Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
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Pundicity: Informed Opinion and Review

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi's Blog

Firqat-ul-Ghuraba vs. Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham

The insurgent-held areas of Idlib and its environs in northwest Syria continue to be dominated by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, whose core of Jabhat al-Nusra originated as an affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq before declaring itself an al-Qa'ida affiliate and then breaking ties with al-Qa'ida in forming Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham in January 2017. In turn, this hegemonic approach leads to conflict between Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and more independent-minded groups and individuals, especially those that feel Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham has deviated from an ideologically purist Islamic line in favour of 'nationalist' sentiment. For its part, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham treats such groups and individuals as 'threats' to 'public security/public order.'

One such group that has been at odds with Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham is the French group Firqat-ul-Ghuraba (/Firqatul-Ghuraba; see my interview with the group in 2020), which is not currently affiliated with any particular faction on the insurgent scene. However, in January 2023, one of its fighters- Abu Hamza- was killed as a 'martyr' on the military frontlines in the Jabal al-Zawiya area in south Idlib. According to what Firqat-ul-Ghuraba told me, Abu Hamza was born in Nice in France in 1994 to an Algerian father and a French mother. He worked in construction and electricity before arriving in Syria in Ramadan 2017, being part of Firqat-ul-Ghuraba from the outset. He was a sniper and had several other responsibilities in installing surveillance materials. He fought in Ma'an in Hama province and performed frontline manning duties in Jabal al-Turkoman and Jabal al-Akrad (Latakia) and Aleppo province. He was eventually killed by a bullet in the head, being at the time in the ranks of the independent jihadist group Ansar al-Tawhid (which is tolerated by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham).

More recently though, Firqat-ul-Ghuraba has released a statement condemning Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham for arresting a certain member of its group called 'Abu Siddiq', which I translate from the original French below.

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By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  |  Fri, June 2, 2023 2:38 PM  |  Permalink

Islamic State Editorial: "Why Do We Wage Jihad?"

The publication of the weekly al-Naba' newsletter of the Islamic State continues unabated, though is noticeable that the number of pages in some of the recent issues has only amounted to eight as opposed to the more usual twelve, compared with the earliest issues of al-Naba' that spanned sixteen pages. While most of the pages of al-Naba' feature military reports of the group's activities around the world, the newsletter nonetheless feels obliged to produce a weekly editorial too. Essentially, these editorials are of two types: (i) an editorial seizing on some recent news development pertaining or not pertaining directly to the Islamic State (e.g. the Islamic State's expansion in Africa, or the World Cup in Qatar respectively), or (ii) a generic editorial reaffirming (yet again) some aspect of the Islamic State's general worldview- a general worldview that is so simple it can probably be taught in an hour or so to an outsider unfamiliar with the subject. A couple of these latter editorials could definitely be used in an undergraduate course on the Islamic State and jihadism, for example.

This week's editorial- entitled "Why do we wage jihad?"- is of the latter type. It makes clear that jihad is a realisation of servitude to God and rejection of idolatry/disbelief. Thus, the purpose of jihad is to impose God's religion and the rule of His law on the earth, and the removal of idolatry, which should mean that either the disbelievers convert to Islam or (in the case of 'People of the Book', pay the jizya poll tax and live in subjugation under the Islamic State). This posits an eternal conflict with the disbelievers until the Day of Judgement. This explicit statement of the expansionist and cosmic nature of jihad is contrasted with supposed 'deviants' (i.e. other groups claiming to be Islamic or jihadist) who shy away from being so frank about the nature and purpose of jihad.

Below is the editorial fully translated by me. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.

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By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  |  Fri, June 2, 2023 2:37 PM  |  Permalink

El Cid Campeador's Grant to the Church of Valencia (1098)

Although in my overview and translation of the Historia Roderici (the anonymous Latin biography of the Spanish knight and ruler of Valencia El Cid Campeador) I questioned the conception of El Cid as a 'Christian hero' or 'defender of the West,' it is nonetheless true that the later sections of the Historia Roderici- in relation to his conquest of Valencia- portray El Cid as driven with zeal for Christianity. It is also the case that the image of a Christian warrior is the one El Cid sought to convey in his own propaganda while he was ruling Valencia, as attested in this official document- dated to July-December 1098 CE- that is the main surviving contemporary evidence of his brief period of rule there.

