Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Sheikh Walid Muallem! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Since the outbreak of the Syrian popular uprising, the Damascus regime has been trying to portray what is happening in the country as being the work of religious groups. Last week alone we saw two interesting incidents that reveal that the Syrian regime is now trying to sow sectarianism, as this is one of the cards that the regime can play to put an end to the uprising.

Last week, the Damascus regime attempted – and almost succeeded – in promoting the idea that what is happening in Homs is the result of sectarianism. This was in order to scare the [Syrian] minorities, and the international community, into believing that Syria is on the verge of becoming embroiled in a sectarian civil war. At the same time, the Syrian regime and its affiliates – including some Arabs in some western newspapers – also tried to promote the idea that the Syrian [political] opposition that met in Istanbul is solely made up of Islamists, and that the majority of these opposition members are members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Syrian regime pointed to the fact that many of these [opposition] figures were sporting beards, to the point that one prominent Arab intellectual – who supports the Syrian uprising – told me that “I was concerned by the appearance of bearded [Syrian] opposition figures on television, as this upholds the image that the regime is trying to promote, namely that the [Syrian] opposition is made up of the Muslim Brotherhood!”

However the issue that many people failed to notice is that it is members of the Syrian regime itself who appear to us today sporting beard; this is a phenomenon that can be seen far more amongst members of the Damascus regime than it can amongst members of the opposition. Some might ask; how is this possible? It is ironic that the issue of Asharq Al-Awsat published on Thursday [21/7/2011] featured two images that perfectly sum up the situation. Page 2 of Thursday’s Asharq Al-Awsat issue featured the image of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on stage during a forum for political and religious dialogue discussing the vision of [political] reform in Syria held at Damascus University’s Faculty of Islamic Law. In this picture, Muallem is sitting between Syrian Minister of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) Mohammad Abdul-Sattar al-Sayyed and Sheikh Mohamed Said Ramadan al-Bouti; both of whom are prominent and indeed bearded religious figures. Whilst on the opposite page – Page 3 – there is an interview with two prominent Syrian political opposition figures, namely Imad al-Din Rashid and Fida al-Majzoub; this article features an image of both opposition figures taken in Istanbul, and of course both men are also sporting beards!

The question that must be asked here is: in this case, what is the difference between the Syrian regime that is full of bearded religious figures, and the bearded opposition? Has the Syrian Foreign Minister, suddenly, become “Sheikh” Walid Muallem, for it to be acceptable for him to give a lecture at a forum for political and religious dialogue at the Damascus University’s Faculty of Islamic law, whilst it is not acceptable for the Syrian political opposition to sport beards?

This is not all, for many of those monitoring the situation in Syria following the outbreak of this popular uprising, failed to notice that the secular Baathist regime in Damascus has resorted to the same methods used by Saddam Hussein’s secular Baathist regime in confronting its own people, and the international community. In this regard, Saddam resorted to adding the words “Allahu Akbar” [God is Great] onto the Iraqi flag, in addition to making a number of decisions as if Iraq were an Islamic state, even though the regime was a secular Baathist one. All of this was an attempt by Saddam Hussein to provide himself – and his rule – with religious legitimacy. The Syrian regime is doing precisely the same thing today, for following the outbreak of the popular uprising in Syria the Damascus regime reversed its ban on the niqab [Islamic veil], in addition to closing its only casino.

Therefore, all this talk about the “Islamist” Syrian opposition, armed groups, and other scenarios being put forward by the Damascus regime, is nothing more than attempts by the regime to justify its suppression of the uprising. The figures within the Syrian opposition are well known, and they represent all colours of the Syrian rainbow, including Alawites, and this is what everyone must be aware of today.