"Since the Syrian revolution began, in 2011, private Kuwaiti donors like Herbash have been among its most generous patrons, providing what likely amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars to the armed opponents of Assad…. As the war took a more sectarian and extremist turn, so, too, did its private funders."
Jamaan Herbash used to smile when he talked about Syria. When I met the former Kuwaiti parliamentarian, a year ago, just outside Kuwait City, he scrolled through snapshots of Syria on his iPhone as if they were vacation pictures. One showed him with Free Syrian Army fighters in Aleppo, another was of an F.S.A. hospital that he had helped to fund. He told me that he was even conducting human-rights training for moderate rebel brigades. He was evidently proud of his work, and his face softened as he talked about his most recent visit to Syria. He said that other countries should be doing more to help the rebels, like supplying anti-aircraft weapons to the F.S.A. In the meantime, he explained, private donors were trying to make up the difference: "People pay for their own travel and make sure they convey their donations hand to hand, so the money is disbursed in a very clean manner, untainted by any corruption."
When I saw Herbash again, nine months later, in October, he looked weary. His beard, scraggly and untrimmed, in the style of strict Islamists, framed exasperated eyes, and his feet fidgeted as we talked about the deteriorating state of the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad. "It's clear that there is a war of exhaustion in Syria now," he said, reversing his earlier prediction that the rebels were only months away from victory. More extreme fighters had taken control, and the rebels were so disorganized that many of them were primarily fighting among themselves. Herbash was still raising money—a poster outside his home urged people to contribute: "THEIR CHILDREN ARE BEING KILLED WHILE OUR CHILDREN ARE ENJOYING THE BOUNTIES OF LIFE"—but his optimism had faded.