The document, in short, details various grants El Cid made to the cathedral church of Valencia and its bishop Jerome, who originally came from France. The document underscores the image of El Cid as a Christian warrior though an extended preface to the grants providing a grand historical narrative of God's relation with mankind, in which God first elevated the Israelites as the chosen people, and then, following the advent of Jesus and the Jewish rejection of him ('the Jewish perfidy'), the message of Christianity spread all over the world, including to Spain, which initially gained correct understanding of the faith, but subsequently went astray and was thus punished with the Muslim conquest, whose dominion has been lasting for nearly 400 years (beginning with the original conquest in 711 CE), but then finally God showed mercy for the Christians and thus elevated El Cid Campeador as their avenger and the propagator of Christianity, conquering Valencia and converting its mosque into a cathedral.

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By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  |  Thu, June 1, 2023  |  Permalink

Quwat Shaykh al-Karama: Interview

In the primarily Druze province of al-Suwayda' in south Syria, Shaykh Abu Fahad Wahid al-Bal'ous established Harakat Rijal al-Karama ("Men of Dignity Movement") in 2014 as a 'third-way' movement: neither opposition nor loyalist, but focused on defending the province from external attack and seeking internal reform without calling for armed rebellion against the Syrian government or 'regime change'.

Since Abu Fahad's assassination in 2015, the original Harakat Rijal al-Karama has endured, but other movements have arisen in the province that claim to be closer to Abu Fahad's legacy. Quwat Shaykh al-Karama ("Shaykh of Dignity Forces")- founded by Abu Fahad's sons- is one such movement. Whereas Harakat Rijal al-Karama still commits to neutrality, it is fair to say that Quwat Shaykh al-Karama's political orientation is in opposition to the Syrian government, though it does not function as an active insurgent group against the government.

For an overview of Quwat Shaykh al-Karama, below is a brief interview conducted with a leading figure in the movement (who has asked to remain anonymous). We touched also on the more general issue of sanctions imposed on Syria. My own general view, similar to that of the interviewee, is that the sanctions are indeed harmful for ordinary Syrians and their advocates fail to explain how they will lead to 'justice', 'accountability' or 'political transition.' It is as though we are seeing a repeat of 1990s Iraq, and some of the recent proposals for further sanctions strike me as truly irrational.

Below is the interview, conducted on 27 May 2023. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.

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By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  |  Sun, May 28, 2023  |  Permalink

قوات شيخ الكرامة: مقابلة

في محافظة السويداء ذات الغالبية الدرزية في الجنوب السوري، أسس الشيخ أبو فهد وحيد البلعوس حركة رجال الكرامة في عام 2014 كحركة "ذات الطريق الثالث" حيث أنّها لا تكون معارضة ولا موالية بل تركّز على الدفاع عن المحافظة ضد العدوان الخارجي مع طلب الإصلاح الداخلي من دون الدعوة الى التمرد المسلح ضد الحكومة السورية أو "تغيير النظام."

ومنذ اغتيال أبي فهد في عام 2015، بقيت حركة رجال الكرامة الأصلية إلا أنّ حركات أخرى قامت في المخافظة وتزعم أنّها أقرب الى نهج أبي فهد، ومنها قوات شيخ الكرامة التي أسسها أبناء أبي فهد. وبينما تلتزم حركة رجال الكرامة بالحيادية، فإنّه من باب الإنصاف أن نقول إنّ التوجه السياسي لقوات شيخ الكرامة هو عبارة عن معارضة الحكومة السورية، لكن لا تقوم بالعمل المسلح ضد الحكومة السورية.

