Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri’s video urging jihadists to jump on the Syrian revolution bandwagon and the reports of significant fighters crossing the border from Iraq have added to the fears that a civil war is brewing. They have also raised questions of what al-Qaeda’s role will be.
Unsurprisingly, the global militant faction has been eager in jumping on board an uprising in mostly-Sunni Syria against a Shi’ite led regime. But the angry response at al-Qaeda trying to cash in on the rebellion, ranging from claims that the whole thing is an Assad lie to concerns expressed by many that al-Qaeda is “hijacking the revolution,” bring a whole new element of intrigue to the already complex situation.
The reality is that al-Qaeda has tried to cash in on anti-regime sentiment all over the place, and this is par for the course for them. The anger at the prospect of the revolution being “hijacked” by them likewise ignores the obvious: this uprising has already been hijacked numerous times since it began.
What started as a small pro-democracy rally morphed quickly into a nationwide movement, and once it reached that critical mass, groups of exiles like the Syrian National Council (SNC) tried to claim leadership. They were quickly supplanted by the Turkish government-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), and everyone from NATO to the Arab League has claimed the revolution as uniquely theirs to embrace.
The non-violent protest movement is now all but forgotten, and al-Qaeda’s attempts to claim the rebellion are no more or less legitimate than anyone else’s. With so many international groups hoping to cynically extract some advantage by regime change in Syria, one could hardly expect al-Qaeda to stay on the sidelines.