[Lebanon’s] Salafists are closely following events in Iraq. Some Salafists are waiting to see how the wars between the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the Iraqi army will turn out before deciding what to do.
Social media posts indicate that many jihadist Salafists are pleased with ISIS’s progress in some Iraqi cities. They are careful not to openly express their feelings in public or make moves on the ground, lest they be thrown back into the spotlight. Those moves have stopped since the start of the security plan throughout Lebanon. Salafist social media posts suggest they have recovered their spirit and that ISIS’s actions have restored their momentum.
Some said, “The era of defeats is gone forever. The Islamic army, in its various factions, has started liberating the different areas that are not subject to Sunni rule in Iraq. The victories taking place will be reflected as a great strength on all the jihadist Salafist situation in all the Arab countries.”
Some went further and said ISIS actions in Iraq are “a genuine prelude to the declaration of the caliphate state on the land of the Levant, and this will not be too far away.”
There were many sectarian comments. Some said the recent Iraq events are “a natural result of the developments in Iraq,” accusing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of “acting in an abhorrent sectarian manner with all Sunni components there.”
It could be said there is a war between Salafist groups on social media. Active on social media are not only the jihadist Salafists, but also those who follow “scholarly Salafism.” The latter are against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, and consider recent events to be a new plot against the Sunnis in the Arab world. The plot involves portraying them as the source of terrorism in the region, with all other political and religious parties acting as representatives of moderation against all terrorist acts. But those acts are are also being committed by those who have been harmed by the rule of Maliki, including Baathists, army officers and clans. However, all those acts are being attributed to ISIS to serve the objectives of the new conspiracy. They believe ISIS’s victories won’t last, and that ISIS will be eliminated once major countries complete their scheme.
Despite the core disagreement between the two Salafist sides, both accuse another category of Salafists of refraining from taking a position on Iraq. The two sides accuse that category of waiting for things to clear up. They want this category to declare its support for an Islamic state.
The Salafist commotion, albeit via social media this time, takes place after the full retreat of Salafist clerics and armed groups since the start of the security plan in Tripoli. Salafists have kept quiet and made no media appearances. They have been advised to make no wrong security moves because their political and religious cover has been removed.
In addition, the utility of the northern Lebanese-Syrian border has faded after the Krak des Chevaliers crusader fortress [Qalaat al-Hosn] and the surrounding villages were captured by the Syrian army. The power balance within Syria has changed in the regime’s favor, and opposition Islamist groups are liquidating each other. Lines of funding from the Gulf states, particularly those related to security work, have stopped. The Future Movement has entered as a key partner with Hezbollah in the government of “national interest” headed by Tammam Salam. The Future Movement’s hawks received prominent ministries in the government, and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri declared a war on terrorism and extremism. Moreover, there is growing talk that Saudi-Iranian negotiations are making progress and that a comprehensive settlement is near.
These developments have convinced the Salafists that the trajectory of current events is not compatible with their former popular surge. So, they decided to retreat and coexist with the developments taking place. Some groups that orbited the Salafists, or benefited from them, have left. Salafist figures stopped appearing on TV. The Salafists returned to their normal size, as it was during days of peace.
Other Salafist currents resorted to Plan B, abandoning the street and returning to the mosques to take care of their institutes and schools, or returning to the trading business thanks to recent financial gains made by some.
The Salafist retreat in Tripoli and in the north extended to all of Lebanon. The development was apparent with the appointment of moderate cleric Sheikh Malek al-Jadida as president of the Association of Muslim Scholars, and when the arrest of Sheikh Omar Bakri didn’t trigger protests. Many clerics consider Bakri the primary instigator of the youth against the state, its institutions and the recent security plans.
But will Iraqi events return Lebanese Salafists to the Lebanese arena, as happened at the beginning of the Syrian crisis with the growing presence of Jabhat al-Nusra? Will Salafist sheikhs stick to Plan B? Or have some returned to Plan A by preparing for a Salafist revival thanks to the advance of ISIS in Iraq? Or will the movements remain confined to social media? How will the security services deal with these movements if they happen? And how can these challenges be met in light of the political divide and the presidential vacuum?
One Salafist told As-Safir, “The Salafists must abandon political and security work as well as street actions, return to the mosques and the institutes, and take their role in the call to God. [They should] also give up the artificial roles given to them, which some political currents tried to use in the face of their opponents before abandoning them, as happened in earlier stages, especially since everyone today supports fighting terrorism, a charge that is falsely pinned on Salafists during political or security battles.”
He asserted that Salafists have come close to paying the price for their media-generated exaggeration of their role. He called on Salafists to learn from their bitter experience, avoid a new one and strive to prevent any Iraqi repercussions on Lebanon.
This article was first published in Arabic on 18/06/2014. Read original article.