Kuwaitis outspend each other on Syrian rebelsDecember 13, 2013
Private donations from Kuwaitis have been playing a significant role in funding Al Qaeda-linked rebels in Syria (see here, here, and here), including operations such as the August massacre of 190 Alawites in Latakia province.
The latest wrinkle is that fundraisers in Kuwait have practically become competitions, with different tribes and prominent Kuwaitis vying with each other to see who can raise the most zakat for jihad. Foreign Policy has the details:
Shaping the Syrian Conflict from Kuwait
- BY Elizabeth Dickinson
- DECEMBER 8, 2013
One night during Ramadan this summer, Hamad al-Matar, a former Kuwaiti member of parliament (MP), invited guests over to donate “to prepare 12,000 Jihadists for the sake of Allah,” a poster invitation advised. Anyone could come to his diwaniya, a space used for weekly gatherings to talk politics and sip sweet hot tea. And many did come, their pockets open and their contributions generous.
“I think we raised 100,000 KD [$350,000],” he later recalled in the same diwaniya, a long room lined on the perimeter with ornate couches. “That amazed me. I was thinking I would collect a couple thousand KD. Never in my entire life did I get such an amount of money in my pocket in one day.”
But what happened to that sum of money next, Matar said, he isn’t certain. “I’m not involved actually honestly speaking in where this money goes, because there are so many people much better than myself. Even I didn’t know the map [of Syria],” he explained. “Honestly I don’t know actually” where the money went.
For the last two years, MPs like Matar, as well as Kuwaiti charities, tribes, and citizens have raised money — possibly hundreds of millions of dollars — for armed groups fighting the Syrian regime. In many ways, the financing is highly organized. Smartly aligned to a given theme, battle, or season, campaigns are broadcast on social media and advertised with signage and elegant prose.
But Matar’s account offers a glimpse of just how uncontrollable — even random — this support has become. In Kuwait, private financing came into political vogue in Sunni circles, bringing aboard legions of public figures seeking to associate themselves with support for the Syrian rebels.
That broad base of popular support among Sunnis has rendered the phenomenon nearly unstoppable for the Kuwaiti government. There is another complication too: some in the Shiite community have held events and possibly raised funds in support of the embattled Assad regime.
Donors on both sides of the political spectrum could prove perilous for Kuwait, home to a tiny population of just 3 million. Sectarian tensions have risen in recent months as events in the region have escalated. The war in Syria now threatens to invigorate a generation of extremists on both poles who may not take as kindly to the country’s mixed-sectarian make-up.
In the early days of the uprising, just a few individuals and charities were involved in shaping and funding rebel opposition groups. But as the level of violence rose, donations grew, and the funders were keen to see that their money had been well spent; YouTube and Twitter exploded with videos announcing the creation of new brigades, some even named after their donors in the Gulf.
Suddenly, everyone in Kuwait knew which diwaniyas and charities had funded a brigade. And that visibility attracted a new cohort of donors. Kuwait’s large Sunni tribes held massive fundraisers, in one case reportedly raising $14 million in just five days. They became competitions: Could the Ajman tribe outbid the Shammar? Social pressure increased the take — and made participation a necessity for many of Kuwait’s most prominent politicians.
MPs like Matar joined the fold, sometimes wrapping Syria’s story into Kuwait’s own political predicament. Since 2009, a coalition of Islamist, tribal, and youth groups have banded together to demand government and social reforms, among them an end to perceived government favoritism toward the mostly-Shiite merchant class. Now, Syria’s struggle seemed to fit into a narrative of Shiite repression of the Sunni common man. President Bashar al-Assad, an Allawite, was backed by Shiite Iran, while the Gulf states professed support to the mostly-Sunni rebels.
On Twitter, there was a rush to boast donations and solicit more. Fundraisers posted photos of cars and jewelry that had been sold to support the “mujahideen.” They also earmarked specific costs for weapons: For example by saying that an $800 donation will buy a directed missile or a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). For Matar’s diwaniya fundraiser, a contribution of 700 KD ($2,500) was said to be sufficient to prepare one fighter for battle…
There’s a lot more. Read it all here.