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The Druze Position Is A Challenge For Syria's Uprising

03 July 2015

By Eyad Abu Shakra

The massacre recently committed by Al-Nusra Front elements in the village of Qalb Lozeh, in Idlib province in northwestern Syria, could not have come at a worse time, given the way the Syrian uprising is moving, and how it is developing.

Here, I am not talking about how tragic the incident is, because Syria has witnessed far worse massacres since the uprising began in March 2011. Furthermore, it is not right to overemphasize the fact that its victims were from a "minority" when the "majority" has been suffering similar massacres for over four years.

It is not acceptable to turn a blind eye to the reality that some of the leadership in Syria bluffed themselves into believing that they could easily escape from their miscalculations and evil deeds, and cover up one crime with a bigger one. Given this fact, and in addition to foreign support and international collusion, Syria finds itself where it is now—in an abyss.

The heinous crime committed against 25 villagers in Qalb Lozeh is one in a veritable catalog of tragedies, and a case in kind, another example of the collapse of the state in the absence of a mature, revolutionary alternative.

Still, what took place in Qalb Lozeh was not only tragic, but happened at the worst possible time.

The Qalb Lozeh massacre was committed a few hours before rebels in southern Syria were preparing to liberate the Tha'aleh Military Airbase. Just like Qalb Lozeh and 16 other neighboring villages in Syria's northwestern countryside, the little town of Tha'aleh—close to the airbase—is inhabited by the Druze minority. In fact, the town is the western gateway to Sweida province where the world's largest population of this heterodox Muslim sect resides.

The Druze have inhabited Jebel Al-Summaq in Idlib province and its southeastern foothills for around 1,000 years, living mostly in peace with their neighbors. When the Great Syrian Revolt broke out in the early 1920s against the French mandate, the family of Ibrahim Hananu, the revolt's leader, was given refuge at the home of the local Druze notable Mohammed Ali Al-Qassaab in the village of Martahwan. And when the 2011 uprising broke out, Druze villages in the region provided food and refuge to their neighbors, and cared for and treated the bereaved and wounded.

In Sweida province, in southern Syria, the Druze population have been a part of the fabric of the larger Hawran region for around 400 years. Their history in that part of Syria is well-documented, whether from the days of nationalist uprisings against the French mandate, or during their participation in patriotic movements and nationalist parties and organizations before the latter lost their way and soul.

It is a pity that the Assad regime's bets paid off when it came to finding ways to destroy Syria. The cruelest of these has been the use of excessive force in its lengthy attempts to crush the uprising. This led to the destruction of the final hope for moderation within the Sunni majority. After ensuring the angry, doubtful and vengeful current within the majority held sway, the regime then began to use it as a means to blackmail religious and sectarian minorities. These minorities were put before two choices, each worse than the other: either seeking protection from a regime that is actually using minorities as a shield, or facing the rage of extremist revenge. Incidentally, in order to ensure that everything went according to plan, the regime freed from jails a number of extremist activists imprisoned for terrorism-related crimes. Moreover, it later intentionally ignored the rapid growth of extremist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as it did in Raqqa, Aleppo province, Palmyra, and the Damascus suburbs and countryside. Indeed, one of the Syrian regime's henchmen in Lebanon said once in a TV interview that when the Free Syrian Army (FSA) first emerged, a worried Assad regime decided to weaken it by allowing extremist and terrorist groups to grow and expand at the expense of the FSA—thus, Syrians would be left to choose between either the regime or the terrorists.

Iran and Russia's direct support, and the collusion of the US, have provided the Assad regime with ample room to maneuver. Washington's reluctance to push for regime change, through its continuous refusal to provide the Syrian rebels with any qualitative military aid, stopped all military and political desertions, and pushed minorities to keep quiet and adopt neutrality.

Meanwhile, as extremist foreign "muhajer" fighters continued to flock into Syria—many not even Arabs—the initial identity of the uprising gradually started to change, and its aims almost buried. On the other hand, patriotic rebels and opposition figures began to feel frustrated and let down by the international community, which seemed to be punishing them simply because they were moderate, and sought a free, independent and democratic Syria in which all its citizens can enjoy freedom, dignity and justice.

In normal circumstances, the two military airbases in Tha'aleh and Khukhuleh—also in Sweida province—should be wrested from the regime, more so since the regime re-equipped them for use against the rebels as well as the towns and villages in the Hawran and Quneitra regions. However, the failure of naïve as well as dubious pronouncements to differentiate liberating two airbases and "conquering Sweida"—implying punishment and revenge—only a few hours after the Qalb Lozeh massacre, was indeed a bad mistake.

Immediately, the regime seized the opportunity. A few days after failing in its attempt to withdraw its heavy weapons from the province—thus making it vulnerable to the encroaching ISIS threat—the regime suddenly decided to send reinforcements to the Tha'aleh Airbase—as a punishment to the families of 27,000 young Druze men who refused to serve in the army.

What will happen in Hawran next will surely determine where Syria's uprising is heading. The people of Sweida, and the Druze elsewhere, are not gambling on protection provided by Assad and his backers; but it is very much in the interests of the Druze and all constituent communities of Syria that the uprising goes back to its original political aim, and get rid of those seeking to classify the Syrian people into different categories and take turns in vetting their faith and patriotism.

The world has insistently disregarded the suffering of Syria even before it fell prey to terrorism, so how can we expect it to behave when it has become a hotbed of terrorism?

Moreover, if we are calling on the whole world today to take notice and react to the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, how can we remain silent while an inclusive Syrian homeland, that rises above sectarianism and tribalism, is under threat?

Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978. 

 

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