The Syrian uprising began as a broad-based, nonviolent movement against the Assad regime but it has become more sectarian as the conflict drags on and intensifies. According to several recent media reports, the sectarianism is fueled by private “bundlers” living in the Gulf who raise hundreds of millions of dollars for Syria’s extremist rebel groups. Although many of these funders publicly solicit contributions using social media, their agendas and their ties to one another and to the Syrian armed opposition have received little scrutiny.
On December 19, the Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World hosted a panel discussion on private Gulf fundraising for Syria’s Islamist rebels. Brookings Fellow William McCants, director of the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, discussed the project’s recent paper, “Playing with Fire: Why Private Gulf Financing for Syria’s Extremist Rebels Risks Igniting Sectarian Conflict at Home,” with its author, Elizabeth Dickinson, Gulf correspondent for The National, and with Kristin Diwan, assistant professor of Comparative and Regional Studies at American University. The panel also explored the challenge of regulating private fundraising for foreign extremist groups with Tom Keatinge, a former J.P. Morgan managing director who writes on counter-terrorism financing.