Terrorism

Tahrir al-Sham's new flag meets with resistance

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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The new flag imposed by Tahrir al-Sham in northern Syria has met with resistance due to its resemblance to the flag of the Syrian revolution. [Photo courtesy of Bashir al-Bassam]

Tahrir al-Sham's latest attempt at rebranding -- replacing its flag for the third time, this time with one that resembles that of the Syrian revolution -- has met with resistance from Syrian activists and civilians.

Activists say they are concerned this will alter the perception of those inside and outside Syria, so that in the eyes of the world, the mainstream opposition will appear to have merged with or sanctioned the extremist alliance.

The decision to replace the flag of Tahrir al-Sham with a new flag was issued by the founding committee of the so-called salvation government, which is the political front of Tahrir al-Sham.

It has met with much rejection and criticism, both in northern Syria and abroad, as the decision has been seen as a new blow to the revolution.

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Al-Nusra Front's original flag, seen here, has not been in use since the group morphed into Tahrir al-Sham. A new flag the group is trying to promote includes text rendered in the same style. [Photo courtesy of Bashir al-Bassam]

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The flag of the Syrian revolution, adopted in 2011, is raised at a demonstration in northern Syria. Activists are concerned about Tahrir al-Sham's roll-out of a similar flag. [Photo courtesy of Bashir al-Bassam]

The committee this week imposed a new flag that is to be adopted immediately in the areas outside the regime’s control, Syrian lawyer and opposition figure Bashir al-Bassam told Diyaruna.

It closely resembles the original flag of the revolution, with the same green, white and black bands, but the three red stars of the revolution flag have been replaced with the Shahada, he said.

The text of the Shahada is rendered in the style of the flag of al-Nusra Front, which was used until the al-Qaeda linked group merged into Tahrir al-Sham.

Widespread rejection

"The decision to adopt the new flag has been roundly rejected by the public and by human rights activists inside and outside Syria," al-Bassam said.

But the new flag is likely to become the de facto flag, he added, noting that Tahrir al-Sham has for months banned the raising of the revolution flag at celebrations and demonstrations.

The extremist alliance has clashed with activists and civilians on several occasions over the issue, he added.

Al-Bassam said changing the flag is a new blow to the real revolution, and its adoption displays "callous disregard for the lives of all the fallen revolutionaries and all those injured by the regime's bullets and rockets over the years".

He said the change will be taken to mean that everyone who supports the revolution has shifted towards extremism, or at least supports the hardline Islamist groups that are scattered throughout northern Syria.

"The timing of the decision is very dangerous," he added, suggesting that Tahrir al-Sham will use the move to try to induce more extremist factions to join the extremist alliance and to encourage more moderate groups to align with it.

The decision could prompt the international coalition and other countries fighting extremist groups in Syria to lift their support for some factions, he said, noting that if this occurred, international organisations and the UN would do the same.

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