ومن أجل الإطلاع على قوات شيخ الكرامة، أقدم لكم مقابلة مختصرة أجريتها مع قيادي في قوات شيخ الكرامة طلب عدم الكشف عن اسمه. وتناولنا أيضاً موضوع العقوبات المفروضة على سوريا. ورأيي مثل رأي المصدر بما أنّني أعتقد أنّ العقوبات تضر بالسوريين العاديين ولا يشرح مناصروها كيف أنّها ستؤدي الى "العدل" أو "المحاسبة" أو "الإنتقال السياسي": كأنّنا نرى تكرار أحداث العراق في التسعينات. وأرى أنّ بعض المقترحات الأخيرة فيما يخص فرض المزيد من العقوبات غير عقلانية في الحقيقة.

واليكم المقابلة التي جرى إجراؤها في تأريخ 27 أيار.

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By أيمن جواد التميمي  |  Sun, May 28, 2023  |  Permalink

Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's Abu Mariya al-Qahtani on Breaking Ties with al-Qa'ida

Besides the original parting of ways between al-Qa'ida and the Islamic State, arguably the most prominent fissure within the jihadist world over the past decade has been Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's split from al-Qa'ida. To recap, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's original core was Jabhat al-Nusra, which started out as an affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and then declared a 'renewal' of a supposed allegiance to al-Qa'ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in April 2013 when ISI declared its expansion into Syria and became Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham.

In 2016, Jabhat al-Nusra rebranded as Jabhat Fath al-Sham, which ostensibly had no link to any 'external' entity but was intended to maintain a secret allegiance to Zawahiri until the latter should give his blessing for a larger merger with other insurgent factions that could lead to a breaking of ties out of interest for the jihad in Syria. Zawahiri however rejected the idea of secret allegiance, and once Jabhat Fath al-Sham became Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham in January 2017 (a move done without Zawahiri's consultation or approval), the breaking of ties became complete.

Abu Mariya al-Qahtani- of Iraqi origin- is a leading figure in Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and a key intellectual defender of the project (disclosure: I have corresponded with Abu Mariya and find him to be an intriguing and intelligent thinker, as we primarily discussed the situation in Iraq and its recent history). Not only does he defend the group's breaking of ties with al-Qa'ida, but he also calls on the existing branches of the organisation to break ties with it and redirect their priorities: that is, instead of considering the United States to be the primary enemy against whom efforts of a futile war of attrition should be directed, they should rather focus on combating Iran ('the Safavids') and its influence in the various countries in the Muslim world. A shift of focus towards Iran makes ties with al-Qa'ida untenable, since its purported new leader since Zawahiri's reported death in an American strike in Afghanistan last summer is Sayf al-'Adel, who is currently said to reside in Iran. Previously also, it should be noted that Abu Mariya has called for the dissolution of al-Qa'ida.

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By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  |  Wed, May 24, 2023 6:15 AM  |  Permalink

The Moroccan Kitchen: Muhajir-Run Takeaway in Idlib

While 'muhajirun' ('migrants'- referring to foreigners who went to the insurgent-held areas of Syria) are generally associated with armed groups and aid organisations, many of them also participate in the local economy in the areas they reside. In the insurgent-held areas of Idlib and its environs, a number of them run businesses such as shops, restaurants and takeaways.

The Moroccan Kitchen is one example of a muhajir-run takeaway, operating out of Idlib city and principally advertising itself on Telegram. As its name suggests, the takeaway serves Moroccan food, and it is run by a Moroccan muhajir. I conducted a brief interview with the takeaway owner (Abu Ibrahim al-Maghribi) on 22 May 2023.

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By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  |  Wed, May 24, 2023  |  Permalink

The Battle of al-Qusayr and the Rebels of Syria's Coastal Region (2013)

It has now been ten years since the Battle of al-Qusayr in the Homs countryside on the border with Lebanon. The battle is best remembered for the overt role that Hezbollah played to help the Syrian government retake the town from rebel control, marking the first occasion in which Hezbollah's overt intervention in the Syrian civil war came to wider public attention. In addition, the battle is remembered for the large number of Hezbollah fighters killed in the battle.

