Syria’s Descent into Darkness

Rick Moran is blog editor of The American Thinker, and Chicago editor of PJ Media.His personal blog is Right Wing Nuthouse.

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The government sent in more troops over the weekend — a crack army outfit commanded by President Assad’s brother Mahar — and “tensions have remained high” as described by one Syrian newspaper.” Protest organizers said 10 people were killed overnight and that the army had surrounded the city.

In the four months of protests and revolt, there have been a few reports of Syrian troops defecting but nothing as large as what appears to have occurred in Abu Kamal. The Syrian army, about 200,000 strong, is made up largely of Sunni conscripts, officered by members of the ruling minority sect of Alawites. There is also a group of Alawite irregulars greatly feared by the population for their brutality. The shabbiha, black-clad loyalists about 10,000 strong, have been deployed in several trouble spots and have enforced army discipline by shooting soldiers who refuse to fire on civilians. They have also been accused of atrocities against protesters.

Mahar Assad commands Syria’s best combat unit, the 4th Armored Division, and the Republican Guard — each about 10,000 men. They are better paid and trained than the conscripts and can be counted on to follow orders if told to shoot down civilians.

The Alawites make up only about 7% of Syria’s population, but hold most of the important positions in government and the military, and dominate the economy. If Assad were to fall, the probability of a Sunni takeover would mean an end to favored treatment of officers and government employees. It is this base of support that Assad is calling upon as the protests against his rule mount.

A huge pro-Assad demonstration in Damascus on Sunday, tens of thousands strong, highlighted this support and indicates that even though the protests were staged by the government, Assad can draw upon a significant portion of the population to back his crackdown on what the regime is telling citizens are “armed gangs” and terrorists.

It isn’t only Alawites who are loyal to the Syrian president, but also members of other minorities including Christians, Druze and Shias who see Assad as their “protector” against rampant sectarianism represented by the 85% Sunni majority. As if to hammer that point home. sectarian violence broke out for the first time in the embattled city of Homs when the bodies of three Alawites who had been kidnapped, turned up dead. This set off a reaction against Sunnis when Alawites stormed through a Sunni neighborhood taking their revenge. Up to 30 people were killed in the violence over the weekend.

Homs, a city that was once dominated by Sunnis, has seen Alawites move in during the last 20 years and gradually, the newcomers began taking over the government and getting preferred jobs. That tension escalated when Assad moved his forces into Sunni neighborhoods last month to quell the huge demonstrations that erupted against his rule. Most of the violence occurred in two neighborhoods –one Sunni and one Alawite — that border each other. A resident explained, “The magic is turning against the magician. The regime thought that if it feeds the tribes and allows them to carry AK-47s it will secure their loyalty forever.” He added that the “repression was turning them into insurgents.”

As in most Muslim countries, the possibility of violence between the sects is ever present. In Lebanon, Bahrain, and Iraq, domestic unrest brings long standing rivalries to the surface. A strongman like Assad or Saddam Hussein, or the draconian policies of the mullahs in Iran against minorities can usually keep the lid on by brutal repression. But let slip the bonds of civil society and the end result has been shown to be killings, which beget revenge murders, which lead to more deaths, until the spiraling violence engulfs the nation.

This is not likely to happen in Syria. But if sectarian violence spreads, it would complicate not only Assad’s efforts to crackdown on the revolt, but also the opposition’s efforts to unite the country and speak with one voice in trying to remove the dictator.

Puny and insignificant efforts by the West to get Assad to stop the bloodletting have gone for naught. And given the dictator’s strong domestic position, it isn’t likely that he will halt his crackdown as long as there is opposition to his rule.

Rick Moran is blog editor of The American Thinker, and Chicago editor of PJ Media. His personal blog is Right Wing Nuthouse.

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  • Chezwick_mac

    The West and even Israel are ambiguous about seeing Assad – bad as he is – supplanted by a radical Sunni regime.

    My own feeling is that Syria's current set-up – a minority regime brutally suppressing the majority – is untenable. Some might argue that such a state of affairs is beneficial to Israel, that a chaotic, divided Syria is less of a threat. In my opinion, Syria will be remain inherently unstable as things stand…and as we all know, autocrats have a wicked tendency to try and distract their people by creating an external threat whenever they are threatened by internal upheaval.

