Sectarianism, national unity and future role of religion in Syria’s political system

The current crisis brought back to the forefront the question of determination of the Syrian identity and the role of religion in the foreseeable future. During the Ottoman era, the areas that currently form the Syrian country were geographically divided on sectarian, tribal and ethnic bases. Areas like the Alawite mountains suffered from isolation, while the Druz mountain in the south was an independent principality that was not subject to the central authority. The principle of the unity of Syrian territories on which the Syrian elites agreed upon since the Syrian Congress in 1916 paved the way before unifying the Syrian spectrum and reinforcing the national identity under the ceiling of the homeland, despite the fact that the French occupation authorities did practically divide Syria according to an ethnic and sectarian logic.

After 66 years have passed since the independence of Syria and some two years on the start of the crisis, the identity of the state and the society became threatened due to a number of elements that could result into substituting the national identity with narrow sectarian, ethnic and tribal identities that do not unify Syrians but separate them just like the way they were during the Ottoman Khilafa. The ghost of the past hovers over the Syrian society and, in the best of cases, the country could be on the verge of repeating the Lebanese or Iraqi formula that is representing by sectarian allotments, or even federalism. The Syrian society has become divided between what is called the majority and the minorities, which indicates a worsening in the concept of citizenship and a threat to eliminate it, as the crisis escalates and gets internationalised and turned into a regional struggle between Sunni and Shiite forces.

The uprising of the religious intellect within the political domain, according to many, results from a number of elements, including: intellectual and political desertification that the regime imposed throughout five decades, poverty that results from corruption and Western sanctions because of Syria’s position with regards to the Arabic Israeli struggle, the failure of Arabic left in the face of the Israeli and American aggression in the region, and also the increasing influence of the oil kingdoms that strongly support political Islam in its Wahabi and Salafi facade. Some also accuses the Syrian regime of inflaming sectarianism through concentrating the actual executive authority within the hands of one sect, only.

At the time of wars, religious and ethnic instincts increase and become rooted in non-civic societies. The phenomenon of extremism is manifested in the military and political rise of Islam and the return of the Jihadi-Takfiri intellect. The identity crisis is also manifested in the return of the family, ethnic and sectarian feuds in Syria, especially in areas where ethnicities, religions or ever tribes exist.

Some opposition figures are of the opinion that extremist currents came as a reaction to the military oppression that is practiced by the regime. These accuse the regime of inflaming the fears of minorities in order to weaken the opposition. The reality, though, may not be that simple, for despite the fact that some opposition segments deny sectarian incitement, they turned a blind eye on it, as it appeared as a winning card in their battle. This incitement proved that it has a qualitative and heavy influence in attracting masses in the poorer and most marginalised areas. The sectarian card also proved its effectiveness in bringing in financial and military aid from the Gulf states, which support formations of religious nature.

Syrians are wondering now whether the sectarian feelings and religious polarisation is temporary or whether it would set the stage for a sectarian future. This concern may be larger among the Syrian minorities due to the dominance of the exclusive Islamic tendencies over the military body of the opposition, which reminded everyone of their sectarian origins. Therefore, the civic state of the society receded in the face of feelings that have risen from deep in history.

Some political factions are of the opinion that bringing back political life requires mechanisms and thoughts to form new party currents on national bases, taking into consideration that allowing religious parties, or ones of sectarian nature, would inflame the sectarian formula. At the same time, the balance between Syrian politics and variety needs today a comprehensive national reconciliation.

Thank you for your feedback

شارك برأيك

يسرنا قراءة إضافاتكم، لكن مع التنويه أن النشر على الموقع سيقتصر على المشاركات البناءة و النوعية، و لا نضمن أن يتم إدراج كل المشاركات