The following account- composed by the owner of the Telegram channel "Archive of the Battles and Martyrs of the Syrian Sahel" (Sahel referring to the coastal region of Syria)- presents a very interesting and rather lesser known aspect of the battle: namely, the unsuccessful attempt by rebels from elsewhere to break the siege of al-Qusayr imposed by the Syrian army and Hezbollah. This attempt involved a contingent of rebels from the Sahel area and other parts of northern Syria travelling an elaborate route down from Idlib into the Hama countryside and then the Homs desert, up through the Qalamoun mountains and finally arriving at the Lebanese border and the farms of the al-Qusayr area. Ultimately, however, these rebels could not break the siege and reach the town. The entire expedition reputedly lasted three weeks

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By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  |  Mon, May 22, 2023  |  Permalink

The Carmen Campidoctoris: Poem on El Cid Campeador

Besides the Historia Roderici, another notable Latin source for the life of El Cid Campeador is the Carmen Campidoctoris ("Poem of the Campeador"), which is composed in Sapphic stanza but unfortunately does not survive beyond 129 lines. Scholarly opinions on the date of its composition range between 1082 CE and the second half of the 12th century CE. The clear signs of its composition at an early date (i.e. probably no later than the 12th century CE) are as follows:

. It speaks of El Cid's wars as "recent" (Latin: nova) in contrast with the ancientness of the wars of Paris (the Trojan War), Pyrrhus (against Rome in the 3rd century BCE) and Aeneas (conquest of Latium).

. The appeal to those who relied on El Cid's help to listen to the poem.

Other indications of dating in my view are less clear-cut. For example, when the poem mentions that the Moors still call a certain fort (Almenar) by its Arabic name, it does not necessarily follow in my view that the fort was still under Muslim control at the time of the poem's composition. The fort, as Gil notes, was captured in 1093 CE. The fact that the poem does not fully survive is also a problem for more precise dating. For instance, did the poem culminate with El Cid's capture of Valencia in 1094 CE? It is impossible to tell.

Below is my translation of the poem, with annotations where necessary. The critical edition used is that contained in Corpus Christianorum (Continuatio Mediaevalis LXXI).

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By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  |  Sat, May 20, 2023  |  Permalink

المهجرون من إدلب: مقابلة مع أنور عادل ريحان من جسر الشغور

على الرغم من أنّ الإعلام العالمي ركّز كثيراً على الأعداد الكبيرة من النازحين الذين تعود أصولهم الى المناطق تحت سيطرة الحكومة السورية وهم يقطنون في المناطق تحت سيطرة المسلحين في محافظتي حلب وإدلب، إلا أنّ هناك عدداً لا بأس به من المهجّرين الذين تعود أصولهم الى هذه المناطق تحت سيطرة المسلحين وهم يرتبطون بدعم الحكومة السورية. ويقطنون هؤلاء المهجرون في المناطق تحت سيطرة الحكومة السورية مثل مدينة اللاذقية وما حولها.

ومنهم أنور عادل ريحان (أنور عبد المنعم) الذي ينحدر من مدينة جسر الشعور الواقعة في محافظة إدلب ويعمل كمختار أهالي إدلب القاطنين في المناطق تحت سيطرة الحكومة السورية في محافظة اللاذقية. لقد لاحظ أنور زيارة الصحفي العربي المشهور عبد الباري عطوان الى المناطق الحكومية في سوريا وتساءل كيف يمكن السماح بذلك حيث أنّ الجريدة التي كان محررها سابقاً (القدس العربي) كانت تنشر تقارير ضد الحكومة السورية خلال السنوات الأولى من الحرب في سوريا، بما في ذلك تقريراً صادراً في عام ٢٠١٤ (وذلك بعد ترك عبد الباري لمنصبه في الجريدة) ركّز على آل ريحان، حيث وصف التقرير معظم أفراد العائلة بأنّهم يقاتلون في صفوف "ميليشيات ما يُعرف بالشبيحة" (تبعاً لقول التقرير) منذ اندلاع الأحداث والحرب في سوريا عام ٢٠١١. وجاء في التقرير ذكر أنور ودعمه للحكومة السورية.

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By أيمن جواد التميمي  |  Sun, May 14, 2023 1:32 PM  |  Permalink

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