On this blog I regularly people involved with events in northwest Syria. Today's interviewee is Abu Yahya al-Shami, who was previously involved in Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham after having worked with a number of factions. He describes his speciality as research in 'Shari'i politics' and international law.
Q: Can you talk about your life especially after the rise of the revolution and the jihad in the field of al-Sham? With which factions did you work and what is your role in the field of al-Sham currently?
A: I was writing a Master's thesis in international law, and my eye and heart were on the revolution in Tunisia then Egypt. At the time I began among those who began preparing and adjusting the mind to undertake a revolution against the criminal Nusayri regime in Syria, and at the end of 2011 I was arrested in my home and my books and devices were confiscated and I remained in prison for two months when I admitted demonstrating but the interrogators could prove nothing besides that, even as the accusations were many and dangerous!
After I left prison I worked with more than one revolutionary group even as I did not formally join: looking for the one who could realize a revolutionary and Islamic spirit together in its direction. The offer was made for me to pledge allegiance to the Jabhat al-Nusra organization but I rejected when I learnt that the allegiance was taken for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at the time. I was with the Ahrar al-Sham battalions since their development. Then I worked as a first general deputy in the first Shari'i court in the Syrian Revolution. Then I worked as a Shari'i official with the Suqur al-Sham brigades, and when it merged with the Ahrar al-Sham movement I remained as a Shari'i with the movement, until its leader signed the merger agreement with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and other factions, as I was among those who urged for the completion of the merger in clinging to the rope of God.
And when Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham was formed I gave allegiance to its leader Sheikh Hashim al-Sheikh Abu Jaber immediately. I continued as a Shari'i for a period then I worked in the political studies in a studies office administratively affiliated with the Hay'a. For my own part I worked since the beginning of the revolution until today with independence of thought, complying with the Shari'i regulations that come above those of the organization. I resigned from Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham eight months ago, and I am now independent organizationally, complying with the revolutionary and Islamic spirit. I focus my work on research and writing in my speciality in service to the revolution and the jihad. I ask God for granting of success and acceptance.
Q: What is your assessment of the situation in the field of al-Sham generally?
A: The Syrian revolution is an idea based on an implanted Islamic creed that will not die. Perhaps the revolution will die out for some time but it will glow anew. And this is a divine promise so long as our revolution is a jihad in the path of the Almighty.
The revolution now is in a state of weakness and pawning, and the situation in the field of al-Sham is not stable, which heralds new changes. The changes will not be for the interest of the revolution so long as there is an elite working for its interests, and the focus should exclusively be on the interests of the revolution and not the interests of the elite, so there must be general reviews and reforms to realize that.
Q: What is your position on the Turkish role in the area and the new Turkish-Russian agreement? Does the agreement represent a danger and threat to the revolution?
A: The Turkish role is mixed. The secularist interest-based approach predominates over it although there is an Islamic trace that cannot be denied and is imposed by deep-rooted Ottoman history, but the practical implementation of the Turkish leadership is much lower than the religious speech offered. In any case and taking into account the states of Islamic origin the Turkish position is to be commended at least because its interests and statements have converged with the Arab revolutions.
Of course the Turkish-Russian agreements since their beginning until today represent an existential danger and threat to the revolution, for one can observe the end of this line that realizes the interest of the two states: a united centralized Syria in which there is no revolution threatening the interests of Russia, and in which there are no Kurdish parties threatening the Turkish state. And it is clear to all that the secularist Syrian state upon which there will be mutual international agreement will be ruled in majority by the shabiha of the regime and a minority of other shabiha.
Q: From your experiences with multiple factions what are the biggest problems you have witnessed within them? How can the factions correct their course?
A: The first and biggest problem in existence is the problem of grandeur, with disregard for the truth and disdain for the people. And this regrettably is present in some of the leaders. Otherwise they would have complied and agreed. And there are other problems among the most important of them the absence of deep strategic vision, and impeding the independent competencies, and disrupting the revolutionary support base because of neglect to connect with honesty and transparency. In general the problems in their totality are derived from the greatest problem.
The factions are tested. They cannot correct their course by themselves. This is a vortex of years. The correction should be in humbleness to the revolutionary people, and giving the revolutionary elites who are accepted among the people their role in assessing and evaluation, so they should be a reference authority complying with the principles of the law and the revolution. Without this we remain in a vortex lacking direction and effective action.
Q: What is the future of Idlib and its environs in your view and expectation?
A: If the state of affairs remains as it is, and interactions continue at the same pace, Idlib and the north of Syria will be an agreed upon border zone realizing Turkish national security and containing the revolution politically, militarily and socially: containing that is not in the meaning of embrace. Then the political interactions will begin to define the form and structure of the future Syria. But if the revolution glows with a collective awareness and productive thought, the future of Idlib will be the liberation of Syria entirely if God wills.
Q: And finally let us turn to the global scene. Of course the world has witnessed the spread of the coronavirus. Is this a punishment from God- Exalted and Almighty is He- that He has brought upon the global system and the great Satans?
A: Yes. "And do not reckon God is neglectful of what the oppressors do, but rather He delays them to a day in which the sights will gaze in horror" (Ibrahim 42). The evil has become great in the world, and the disbelievers and those claiming Islam have been tyrannical, and the Hour has approached, and the spread of epidemics is among its portents. And the Prophet (SAWS) mentioned: "A plague will afflict you like a plague afflicts sheep"- this is among events he enumerated as occurring before the Hour, and the hadith is in Sahih al-Bukhari. We seek refuge in God and we ask Him to keep us safe.
And the illness and death are not the only impact of the new coronavirus, but there are also great impacts removing from the current international system causes of its coherence and force, as you see that the epidemic has afflicted some of the senior politicians, and has compelled the states to shut institutions and borders, and if it continues, it will lead to global economic collapse, and it is the most important pillar of the international system.
Of course this epidemic and others besides it are of God's anger against this system in its states and leaders. We ask the Almighty for there to be good for the Muslims. For the mishap has become great upon us and the causes of the land have been cut off for us and we ask that there should not be a cutting off in the causes of heaven. So if the epidemic strikes a Muslim he is a martyr by God's permission, and whoso of us remains continuing the path of jihad as far as he can from equipment and force and in what is dignified in his heart from having trust that the promise of God will be realized for the good, we ask God to make use of us and to grant us victory and being enabled.
Update (16 March 2020: introduction slightly modified at interviewee's suggestion)