The rise of Salafism in Syria

"we’re even willing to say we’re al-Qaeda to annoy the regime"

Roula Khalaf and Abigail Fielding-Smith reporting for the FT from Beirut:

Syria’s rebels are also driven by religion in their relentless 17-month campaign to bring down Bashar al-Assad, first through peaceful protests and now through a military struggle. Abu Berri says he became a committed Salafi, the ultraconservative Sunni sect, after spending nine years in conservative Saudi Arabia.

Many of his peers, he says, are becoming Salafi even if they have little understanding of this brand of puritanical Islam. The charismatic leader of a Homs brigade, Abdelrazzaq Tlas, traded his moustache for a beard, he notes. “They grow beards to defy the regime,” he says. “In fact, we’re even willing to say we’re al-Qaeda to annoy the regime.”

This kind of comment goes to the heart of the trouble in identifying who's a jihadist in Syria, and what that exactly means, as discussed here the other day. Worth reading the whole thing.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.