Threat of Islamist Rise in Syria "Meant to Weaken Support for the Revolution"

Article Summary
Although the Assad regime is warning that its collapse would leave Syria vulnerable to Islamic extremists, in reality this scenario remains highly unlikely, writes Salamah Kaylah. Therefore proponents of social and political change in Syria should not allow the “Islamist threat” to prevent them from supporting the revolution, he argues.

Fears of a [possible] “victory” by Islamists in Syria existed well before the results of the Tunisian and Egyptian elections were made public. The “victory” [of the Islamists] is evident in Tunisia, where they have formed a government. [An Islamist government] is still a  possibility in Egypt - but this depends on whether or not majority that won the parliamentary elections will be allowed to form a government. In a similar fashion, a religious party has entered power in Morocco.

[Islamist rule] has meant - and still means - the end of “secularist” rule. It means the rule of a “sect” in the name of political Islam, represented [here] by the Muslim Brotherhood. This is [exactly] what I, a large segment of secularists and “religious minorities” fear. It appears as if the Sunni dimension of the massive popular uprising will [surely] bring [the Islamists to power]. [This makes] maintaining the current authority a necessary and rational thing to do for both sides - secularists and minorities - despite the variations in their viewpoints [on a number of issues].

Throughout the Syrian uprising, popular slogans have been largely absent, replaced by religious chants and sectarian soundbites. [These chants have] reinforced the image presented by sectarian figures and “wannabe sectarians” resident outside Syria, sounding the alarm of terrible things [i.e. a sectarian war] to come. And thus there is no choice but to deny the popular [character] of the uprising, [instead identifying it as sectarian] and lending support to the authority, or at least refraining from “going with the flow” of demonstrations.

The elections in Tunisia and Egypt confirmed that which was already known. [The Islamists’ sweeping victory in the elections of both countries] undoubtedly weakened, confused and prolonged the uprising [in Syria]. Every skeptic and all those concerned [about the uprising] are in the same boat as the popular classes that have revolted. In reality, [those skeptical of the uprising] share the same problems - be it unemployment, poverty, or oppression - as the demonstrators. This is why they should have taken part in the struggle to “overthrow the regime” or at least put forward a [non-sectarian] substitute that represents them. But the [Islamist] “bogeyman” obstructed their engagement [in the uprising]. The [regime] also played on that fear, and sometimes imposed it “by force” through pressure.

But, is there fear of [the possibility of] the Islamists seizing power in Syria as well?

I think that Syria will be the turning point that will take the fate of Arab uprisings in another direction. [Syria will be different] not only because of nearly 30% of the population are minorities (religious and ethnic), but because the conditions available to those Islamist forces which did not actively participate in the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and (Morocco) will not manifest themselves in Syria.

The army played a role in circumventing the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. With the approval of the the United States, an “alliance” was forged with the Islamists, who received the endorsement of the authorities during the elections. [This support took the form of] propaganda through the media machine, political biases within the bureaucracy and neighborhood “thugs.” It is also probable that voter fraud took place in Egypt, which is the country that provided [Islamists] with their greatest potential - especially given their financial capacity. In Tunisia, the Ennahda Movement won 40 percent of votes representing 48 percent of eligible voters - meaning that they won less than 20 percent of the population’s vote. Islamists in Egypt took the “decision” to fine anyone who does not vote 500 Egyptian pounds, thus eliciting the votes of the poorer classes and considerably increasing their support. Despite the aid they obtained from the establishment, their financial capacities and their [ability to make use of powerful religious symbolism], [the Islamists] were only able to acquire a fraction of the electorate.

In Syria, this [scenario] is impossible because any change will not bring to power forces friendly to the Islamists. [On the contrary], in the event of a transition, the new authority will remain conscious of the social sensitivities and political balances [in Syria] whether relating to “national,” “sectarian” or “class” issues. [These sensitivities] will disallow the authorities from supporting the Islamists, and will make the conditions [necessary] for them to become the largest party impossible. On the contrary, it is more likely that [a multitude of other] parties will emerge - regardless of whether they will be allowed to or not.

[An awareness of these issues] might be what drives the Islamists to consider the option of international intervention (in the manner of Libya or Iraq) more than other [opposition groups]. [In the event of an outside intervention], the transitional council - in which they are the primary player - would become the new authority. They view any internal change [offered by the regime] as an attempt to exclude them, despite the “divine promise” referred to by a few [factions of] the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, who saw their ascent to power as a “divine miracle.” This may lead [the Syrian Islamists] to commit “folly” [i.e. the continuation of a violent struggle], which would serve the regime and confuse the uprising. [However, their desire to escalate the conflict with the regime] ignores the reality on the ground: There will be no international military intervention [in Syria], and the uprising itself will determine [the nature of the future regime]. Therefore, the fear of certain concerned classes of [a possible] “fundamentalist” take-over must be overcome. [Were this to happen], the change [in Syria] would be of a popular nature, void of sectarian sensitivities and fear of foreign interference. [A wider] participation would bring about a change that serves all popular classes. It would lay the foundation for a society based on citizen-based rather than sectarian principles.

Although the Islamist victory in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco has led to a heightened fear of Islamists, the media has exaggerated their limited success. The popular conflict will turn into a struggle against the new “Islamist” package, which does not offer any solutions to the economic or social problems that were the main reason behind the uprising. Thus, the conflict will continue, and it will turn out that - when viewed in the proper historical context - the Islamist “bogeyman” was nothing [to worry about]. [In the end] profound change [will be based] on the interests of the popular classes.

The Islamists will not fall from the [Syrian sky] wearing parachutes, nor will the [upcoming] change will allow for a democratic environment which actively [endorses] them, as in Tunisia and Egypt. Here, the electoral results will be more versatile and “balanced”. The Islamists in Syria are thus not to be feared.

Found in: syrian diversity, syrian, syria uprising, secularists in syria, sectarianism in syria, sectarianism, sectarian rhetoric, popular nature of uprising, muslim brotherhood, islamists, islamist rise in tunisia, islamist pre-conditions, government support to islamists, ennahda, elections, egypt elections, egypt

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