Al-Qaeda wants to establish an emirate in Syria, but not now

Haid Haid writes: There have recently been reports warning that the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliated group in Syria, is determined to declare its own Islamic emirate in Syria in the near future, but these warnings are likely jumping the gun. The argument goes that Nusra’s long term objective is establishing an Islamic emirate in Syria, but unlike the Islamic State (ISIS), they want to do so by winning the hearts and minds of the people. Two main obstacles prevent the Nusra from doing so: Nusra’s affiliation with al-Qaeda, many of whose members do not support the establishment of a caliphate, and most Syrians’ objection to the idea.

Supporting these predictions is the recent arrival of senior al-Qaeda figures to Syria, which is seen as the group’s attempt to secure enough support for the emirate by convincing other groups to join. Analysts have also interpreted al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s recent audio message as public approval for Nusra to dissociate itself from its parent organization in order to establish an emirate. Although these arguments are valuable, the Nusra Front is still facing many internal and external challenges, which prevent it from announcing its emirate. Moreover, these developments can also be understood as merely an attempt to help Nusra overcome the increased threats and the lack of support it is facing.

The Nusra Front was established in Syria in late 2011 and it gained a high profile among Syrians due to its valuable military contribution. The group made a name for itself fighting corruption and providing services, while avoiding politics and intervening in people’s lives, the combination of which gained it the support of local communities. However, in 2014, the group started to change its soft power strategy and began attacking some of the opposition groups, including those that receive US support, to eliminate any potential threat and to impose it unilateral control over the areas that will be part of its future emirate. This shift in the group’s strategy damaged Nusra’s public support and created tension with other rebel groups. [Continue reading…]

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