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Unlikely Islamist groups will take over Syria: Experts

Jessica Hume. (Andre Forget/QMI AGENCY)

By Jessica Hume, National Bureau

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. (KELLY ROCHE/QMI AGENCY)

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. (KELLY ROCHE/QMI AGENCY)

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OTTAWA -- Despite increased activity of jihadist groups in Syria, experts say the likelihood of Islamist groups taking over following the fall of the Bashar Al Assad regime is minimal.

In January, the group Jabhat al-Nusra surfaced on the Internet, declaring its desire to oust the Syrian president and uploading posts on a web forum used by al-Qaida chief Ayman Al Zawahiri. The group has taken responsibility for a number of attacks.

However, experts say the jihadist groups operating in Syria don't reflect the country's population. Rather, they are individuals who are against the Assad regime and have travelled to Syria to fight him.

And unlike the Free Syrian Army, groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra have superior weaponry and therefore find recruitment relatively easy.

Jabhat al-Nusra is a Salafi group. Osama bin Laden subscribed to this ideology, which holds that only the Prophet Mohammed and the generation following him were true Muslims.

The Wahhabi form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia is an offshoot of Salafism.

"So, no amount of Islam is enough for them," said Mubin Shaikh, a national security and intelligence expert who lived for years in Syria.

The majority of Muslim Syrians, on the other hand, are Sufis - a sect that espouses peace and does not have a history of violence.

"These extreme groups are attracted to places of chaos," said Bessma Momani, a Syrian and political science professor at the University of Waterloo, Ont. "So, where Wahhabi groups could never get into Syria before because it was a secular country, now they see the opportunity."

But they will not successfully settle in Syria, Momani went on.

"There is no desire or co-ordinated effort to establish a Wahhabi state in Syria; the interests of the Saudis there is all business, nothing more," Momani said. "Keep in mind Syrians are conservative, but only in their own homes.

"It's more likely there will be an Islamic, rather than an Islamist government there following Assad."

But long before that happens, the political situation will be a mess.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canadian military intervention is unlikely and he hopes whatever happens next, Syrians will embrace pluralism.

"But I don't think it's going to go from the brutality of Assad's regime to a Western-style liberal democracy any time soon."

 

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