of what may happen if the FSA were to assume control of Syria, the country may become an Islamic state. Is that really what the U.S. and other western countries are intending to support by supplying military weapons to this disparate group of anti-Assad rebels?

Although it has been widely reported that more than 90,000 Syrians have died in the conflict since the conflict began more than two years ago, it has not been widely reported in the western media that tens of thousands of these have been from the Syrian military — leaving the impression that all the deaths have been civilians. Also not widely reported in the west is that many of the defectors from the Syrian government — who were either diplomats or administrative staff — were paid by the Qatari government to defect. They simply refused to return to Syria from their posts abroad, and instead took refuge in Qatar. None of them have assumed leadership positions in the Free Syrian Army, nor indeed have any of them taken up arms against the government. They are living comfortable lives in Qatar and are only fighting their ‘war’ via Facebook, if at all. Whether by intention or design, the western media is selectively reporting the news.

There is also evidence that the Saudis and Qataris support the Al Qaeda affiliate in the FSA (Javhat al-Nusrah) with money, and that Turkey gives JaN refuge and provides training inside Turkey. Although the U.S. government has officially declared its opposition to JaN, there is no effective way for it to segment its financial and now military assistance to the FSA from JaN, so it is in essence tacitly agreeing to support AQ in order to attempt to remove Assad. This is highly ironic, and objectionable.

In short, for some strange reason, the western media and many western governments are choosing to turn a blind eye to some of the more unsavory aspects of the Free Syrian Army, which are blatantly in direct opposition to their own stated policies and values. Why remains a mystery — particularly given the stakes at hand and how the ‘revolutions’ in Egypt and Libya have turned out. The West should not be surprised if an Islamic state were to result from an FSA victory. If so, western governments will have been complicit in the outcome. The Syrian people are caught in the middle. Many of them and the moderate states in the region will be the ultimate losers.