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Something’s Rotten in Syria | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A Free Syrian army fighter takes cover as he shoots near Al Neirab airport in Aleppo February 17, 2013. REUTERS/Hamid Khatib

The title of this article is drawn from a famous line in “Hamlet”, one of William Shakespeare’s most renowned plays. However the subject of this article is about a reality that is even stranger than the fancies of novelists, playwrights and authors, namely a twenty-first century regime that is utilizing all kinds of weapons to kill its own people in front of a world that is not doing anything to stop this.

Over the past two years, the Syrian tragedy has continued to rage unabated while malice and rancor has spread to the point that this this has transformed into sectarian conflict resulting in oceans of blood. Bashar al-Assad consciously sought to ensure that such a situation prevailed on the scene since his first day in power, virtually guaranteeing sectarian sedition in Syria. This is something that will be exceedingly difficult for Assad’s success–whoever he might be-to quell.

Politically speaking, a humanitarian tragedy such as this could not have continued in Syria were it not already a center for international and regional struggles, particularly during this tense time when western states—led by the US—are attempting to exercise certain options. However it has lately been revealed that these options were not accurately calculated, as reflected by Western officials’ comments on what was later dubbed the Arab Spring. These options included the stubborn stances taken by China and the Russian Federation, which has relinquished all the Soviet Union’s burdens and is today enjoying a booming economy. For its part, Moscow took the decision not to relinquish its only remaining stronghold in the region before guaranteeing its national interests.

Regionally, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have adopted a progressive stance towards the situation in Syria. This stance continues to develop and increase in terms of support at all international summits and conferences held to address the Syrian crisis. In fact, this stance spearheaded the Friends of Syria conference as well as other regional, Arab, and international conferences.

Amid this international movement, which has yet to resolve anything, we have also witnessed appalling human tragedies and unbelievable suffering. As a result of this, the Gulf States have complemented their political project towards Syria with a humanitarian one.

On 30 January 2013, Kuwait hosted an international conference for Syria’s donor countries. The Gulf States had the strongest presence among these countries in terms of the support offered to the Syrian people.

Kuwait, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE donated nearly one billion dollars-approximately 300 million dollars each-in aid. This was enough to provide humanitarian aid for the next five months, according to the Kuwaiti foreign minister.

There can be no doubt that this is important humanitarian work that is complementing the political support. We are now seeing media outlets reporting news that may suggest a shift in international stances. The statements issued last week by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and following this by Foreign Minister Lavrov, suggested changes in Russia’s stubborn stance. This could be seen in the blame that was laid on Assad by Medvedev, which reached the point of rebuke.

Newly re-elected president Barack Obama said he will study the “feasibility” of making a move on Syria, while his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a similar statement just prior to leaving office. Israel, with its characteristic security caution, has begun to launch military assaults in order to prevent the Assad regime transporting sophisticated arms with the objective of preventing such weapons being used against them in the future.

Iran, the Assad regime and Hezbollah have failed to take any action in response to the Israeli military assault; their battle is not against Israel but rather against the Syrian people. The Iranian regime relies on mere slogans in its battle with Israel, while over the past 40 years the Assad regime has been the best border guard that Israel could have wished for. As for Hezbollah, it has learned its lesson following past experiences.

In Syria, the Alawi community must find a way to distance itself from Bashar al-Assad and his hopeless political gambling that will only push the entire community towards further sufferings in the days to come.

There is nothing more odious than talk about abhorrent sectarianism, while the worst thing that a politician can do is attempt to exploit or utilize this phenomenon. Nevertheless, this is a fact on the ground in this part of the world which is full of such examples of abhorrent sectarianism. This represents a suppressed instinct throughout history and was present in various different societies; an illness that is either represented or exploited by different parties, groups or organizations.

It is not a historical heresy for the Islamic Republic of Iran to choose sectarianism as an extremely effective political card in many of its struggles since the country’s foundation, while this has only increased in recent years. In fact, Syria’s Alawi sect is at the heart of Iran’s sectarian policy.

The Alawites or the Nusayris in Syria have suffered historical grievances and religious abuse to the point of oppression. This was followed by political exploitation that caused them serious harm. As for historical injustice, this lies in misinformation about their history that long remained an obstinate source of ambiguity and mystery for independent Western and Arab researchers. This was a story each party tried to push towards a direction that suited their own inclinations and desires. Regarding the religious aversion towards the Alawites, this was exhibited equally by both the Sunnis and the Shi’ites. In fact, the Alawites were even ostracized by the Shi’ites who adhere to the same religious school of faith as them. Some Sunnis also exhibited another form of aversion in terms of how they depicted the Alawi community and their relationship with them. Regarding political exploitation, the Safavids attempted to use the Alawites against the Ottomans, whereas the French attempted to turn the Alawi community into an obstacle hindering the independence of the Levant. Following this we saw the manner in which the Alawi community was exploited more than ever before at the hands of Hafez al-Assad in the modern Syrian state, not to mention the Islamic Republic of Iran and more recently, Bashar al-Assad.

It is well known that the Alawites, like any other minorities, suffered historical oppression, however none of these other minorities adopted vengeful stances against the majority, nor did they place historical blame on them and use state powers against them. Here, one must emphasize that it can be useful to look at the current situation through the lens of history, particularly in terms of the historical relationship between doctrines and sects.

Regardless of what is driving today’s occurrences, the Alawi sect must not pay the price for the crimes committed by Assad, the son and the father. This is because viewing people as a whole based solely on their sectarian or tribal identity and loyalties defies logic, civilization and justice.

Numerous Orientalists have provided significant studies and research regarding the state of affairs in the Arab or oriental world, particularly in terms of sectarianism, tribalism and ethnicity. Regardless of these researchers’ objectives and the possible exploitation of these studies for political goals, such studies are rich and beneficial and could serve as significant frames of reference for any serious attempt to analyze important changes in our modern history. This is despite the fact that numerous Arab researchers and historians have abstained from monitoring and analyzing the impacts of these facts under the bright and influential slogans of Arabism, Communism or Baathism.

The Syrian state of affairs, like Hamlet, will continue to seesaw between the malice of history, contradictions of reality and hope for the future. We can only hope that Hamlet will eventually find his way to salvation.