From the moment the first defectors from the Syrian military took up arms against the Assad regime, rebels have couched their fight as an extension of pro-democracy protests that erupted across Syria. But as the rebellion is increasingly composed of foreign fighters, many religiously motivated, their agenda has changed.
Far from Western assumptions that removing Assad and installing the rebels would mean a “Free Syria,” the Islamist rebels are demanding an Islamist state, with a harsh brand of Sharia law and Sunni clergy given positions of significant power. Democracy, let alone a secular state that respects religious minorities is for them out of the question.
This shouldn’t be surprising. After all, the rebellion has changed dramatically from the days when military defectors were the rank-and-file soldiers. It is now a sectarian civil war, and despite US efforts to sequester the al-Nusra Front from the rest of the rebellion, it seems the fighters have more in common with the al-Qaeda-backed rebel group than the Western nations that continue to support them.
This is a long-term concern, as many of these fighters are pledging to continue the fight against whoever replaces Assad if they don’t get their way. Much as with Libya, the current civil war could set the stage for another one.