    We've already seen Assad organize a march on the Golan border that ended when the demonstrators were dispersed by Israeli gunfire. Should his position deteriorate, don't be surprised if he does something Syria hasn't done since 1973: Provoke an armed clash on the Golan border. It matters not that Syrian forces will be badly mauled…in fact, that may just evoke more sympathy and support for the regime.

    Paradoxically, for all his support of Hamas and Hezbollah, Assad's regime is the last institutionally secular government in the Arab world. Its fall is inevitable. Policymakers in Tel Aviv and Washington best be preparing for the aftermath.

    • Amused

      I think there may have been a window of time for that , but it has now passed . A distraction on the border , is too little too late. Now even an armed clash would prove futile , for ther revolt juggernaut in Syria is on the move .An armed clash on he border now would only drain "resouces " Assad would need to continue his brutal suppression ofv the rebellion . Yes it is ironic , but the rebellion itself has its base as secular in a way , but risks being hijacked by islamist extremists . Another irony is what you mention , a Secular Government , tyranical in nature , yet backs the religious forces which caused so much trouble in Lebanon and Israel and aligning itself with Iran , a religious tyranical govt . is now about tofall victim to those same forces . I wonder who Iran really backs in this situation ? It's far too late , to blame Israel , for Assad has or will soon be surpassing his father in brutality .

      • Amused

        But these are not the days of Assad's father , where the slaughter of 10,000 , could be passed off , for atleast a time as rumor .Communications back then could be totally blocked and controlled . But since when has a "secular regime " been of any lesser danger ? All of Israel's wars were with "secular " regimes ….and with aid of their Soviet sponsors . The " Pan-Arab Dream " has not changed , However the sponsor has .The NEW sponsor seems to be Iran .

  • SHmuelHaLevi

    Syria's basis is islamic, Light or "extremeist" makes no difference.
    Deceiving the infidels allow for many of them to "look" secular, even liberal.
    The islamic cult of death is right under the surface in any country whole ppopular orientation is islamic.

    Israel is pursuing a course very well focused on that cult's inents.
    The US voters will have to make decisions far more difficult because of vested interests and other considerations.

  • Felsen Stark

    Excellent report, thanks Rick

  • AntiFascist18

    But Bonzo and that stupid silly shrew at Foggy Bottom won't lift a finger even as they bomb the tar out of Libya. Why? Because monkey manure likes Assad – and anyone who is willing to go to war against Israel.

    Any Jew who votes for Bonzo this time around should receive a mandatory Obamacare pre-frontal lobot. Ditto for all so-called Americans equally stupid enough to vote for the Kenyan simian.

    • Amused

      If Bachman gets the nomination…you just watch'em . BTW , the Republican party is beginning to take on the signs of a "religious fascist "party .Toomany of the candidates recieving "orders from above " and the electorate is sucking it up . To what percentage ? That will only be known closer to Election Day . Make no mistake , this election will be decided by Centrists and Independents . If someone like Bachman is the only alternative to Obama , guess what ……get ready for another 4 years where you can make monkey jokes .

      • Amused

        btw , YOU sound like a RACIST ….but you are "anti-fascist " , right ? Rrriiiight .

  • Marty

    syria is a fictitious country and a fake state divided rather hopelessly into religious and tribal enclaves. It should be allowed and even encouraged to disintegrate into half a dozen fiefdoms that would then be at war with one another and threfore too busy to cause mishchief in lebanon or anywhere else.

  • Ilpalazzo

    Pfft.. that's not 'darkness'.. that's the way the Middle East always was, always is and always will be. They'll never evolve.

  • Fred Dawes

    Its not only Syria its the world within one year this country will fall into madness, just look at both political parties are doing to the American people; this syria thing will mean nothing when the attacks on the monkey people of Iran start, about 8 weeks from now, this world will be somewhat nut's.

    It looks like the dogs of war have come to the monkeys of the muslim world.

  • Amused

    We're already there Fred .

  • Amused

    Only now , maybe …will the west [ EUROPE ] take another look at Iran , and stop enabling it on the path it is bent on . Where in the hell does anyone think the computers , software , and centrifuges are coming from ?

  • Indioviejo

    Isn't it time for the Kurds to have their own country? Mossad should be arming and training Kurds to fight the Syrians, Iranians, Iraquis, and the evil Turks for their independence. Lets not let a good crisis go to waste.