Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Problem With the Rebels' Financial Distribution Model

The system distributing funds to Syrian rebel groups fosters divisions, sustains extremism, and creates organizational incoherence among rebel groups.

Ideally, the system would work as follows: A diverse set of funders including states, expatriates, and religious/community leaders would secure funds and transfer them to a central rebel coordinating body operating at the national level. This body would then divide the funds between coordinating bodies in each province in charge of organizing rebel activity. Provincial coordinating bodies would distribute the funds among the rebel groups actively fighting the regime based on size, importance of their area of operations, and demonstrated capabilities. This process would force fringe groups to move toward the center in order to acquire funds, or risk becoming operationally irrelevant as better resourced groups take the lead. A top down distribution system would also promote unity, organizational coherence, and responsible behavior among the rebels. Unfortunately, this is not how the system works.

The actual distribution system is more complicated and works as follows: A diverse set of funders ranging from states to expatriates and religious/community leaders secure funds and transfer them to a variety of rebel organizations. This includes bodies that attempt to coordinate or influence rebel activity across provinces, including the Free Syrian Army, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the more islamist Syrian Rebels Front. Primary funders will also transfer weapons and funds directly to revolutionary-military councils coordinating rebel activity at the provincial level, as well as to individual brigades operating at the village level. By providing funds to both coordinating bodies and their component rebel groups, funders are undermining the effectiveness of the coordinating bodies, making it difficult to impose order on rebel groups that have independent sources of funds (sometimes the same source that the revolutionary-military council relies upon). The current system also allows fringe groups to secure funds and stay independent of moderate leadership structures.

This distribution system grew organically out of the need to fund rebel groups operating without the support of a major power. It is natural that funders would want to sponsor actors at every level of the distribution network, giving them broad influence and ensuring that their money reaches the most influential players while targeting rebel groups deemed amenable to the funder's political goals. This effort, however, is undermining the unity, coherence, and moderation of the Syrian rebels.

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