In marketing, rebranding is a strategy to help an organization distance itself from negative associations with its previous brand. The substance of the organization stays the same but the facade is altered to change perceptions.
So it is that Syrian rebel group Jabhat Al-Nusra has rebranded itself Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham. Al-Nusra was the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, taking orders from Al Qaeda leadership and operating with the Al Qaeda network. The new entity will, reportedly, cut those ties and operate solely within Syria.
Al-Nusra had already done a delicate dance with the US. Despite being an Al Qaeda affiliate, the group received arms and support from the CIA, which is kind of a problem given that the US is still technically at war with Al Qaeda, and that it was Al Qaeda that carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Awkward.
Perhaps, after the rebranding, the US can be more open with its support. But what won’t change is Al-Nusra/Al-Sham’s mission: a Sunni-based Islamic state in Syria. That goal is held by nearly all rebel groups in Syria, including the so-called “moderate” rebels, whom are also jihadists.
Another US-backed rebel group in Syria, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenk, recently made a video of themselves decapitating an 11-year old boy and published it online as a recruiting tool.
Needless to say, if any of the Sunni rebel groups actually won, the religious minorities in Syria would be facing a genocidal extermination campaign. Which again raises questions about why the US is arming and training groups like Al-Nusra/Al-Sham and Nour al-Din al-Zenki if its mission in Syria is actually to stop human rights abuses.
In a recent interview with CNN, the spokesman for Al-Nusra/Al-Sham, Mostafa Mahamed, said the “new” group will continue to focus solely on Syria and has no plans to attack the United States. Could it be that this rebranding is really about getting more US support for Al Qaeda’s operations in Syria?