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There appears to be a heated debate in the corridors of America’s political capital about the formation of a specific stance towards the situation in Syria, between those who see the need to intervene because the current timing is favorable, and as a matter of preparing for the post-Assad phase, and between those who believe that matters should not be pushed in order to change the existing equation in Syria, i.e. in order to remove minority Alawite rule!

It may seem to the reader that this article is both frank and provocative in terms of its use of certain terms such as “minority”, “Alawite”, “Shiite” and so on. But these descriptions are borne out of necessity, and we must call things by their proper names, because there are those who are doing this very clearly in the American media today, as part of the debate there surrounding the situation in Syria. This is what we have seen recently in a number of articles in major American newspapers, some of which seem to be the result of a “press briefing” given to senior American journalists from the US administration. The consensus between the majority of writers, in spite of their differing ideologies, has become clear, and likewise the style of media coverage is heading in one direction, particularly trying to emphasize the presence of al-Qaeda in Syria, although previous official US statements played down these claims!

The latest of these sectarian, journalistic narratives can be found in the recent article by Vali Nasr, author of the thesis “The Shia Revival”. Nasr is an American of Iranian origin, Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and advisor to President Obama’s special envoy in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was one of the most prominent instigators of the US invasion in Iraq, and is a staunch advocate of America’s alliance with the region’s Shiites. Nasr recently wrote an article in the New York Times entitled “Syria After the Fall”, where he adopts the persona of an Iranian living in Washington and offers not so much a political and analytical insight as a sectarian assessment.

To summarize Nasr’s piece, he called for power sharing in Syria with the consensus of Russia and Iran, because there are “more than a million Shiite Muslims in Syria”. This is a simplistic sectarian assessment, and not political analysis. Some might argue that Nasr’s proposal would be similar to the Taif Agreement, but this is also naivety, for the Taif Agreement had its reasons in Lebanon, but the Syrian composition is not the same, nor does it need sectarian quotas!

The Alawites are not Shiites, but Khomeini adopted them as such in support of Hafez al-Assad, and in order to enhance his capabilities in the region. To say that there are one million Shiites in Syria lacks accuracy, for there are no reliable statistics to support that. This is the problem we are seeing now in certain areas of the US media, particularly among sectarian researchers in their dealings with the proportion of Shiites in our region, where there is no checking or documentation on their part. However, if we assume that the “one million” figure is correct in Syria, how can it be that a researcher such as Nasr previously defended the Shiite majority in Iraq – of course they were not the majority – and their right to rule, and then returns to warn against the Sunni majority ruling in Syria, fearing for the Alawite minority, which he calls Shiite? This is simplistic sectarian analysis!

The intention here is not to respond to the claims made in Vali Nasr’s article, for that would take too long, but the objective is to alert some of our Arabs to what is being plotted in Washington by so-called researchers who enjoy prestigious status, and are close to the decision making circles of President Obama…Will anyone take notice?

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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