Assad's motive behind killing Syrians

By Khalid Amayreh The state-controlled media in Syria, along with some Iranian and Lebanese outlets, would have us believe that Syria is facing an international conspiracy, led by the United States and some Gulf Arab states

By Khalid Amayreh

A Syrian rebel stands next to a flaming tire while firing at a Syrian army checkpoint, in a suburb of Damascus
The state-controlled media in Syria, along with some Iranian and Lebanese outlets, would have us believe that Syria is facing an international conspiracy, led by the United States and some Gulf Arab states.

Merely propaganda organs at the regime’s intelligence apparatus’s beck and call, these mouthpieces of lie claim rather incessantly that maintaining the regime’s pro-resistance stance, especially its adamant refusal to cave in to Israeli-American hegemony, justifies the pornographic repression and killings in Syria.

This is a mendacious claim since the real motive behind the genocidal drive against Syria’s Sunni majority has more to do with president Assad’s determination to maintain the Alawite sect in power than with any exterior factor.

As to the Palestinian cause, the last thing in the world the Palestinians would want to see is an Arab regime massacring its own people in the name of Palestine. Yet this is exactly what the Assad regime has been doing for an entire year.

It is, of course, politically undesirable to explain the ongoing killings in Syria in sectarian terms, lest an inauspicious prophecy is allowed to come true. Yet this is exactly the crux of the matter.

The Alawites, an esoteric Shiite sect whose followers believe that Ali Ibn Abi Taleb, the Prophet Muhammed’s cousin and son-in-law is God’s incarnate, have tightly ruled Syria since 1973. Alawites, who constitute about 10% of Syria’s over all population, were appointed in key positions in the army, intelligence, air force as well as in the political establishment. One Sunni minister once complained that an Alawite janitor at his ministry had more authority and influence than the minister himself.

From the sheer security perspective, the Alawites are in tight control of the vast network of security forces tasked with maintaining law and order, especially safeguarding the regime and preventing the occurrence of a possible coup against the Assad dynasty.

For example, the fourth Brigade, the best funded and best armed legion in the Syrian army, is led by Maher al-Assad, the Syrian president’s brother. This explains the special brutality characterizing this force in cracking down on civilian dissent, including peaceful demonstrations demanding freedom from decades of sectarian Alawite oppression and tyranny.

It also explains the fact that this brigade is usually deployed into “rebellious” towns and localities such as Homs, Hamma and Idleb in order to wreak havoc on Sunni civilians.

According to various sources, the regime is reluctant to deploy Sunni forces to clamp down on the mainly Sunni protesters for two main reasons: First, the regime fears that soldiers would defect and join the Free Syrian Army; and Second, the regime is worried that the soldiers wouldn’t deal “harshly enough” with the protesters, e.g. refrain from killing so many civilians and brutalizing their own people.

When Sunni soldiers disobey orders to kill civilians, they are summarily executed. Hundreds of soldiers have met this fate.

Some reliable sources have pointed out that numerous Sunni army units have effectively been disarmed and ordered to stay in their barracks away from key population centers. Some Sunni air force pilots have also been sent on long and open-ended vacations or laid off arbitrarily to guarantee that they don’t join the opposition.

Similar arrangements have been carried out with regard to other branches of the Syrian army in order to secure absolute loyalty to the Assad regime, which explains the regime’s resilience and steadfastness.

The Assad regime is first and foremost sectarian, not ideological, in nature. The Baath socialist party, the official ruling party in Syria, is only a thin outer façade used to conceal the real image, namely the tight control of the Alawite sect of the government and armed forces. Hence, it is likely that the regime will cling to power until its very last breath.

The regime’s ultimate and paramount strategy is not the liberation of the Golan heights from Israel, let alone Palestine, but rather maintaining Alawites in power for as long as possible.

The regime has been receiving material and moral support from Iran and Hizbullah. And although the Alawite sect was traditionally viewed as heretic by most of the Ja’afari Ithna Ashari Shiite theologians in Iran and Iraq, Alawites have been able to obtain a Fatwa or edict from some Shiite scholars testifying to their status as “bona-fide Shiites.” One such edict was issued by the late Imam Mousa al –Sadr, the spiritual leader of the Lebanese Shiite movement, Amal, who disappeared during a visit to Libya in August, 1978.

The logic behind this has very little to do with objective religious realities pertaining to the Alawites, but has everything to do with political expediency, as the Alawites are not really practicing Muslims. For example, they don’t pray regular prayers, pay regular charity or Zakat, make pilgrimage to Mecca or fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

However, despite their established unorthodoxy and heresy, the Ulema of Iran, including the Supreme Leader of the Iranian regime, Ali Khamenaie, have apparently reasoned that having a heretic Shiite at the helm of power in Damascus, the beating heart of Arabism, is much more preferred to having even the most saintly Sunni or Wahabbi regime there (Wahhabi is the shiites’ favorite description of Sunni opposition to Iranian policies, especially prozelyting Shiite movement).

This means that Shiite clerics, who follow the wilayat al Faqih (the Authority of the Theologian) doctrine, as introduced by the late Ayatollah Khomeini, will support despotic, even tyrannical , Shiite regimes as long as they face Sunni opposition.

This sectarian alliance is not without negative ramifications for the Iranians and pro-Iranian groups, such as Hizbullah.

Today, support for Iran and Hizbullah is at an all time’s low throughout the Arab- Muslim Sunni world.

Gone are the days when thousands of Sunni Muslims in Palestine and elsewhere would take to the streets to sing the praises of Hizbullah and its leader Sheikh Hasan Nasrullah.

The gruesome images that keep coming from the streets of Syria, along with the clear identification of Hizbullah and Iran with the pornographic atrocities of Syrian Sunnis at the hands of the “Shiite Alawite” regime , have dried up nearly all sympathy and support for the Shiites in the Arab world.

One Palestinian commoner from Hebron in the southern West Bank who, using his own words, used to “worship Nasrullah” told this writer that “it never occurred to us that Hizbullah and Sheikh Nasrullah would side with a manifestly criminal regime that slaughters men, women and children as if they were sheep or chicken.”

“We respected them when they fought Israel. We thought they were the best Muslims under the sun, we never thought they would take part in massacring innocent civilians on the ground that the victims don’t belong to their sect.”

With the Assad regime apparently willing to go to any extent to maintain its grip on Syria, and with Iran hell-bent on expediting a Shiite Crescent extending from Damascus to Tehran, it is expected that the Syrian regime will fight a life-or-death battle which will claim tens of thousands of victims and might well culminate in an internecine, deadly civil war between the Sunni majority and the ruling Alawite sect.

Very few people on the side of the opposition would like to see a civil war that would consume and disintegrate Syria.

However, if the regime keeps up slaughtering his Sunni citizens en mass, as indeed it has been doing in one way or the other for the last twelve months, civil war would be inevitable, with ghoulish ramifications and repercussions for Syria and beyond.

Palestinian News Network