Tuesday, September 3, 2013


By Ghassan Kadi
10 Dec 2011

 In the old City of Damascus, just outside the famous Hamidiyye Souk, is the Grand Omayyad Mosque that dates back to the 7th Century AD. This mosque houses the tomb of John the Baptist, known in Islam as Yah...ya, peace be upon him.

That same Grand Mosque, that is meant to be one of the biggest Sunni shrines, has eight names written inside its great dome; Allah (God), Mohammad, Abou Bakr, Omar, Othman, Ali, Hasan and Husein (photo attached)

The five names that follow the name of the almighty are those of the prophet and his Kaliphs, the pillars of Sunni Islam. The last two names, Hasan and Husein, are the sons of Imam Ali, and together with their father are the pillars of Shiite Islam.

The Grand Omayyad Mosque is a living ancient historic testimonial that proves without any shadow of doubt that Christianity and Islam in both of its major sects have lived side by side in Syria for centuries.

A little stroll from the Mosque to the other side of the Hamidiyye souk is the tomb of a different icon; Saladin. Saladin though is simplistically perceived as a Moslem hero, he was in fact a national hero defending the Levant from the foreign invaders; the Crusaders.

A good look at the post-Crusader history reveals that Christianity and Islam lived side by side before and after the infamous campaigns that reined death and horror. When Saladin liberated Jerusalem, he did not make any retributions against its Christian inhabitants as some expected. Instead of creating a blood-bath, he ordered his troops to spray its streets with rose water.

A few kilometers from Damascus in Maaloula and Sidnaya are perhaps the most ancient churches on earth. They continue to conduct sermons in Aramaic, the language of the Christ who spoke Aramaic not Hebrew.

With the rich and eventful history of Syria, it is not surprising that the demographics of the Syrian society are rather kaleidoscopic. What unites them and what divides them however is grossly misunderstood by the West.

With what is happening in Syria, it becomes imperative to have a good look at the Syrian society in an attempt to be able to define what it takes for a Syrian citizen to either support or oppose Bashar Assad; the incumbent Syrian President.

The West is only able to look at the Syrian community on ethnic, religious and sectarian divides. In the wake of the unrest in Syria, the Western media have been busy running statistics about percentages of different sects with an obvious attempt to portray the President as a leader of a minority group with a monopoly over the whole country.

The Syrian society is however divided on political rather than religious, sectarian, and ethnic lines.

By-and-large, religious and sectarian divides have not existed in Syria and there is a clear history to prove it. The history is in the records. The Grand Mosque says it all.

Religious and sectarian divides in Syria are only alive in the hearts and minds of few fundamentalist fanatics; the same mental breed of people that the US and its allies are sending troops to fight in Afghanistan. They have different names and different umbrellas, but whether one calls them Al-Qaeda, Talibans, Salafists… the essence is almost identical.

Being Sunni, those fanatics hate Bashar for no reason other than him being an Alawi. This sector of the Syrian society are the prime opposers to Bashar. They may be the biggest group in terms of number, but even if they are not, they are militarised, very well organised, bolstered by outside sources namely Saudi Arabia, and ironically under the blessing of the same USA that is fighting fundamentalism in Afghanistan.

Those Islamists have tried in the early eighties to slump Syria into a sectarian civil war akin to the one that was engulfing neighbouring Lebanon at the time. For a fairly long period of time, they targeted and killed prominent Alawi army officers and personalities. When Hafez Assad (the then President) had no option but to stop them militarily, they finally sought refuge in a mosque in Hama. The only way to deal with them was to attack the mosque.

This incident is still used to by Assad haters as a huge tarnish on the Assad legacy. The Western media keep repeating this story so it stays fresh in the minds of people. It is often used as a catch-cry by the Islamists for recruitment.

Ironically, the Wako Texas incident of the early 90’s seems to be totally forgotten. In essence, there is no difference at all between what the Syrian army did in Hama in 1982 and what the FBI did in Wako a decade later.

