Minority Rights Key To Swift Regime Change
Dr. John Eibner
Talk Radio News Service
American calls for the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are becoming increasingly shrill and tinged with exasperation. Washington’s huffing and puffing has so far failed to blow the House of Assad down.
In the absence of UN Security Council backing, Washington has engineered a bewildering coalition of the willing to depose Assad. It is institutionalized in the so-called “Friends of Syria” contact group. The partners include western allies like Britain and France, and the Muslim regional powers Turkey and Saudi Arabia – both Sunni states with deep democracy deficits.
Sunni terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida and Hamas, are also working for the demise of the Assad regime. Even Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has joined the chorus, saying the overthrow of Assad would be a “positive thing.”
Backed by powerful media images of bloodied civilian victims of Assad’s army, virtually all regime change proponents cast their actions as support for the “Syrian people.” But what really binds together this eclectic anti-Assad coalition is alarm at the nuclear capabilities of Syria’s Shiite ally, Iran.
The common goal is to strike a powerful blow against Iran’s aspirations for regional hegemony. The strategy is to replace Assad’s Shiite related, Alawite-based regime with a Sunni-based government – one that will stand under the direct tutelage of Iran’s Sunni regional rivals, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood is Washington’s favored candidate. The Brotherhood is Assad’s most powerful domestic opponent and the dominant force within the Syrian National Council, now recognized by the U.S. as “a legitimated representative of the Syrian people.”
Washington’s objectives have been thwarted so far by Russian and Chinese non-cooperation. But the most serious obstacle comes from within Syria itself. Notwithstanding President Obama’s pledges of support for the “Syrian people,” many Syrians – possibly a majority – are still not on board with the armed insurrection and the prospect of Islamist repression.
This reality has been highlighted by Stephen Hadley, National Security Advisor to George W. Bush.
“Why is the Assad regime still in power?” Hadley asks. “Because it enjoys the support of the Syrian army; the Sunni business community (especially in Damascus and Aleppo); and the Alawites and other minority communities (including Kurds, Christians and Druze).”
“These groups,” Hadley concludes, “must be persuaded to break with the regime and join the opposition.”
For over 40 years, the Assads’ secular pan-Arab ideology enabled religious minorities, like their own Alawite community (13%) and the country’s Christians (10%) and Druze (3%), to benefit from protection and opportunities for advancement. Moreover, the Assad regime has promoted economic modernization in harmony with interests of Syria’s business community. This class has strong secular Sunni representation. Even Syria’s repressed Kurdish ethnic minority (9%) lacks confidence the Arab Islamist led opposition.
Assad’s constituencies of support are not motivated by an abiding love for his regime. His support derives from terror at the prospect of Muslim Brotherhood domination. Sharia-based discrimination and other more severe forms of religious persecution that were the lot of Syria’s religious minorities for centuries remain powerful factors in their political consciousness.
The tragic fate suffered by Christians and other non-Muslim communities in neighboring Iraq in the wake of American led regime change intervention has not gone unnoticed by Syria’s minorities. Tens of thousands of persecuted Iraqi Christians now live unmolested in secular Syria, under the protection of the Assad regime.
So far, Washington has tried to persuade non-rebellious Syrians to back regime change by bludgeoning Syria with economic sanctions and encouragement of the Islamist-dominated insurrection. But carrots are needed in addition to sticks.
The confidence of these groups will only be won if the United States, together with its regional allies, visibly restrain the intolerant, Sharia-based sectarianism that animates much of the uprising. Washington’s recent recognition of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Council (SNC) as “a legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” and its partnership with Saudi Arabia to provide material aid to the rebels, will only encourage the religious minorities and secular Sunnis to cling closer to Assad for protection.
Instead of promoting the sectarian agendas of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Washington needs to challenge openly the Syrian opposition to unite around minority rights and religiously neutral government. Continued failure to address the legitimate interests of all the Syrian people increases the likelihood of protracted sectarian civil strife – conflicts of the sort that have in recent times wreaked so much death and destruction in neighboring Lebanon and Iraq.
P.S. But then again, it cannot be excluded that the Obama administration may calculate that the overthrow of Assad is not, in fact, essential to dashing Iran’s ambitions. Its strident rhetoric may be but a ruse of real-politik, intended to inspire Syrians to fight each other for power. Protracted civil war – at the expense of all the peoples of Syria – might suffice to deprive Iran of its hitherto useful ally in Damascus.
John Eibner is CEO of Christian Solidarity International (CSI-USA)
Read this piece at Talk Radio News Service.