Why is Syrian Regime Targeting Secular and Liberal Protesters?

Syrian securitiy forces have been arresting liberal and secular activists in the wake of a non-violent demonstration in front of the parliament last month. Iyad Sharbahi writes that the goal of the arrests is to silence those who represent a moderate, peaceful opposition, so the regime can continue to claim it is battling a violent Sunni conspiracy.

Harpist Safana Baqleh, activist Asim Hamsho, author Mary Issa and her husband Joseph Nakhleh, blogger Yara Michel Chammas, activist Jalal Nofal, author Salama Kaila... the list goes on.

It is clear that the government has intensifed its security campaign in recent weeks. This particular campaign was triggered by the reemergence of protesters articulating their desire for a secular revolution. One notable example of the renewal of this secular, nationalist message was the protest staged on April 8 [2012] by a group of liberal activists in front of the Syrian Parliament. One banner at the protest read "Stop the killings! We want to build a homeland for all Syrians."

A large number of people — including many of those who have remained either neutral or loyal to the regime — participated in the sit-in, which was characterized by a sense of morality and humanity that should ostensibly be immune to force and violence. Unfortunately, violent repression took place later on in the day anyway, embarrassing the regime in front of those who had previously supported and defended it.

The regime's recent security campaign has led to the arrest of dozens of liberals supporting the revolution. These individuals believe in a peaceful, non-religious struggle against the regime, and hail from a plethora of the different communities which make up the fabric of Syrian society.

It is clear that those not socially advantaged have thus far been paying the highest price in the revolution. What is remarkable now is the way in which the regime has focused its recent campaign as if it were determined to paint the revolution in one color.

It is obvious that, now more than ever, it is in the regime’s best interests to portray the Syrian Revolution as a "Sunni extremist revolution." It is doing everything in its power to take the revolution down that road by killing and persecuting people, destroying mosques, humiliating conservative families, insulting the divine, etc. It is carrying out these actions intentionally, using criminal and sectarian thugs. These thugs do not conceal their hostility and grudges against "Muawiyah's descendants," but rather boast about harassing them in videos which are are later leaked to the Syrian public under suspicious circumstances.

By doing this, the regime aims to elicit a response on the part of the country's Sunnis and push them to rally behind their “threatened and targeted” sect. This would create an environment of vengeful and primitive sentiments, which the regime hopes will take on a purely religious dimension. This happened previously when certain sheikhs issued fatwas calling for jihad against the regime.

Feelings of injustice and oppression among the Sunni community have existed for more than half a century. Over this period, a minority sect controlled a majority that was intentionally fragmented, depleted of all political, economic and social power, and excluded from the country's decision-making structures. Many from this community feel that they as Sunnis have paid the highest price in the revolution, and assert that the Sunni sect has the right to assume power after the fall of the regime. Of course, this kind of rhetoric leaves minorities terrified by the prospect that the revolution will bring about a situation like that of neighboring Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The regime is trying to fabricate this Sunni extremist opponent. In it, it sees a potential savior for the following reasons:

  • This opponent legitimizes the regime and justifies its continued use of violence. It allows it to overcome international pressure under the pretext of confronting terrorists.
  • The prospect of a Sunni extremist foe will prompt many Syrians who are fearful of an alternative to the current regime to rally around it, or at least doubt in the revolution and its consequences.

In order to achieve this, the regime must push all of those who stand as an obstacle to its dirty plan out of its way. These individuals include the activists and intellectuals calling for a secular, nationalist revolution and trying to divert the path of the uprising away from extremism or sectarianism.

In one recent incident, two Sunni girls were arrested while accompanying Christian activist Yara Chammas. The two were quickly released while Chammas was kept in detention and accused of nine different crimes. This in itself is sufficient proof of the regime's aforementioned strategy.

This kind of analysis also applies to the cases mentioned above. 

وجد في : syrian, sunni, sectarian, propaganda

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