The other major group of anti-Assad Syrians are those who are basically sick and tired of the state of emergency rules and civil restrictions. They are predominantly reform seekers. In essence, these are a rather unorganized group.

There are good reasons for demanding reform in Syria. The stronghold on authority has created corruption that needed to be dealt with.

In reality, Bashar embarked on a reform program ever since he assumed office. He did not want to do this in a bang in order not to create chaos. Some people, especially the youth, seem to have run out of patience.

A deeper analysis of the reformists reveals that their underlying dissent is directly or indirectly related to Syria’s state of war with Israel. Whilst Syria has not been actively engaged in direct combat for some time, it needs to keep up with military technology and this does not come cheaply. The infamous Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt has put Syria into a much more precarious situation. The war effort budget in Syria has been and continues to have the lion’s share.

Most of Syria’s restrictive regulations and restrictions are imposed by the state of war. Trade sanctions have been part-and-parcel of Syria’s recent economic history. In fact, in some instances, they were self imposed.

Hafez Assad is infamously remembered for depriving the Syrian population from bananas. The banana example elaborates his economic policies in the simplest manner possible. In the mid 70’s, one could not find and buy bananas anywhere in Syria. Hafez Assad’s message was loud and clear. If you want bananas, we are not going to waste our hard earned foreign cash to import bananas, so go and grow bananas locally. And they eventually did.

For nearly thirty years, Hafez Assad kept the belt very tight, but in the meantime, major advancements were made in commerce, manufacturing, agriculture, public services, infra-structure etc….all the while the military was getting a huge chunk of the national budget. Those who know Syria and go there on a regular basis and are able and prepared to make honest statements about it, can clearly see how the country emerged from the ashes.

The very skilful Syrian artisans were even able to manufacture such items as spare parts for cars without having to import a thing. For many years, one would see very old cars and busses running in Syria powered by such skills. Imports were restricted to absolute necessities. This self-imposed trade embargo by the way, will make it very difficult for any trade sanctions to work against Syria. Syrian people are well used to be self sufficient. If anything, Syria in the past has opted to implement its own bans on US imports.

Nation-building programs of the calibre that the Assad legacy launched in Syria require stability and continuity. This cannot be achieved through Western style democracy. Under such regimes, party politics dictate making election promises in order to gain power even when the promises conflict with long-term national interests. The West is full of such examples and should not brag about its democracy as the be-all-and-end-all system that mankind has developed.

The restrictions are therefore merely austerity measures meant to serve the war effort on one hand and nation-building on the other hand. To demand lifting them prematurely ultimately reflects an unwillingness to participate in either one or both. This is a major indictment against the calls for fast-tracking the change. Such fast changes are clearly not in the long-term interest of the country. Reform is always difficult to implement in any given country, and with all the challenges that face Syria, reform in Syria needs to be done properly and in accordance with a time table that does not compromise the national interest.

In the Arab World, the only state that is a thorn in the side of Israel is Syria because it would not sign a peace treaty with Israel and because it supports Hezbollah and had a major role in the Israeli defeat in South Lebanon.

A change in Syrian politics will have serious repercussions on the balance of power in the Middle East, and Israel will be the biggest beneficiary.

The US/Israel coalition has been trying to unsettle Syria for some time. The USA was planning to use the invasion of Iraq as a stepping stone towards invading Syria and Iran. The Iraqi quagmire meant that they needed another plan. The so-called Arab Spring gave them that opportunity.

The majority of Syrians are not in neither the fundamentalist nor the surrenderist ranks. The majority of Syrians are secular patriots, people who stand up with their President because they are aware of the importance of the historic stand they need to take in order to defend their national dignity and not be subjugated by Western plots. They are prepared to take sacrifices as they have done in the past. They are willing to weather sanctions. They are not on a hurry to implement reform, and they definitely are not seeking Western style democracy.

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