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Opinion: Syria’s Sectarian Specter | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Free Syrian Army fighters stand at a former base used by fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), after the ISIL withdrew from the town of Azaz, near the Syrian-Turkish border, March 11, 2014. Syrian refugees in this border outpost were delighted to hear their home town of Azaz had been […]

The Iranian government must surely realize that its war on Syrian territory, and its defense of a bloody regime which relishes killing its people, is a lost cause even if the war lasts for decades.

At most, it wishes to achieve two objectives: victories on the ground which would help it and help the Syrian regime—which is fighting on its behalf—and gaining political leverage allowing it to preserve some of its influence in the region, as the end of the Syrian regime will mean an end of the influence Iran has built since the days of the Iranian Revolution.

Iran’s second objective is to weaken its enemies in the region, enemies who support the oppressed Syrian people and the opposition who are fighting a life or death struggle against its ally.

While recognizing Iran’s ability to prolong the presidency of its ally Bashar Al-Assad, it has failed to destroy the popular Syrian opposition, and even failed to control the whole of Syrian territory. The Syrian regime cannot turn back the clock to before the people’s revolution no matter what, and therefore Iran was expected to mobilize its allies and sleeper cells in the countries which support the Syrian people and their liberation.

Unlike the revolutions in Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia, where people have not shown a great deal of sectarian bias, sectarianism in the Syrian revolution has remained an inescapable concern. The ruling party is heavily Alawite and is strategically supported by Iran, and this is one of a number of factors stoking sectarian tensions.

This is why extremists from all sides have found an opportunity to bolster their influence and promote their depraved ideologies. This will drag the region into a dangerous sectarian struggle if it is not stopped by wiser heads on each side.

Here, we must question two groups who are involved in this complicated issue. Firstly, there are those who accuse all Shi’ites of being agents of Iran, representing a “fifth column” in countries where Shi’ites exist. In addition to this being an unfair generalization, it is also at odds with religion, logic and true nationalism. It also provides a suitable climate for Iran’s sleeper cells to spread their influence under the pretext that they are living among people who target them indiscriminately. No country in the world is free from religious, sectarian or ethnic diversity, and a civilized state is one where all religious, ethnic and sectarian constituents can coexist.

The second group involved in this sensitive issue comprises the members of the Shi’ite sect and its leaders, intellectuals and scholars.

These are the ones who influence public opinion and are required to side with their nations in the Gulf states against threats and terrorist incidents. They should even announce open and frank stances which condemn these terrorist attacks and all who sold their consciences to a foreign power which wishes evil for their homeland, just as Shi’ite clerics in Qatif and Al-Ahsa in eastern Saudi Arabia have.