The Syrian rebel leadership may hold more sway over the revolution's political future than the Syrian opposition's external political leadership which is falling back into disarray after showing encouraging signs of cohesion. It is therefor important to understand the rebels' political goals. Most groups have not detailed any vision for post-Assad Syria while others have given broad descriptions of the state they seek to build. The Umma Brigade, an Islamist rebel formation operating in northern Syria, is fairly unique in that they published a detailed political manifesto in December 2012.
The Umma Brigade has been widely covered in western press. It’s founder, Mehdi al-Harati, is an Irish-Libyan who participated in the Gaza Flotilla in 2010, before leading the Thuwar Libya Brigade into Tripoli in 2011. He then served as Deputy Head of the Tripoli Military Council before relocating to Syria in the spring of 2012 to found the Umma Brigade in Kafr Nabl. With funding from sheikhs in Kuwait, the Umma Brigade rapidly expanded and gained a reputation for being well supplied and trained relative to many FSA groups. The Umma Brigade is an Islamist group and has even been referred to as "Salafist" in a report published by the Idlib Revolutionary Council.
In the fall of 2012, the core of the Umma Brigade got bogged down in the fight for Wadi Deif along with many Idlib rebel groups. Around that time, the brigade’s Libyan leadership was reportedly barred from reentering Syria by the Turkish government. The brigade has since been under Syrian leadership.
In late December, the Umma Brigade published a document entitled “a political vision for establishing a system of government.” This political manifesto laid out 25 guiding principles for a future Syrian state. Some of the significant clauses are translated below.
While this document has some relatively liberal clauses regarding religious and ethnic pluralism, it also includes deeply troubling phrases for those in favor of a secular state. For example, the first clause cites Sharia as "the reference for all state affairs," and clause 14, gives the state a role in the “prevention of vice and promotion of virtue,” a phrase often used to justify the establishment of religious police.
While there is little risk of this document being implemented in the near term, it does provide a window into the type of constitution that Islamist rebel groups are likely to promote in the future.
1) “Islam and Sharia (Book and Sunna) is the reference for all state affairs including the constitutional, political, legislative, judicial, economic and media.”
2) “The People are the source of power through direct and free elections”
5) “The separation of powers between the executive, legislative, judicial and financial institutions as did the caliphs”
8) “Respect for human rights and dignity”
9) “Respect for religious and ethnic pluralism and cultural components of the Syrian people. There is no compulsion in religion, nor the persecution of minorities on the basis of religion or nationality.”
10) “The protection of individual freedoms and privacy in their homes, meetings and contacts, and no spying on them.”
12) “Justice, equality and equal opportunities for all, in public, in front of the judiciary, and in all that is shared by society, without any discrimination.”
13) “Promote the positive role of women in society, and approve all their legitimate political, social, economic, scientific and professional rights, as stated in the Hadith (women are the sisters of men).”
14) “Carry the message of Islam to the world, and the Dawa to it in everyway, in word and deed. strengthen the position of the jurists, scholars, and preachers, and provide whatever help to them in carrying out their responsibilities… and the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice…The promotion of ethical values…and protection of the family and the people, and promote science, culture, and knowledge. Care for the Arabic language and literature, connecting the nation to its religion and its faith as well as its identity, history, and civilization”
16) “Open the way for civil society to do all activity it needs, whether political, professional, cultural, or legal, by allowing the establishment of advocacy groups, charities, trade unions, and political organizations.”
18) “Protection of private property, and maintenance of public funds”
19) “Protection of agricultural, residential and pastoral land…and the distribution of land to everyone equally.”
24) “Rejection of any foreign aggression on any Islamic country. The right of the nation to resist aggression, and liberate their land…and for the district of the Zionist entity, a refusal to deal with it, and work for the liberation of the land of Palestine, and retrieval of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the right of the Palestinian people abroad return to their land, and establish their own. Reject any agreements or treaties which waive any rights of the nation to an inch of its land or interests. There is no recognition of those treaties.”