The Blog

Syria: Beware the Evils of Sectarianism

Ruthless Arab dictators have terrified the people around them to the point of total sycophancy, where praise and subservience to the "dear" leader are the only words the despot hears; this renders them incapable of objectively and logically examining a problem. Their delusions of grandeur have fossilised their brains, making them incapable of shifting their political gear to match the changed environment. Up until the start of the Arab spring, fear woven into the fabric of Arab societies through secret police, torture and violence, was the emotion that kept the masses docile and silent. No more. The revolutionary young of the Arab world have changed societies in the region. They have shown that their desire for dignity, human rights and freedom is stronger than the fear of torture and death that has imprisoned the masses for so long.

The Syrian people started their uprising peacefully, demanding reform of a tyrannical rule to allow people a voice in the way they are governed; they were not initially calling for Bashar al-Assad to go. The regime's security apparatus responded in March 2011 with the "torture of children painting anti-regime slogans on a wall in Deraa in the south".

Patrick Cockburn, in the Independent on Sunday (12 February 2012), describes the sheer stupidity of the response thus:

"The state disastrously misjudged its moment and an atrocity, intended to intimidate would-be protesters into silence, instead provoked them to revolt. Hatred of a despotic regime and fury at repeated massacres still impels great numbers of Syrians to go into the streets to demonstrate despite the dangers"

The reaction of the regime was similar to that of the other despot Muammar Gaddafi, although Bashar al-Assad was clever enough to have a different rhetoric from that of Gaddafi, but the actions and violence are the same. This misjudgement opened up the field for neighbours and foreign powers to hijack the revolution and turn it into a proxy war with Iran, and into a sectarian Shia (Alawi)-Sunni conflict.

ABC news quoted a senior Iraqi security official saying that al-Qaida-linked fighters have been travelling from Mosul in northern Iraq into Syria for the last four months. The suicide bombing of security compounds in Aleppo, killing 28 people and wounding 235 on Friday (10 February), could well be the work of such a group. The regime meanwhile is indiscriminately bombarding Sunni neighbourhoods in Homs, with total disregard for civilians caught in the middle of what looks like a destructive civil war.

I am finding it difficult to grasp the concept of Saudi Arabia championing democracy and freedom in Syria. Lest we forget, this is the same government that sent troops to Bahrain to crush its uprising, rebranding a genuine struggle for justice, fairness and reform a sectarian one. Moreover, it was the Saudi King Abdullah who, in a "testy" phone call to the White House on 29 January, warned President Obama not to abandon Egypt's despot Hosni Mubarak.

The Iraq war saw two million Iraqis, of different Muslim sects and Christians, take refuge in Syria to escape the hellhole of Iraq, grateful for the hospitality of the Syrian people. They appreciated their open-mindedness and tolerance. Now it looks like Syria is slowly descending into destructive sectarianism. A genuine uprising for justice, freedom and dignity is morphing into a sectarian one that will hurt all the Syrian people through the sheer bloody mindedness of the al-Assad regime, and through interference of neighbours and foreign powers. I want an end to despotism in Syria, but I do not want "the baby thrown out with the bathwater". Is it too late for that? I hope and pray it isn't.