Protesters in Idlib demand Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham release the Syrian rebel leader Abdul Baset al-Sarout, a former Syrian association football goalkeeper. During the siege of Homs from 2011 to 2014, he became a Syrian rebel commander and lead many hundreds of fighters against government forces.
He was captured by the rebel group Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham on the 29th May 2017. This sparked mass protests in Idlib by his supporters who demanded his immediate release. Abdul Baset was not alone in his rebel activities; during the course of the Syrian civil war five of his brothers and five of his uncles were killed in fighting against Syrian forces.
As one protester says, “we want the release of Abdul Baset al-Sarout from the prisons of Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham. We, along with Abdul Baset al-Sarout, support Islamic law and we don’t disagree with it. But we want Sheikh al-Joulani and Sheikh Abu Jaber [head of Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham] to immediately release Abdul Baset al-Sarout”.
Due to his leadership and following, there have been three recorded assassination attempts on his life. This latest display of control over his actions, particularly by Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham, has been met with fierce protest and demonstration. Another protesters says, “Abdul Baset al-Sarout is detained by the Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham and we demand it to release him immediately. We no longer have patience. The people have rebelled, and if he remains in prison, we do not know what will happen. We demand that he be released as soon as possible”.
These protesters sentiments are shared among other followers who have signalled their willingness to use violence if their demands are not met. The leadership of Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham now risk civilian discontent and infighting if they cannot find a way to satisfy the protestors, but may also risk looking weak if the demands of the protesting crowds are met without concessions.