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Ramadan could put Syria sectarian struggle in motion as attacks, protests increase (w/ video)

Ramadan began Monday, which could spark a fresh spate of protests and ensuing violence in Syria — some of which may lend itself to sectarian undertones. During Islam’s holy month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Muslims congregate at mosques following sunset. The majority-Sunni Syrian population will therefore have a means to meet up and discuss the atrocities being committed by its government, which is largely controlled by the minority (about 12 percent of the population) Alawite sect of Islam.

The attacks also will do nothing to silence the murmurs of sectarian strife in Syria. The Muslim Brotherhood accused Bashar al-Assad’s government Sunday of igniting sectarian conflict:

“Syria is witnessing a war of sectarian cleansing. The regime has linked its open annihilation with the crescent of Ramadan. It is a war on the identity and beliefs of the Syrian nation … on Arab Muslim Syria.”

The Brotherhood’s timing is significant. Many people have suggested Syria would devolve into sectarian crisis, and Ramadan could best amplify that sentiment. Alawites view fasting during Ramadan as merely symbolic, whereas it is one of the five pillars of Islam that Sunni Muslims observe without question.

Hama, a central Syrian Sunni stronghold, suffered 80 deaths at the hands of government-backed security forces Monday. Such violence will only magnify the growing divide between ruling forces and people at large.

What is getting less attention than the actual violence itself is the opportunity Ramadan will give Sunnis to organize. Under the cover of the mosque, Syrians can organize face-to-face and discuss strategy with less fear of backlash. Meeting in a mosque is inherently safer than a coffee shop, and physical communication removes the risks of internet and telecommunications contact. It could also help bring protest outsiders into the revolution as they see the passion with which protesters carry themselves.

But at the same time, various Muslim sects meeting daily for prayer during Islam’s holiest month as violence continues may foment discriminatory, sectarian views. To this point, many Syrians believe President Bashar al-Assad has manipulated violence to make it appear more sectarian. By doing so, al-Assad can claim his rule is important for restoring order so the nation does not devolve into sectarian war. However, as violence and protests ramp up this month, it will be increasingly plausible to Syrians that a sectarian struggle is on the horizon.

Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, established a sophisticated patronage network by installing the formerly disregarded Alawite minority into top business, police and military positions. That network has provided Bashar al-Assad unflagging loyalty, as if the regime falls, so do those top Alawites who benefited from al-Assad corruption and thuggery.

As attacks continue during Ramadan, Sunnis will grow more enraged with the regime. Alawites do not share the same view as Sunnis when it comes to the holy month. The differences between sects will never be more pronounced than during the next 40 days.

 

A Syria city rallies in support of Assad as ‘fresh’ violence breaks out

This rally in Sweida, a city south of Damascus, at first seems vaguely reminiscent of North Korea allegedly paying Chinese actors to pose as fans during last summer’s World Cup. It seems counterintuitive to have such massive support for Bashar al Assad considering all the government-led violence against civilians.

Sweida is not representative of  a majority of Syria. It is heavily populated by Druze, a minority population that had been violently persecuted in the middle of the 20th century by the Syrian military when the country was under French control. When Hafez al Assad took power in the 1960s, he elevated Druze and Alawites to prominent military positions, seeking to institutionalize loyalty for the minority Alawite leader in a predominantly Sunni nation. Sunnis comprise 74 percent of Syria’s population and have been relegated to the political sidelines because of the patronage system Hafez al Assad started. Alawites represent 12 percent of Syria, while Druze is at 3 percent.

Syrian rights group estimated more than 1,400 civilians have died since protests began. Assad said Monday he would announce reforms, which are largely expected to have little substance or effect. Some of the largest anti-government protests (the first video below) occurred today in response to the Assad-declared “National Unity Day” in support of the government.

The Sweida rally video is below this video from an anti-Assad protest today, which is a more accurate representation of Syria:

 

Here’s the Sweida video:

 

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