Wednesday, May 04, 2011

On sectarianism in Syria

A reader sent me this: " I've been waiting to leave Syria to write you. I'm an American who has  been living in Damascus for the past year. It's been incredibly frustrating to be over there and reading blogs like...which have become hugely focused, obsessive even, about the prospect of a fitna in Syria. I remember one article..which basically said if you are a well-off Christian or Alawi Syrian, you aren't against the regime.  While I think there was a more basic truth to that before, a problem  with these analysts is they are not living in Syria and can't see the  events changing on the ground. I have seen so many of my Christian and even some Alawi friends change camp so fast it made my head spin.  While the events in Egypt were happening I asked many of them "Do you  think something like that could ever happen here?" and they all tutted their tongues and said "Never, we love our president, the only ones  who don't are the Muslim Brotherhood." Those same people, literally just 2 months later, were subscribing to opposition newspapers  (communist mostly), organizing meetings, and cursing Assad. It's strange, and it's unpredictable, but I doubt that it's a phenomenon restricted to my group of contacts.  I'd also like to point out, that of this group of friends, only the ones living in Latakia have gone out to protest. My friends in Damascus, especially the ones who changed camp complain "We want to do something but we don't know how yet!" They don't have the contacts to know where the protests will begin or how to get in touch with the larger opposition. If they are at all representative of the larger population, there are still tons and tons of people ready to take to the streets in Damascus that haven't found the opportune moment yet. I would guess that once Damascus gets to that tipping point of chaos like Homs, Daraa or Latakia, you will see that the opposition is much bigger than a lot of these analysts imagined. At the same time, I have to admit there have been several events which point to the great tension and possibilty for violent conflict laying beneath the surface, which haven't been reported on. 2 weeks ago I was sitting with friends in Souk Sarooja (which usually has about 400 people sitting in it), smoking argeela, when we heard yells coming from the side of the square. All we could see from behind a car was a mans arm, holding a giant dagger, going up and down as if he was stabbing or trying to stab something. Everyone rose from their seats. Some men ran to the scene, and there was a huge melee, at least 100 young men, attacking each other with brooms, chairs, whatever was around. We saw men running away with blood gushing from their heads. The whole fight suddenly dissapeared to a side street, and people were trying to flee in the other direction. The entire place was  cleared out in under 3 minutes. I saw nothing about this incident written in the news."