Arab Spring

08.03.12

Before We Arm the Syrian Rebels...

syria-rebels
Armed Free Syrian Army soldiers stand near the Bab Al-Salam border crossing to Turkey on July 22, 2012. Syrian rebels are now in control of the Jarabulus, Bab al-Hawa and Al-Salam posts along the nearly 900-kilometre (560-mile) frontier with Turkey, a Turkish diplomat and Anatolia said. (ADEM ALTAN/AFP/GettyImages)

My friend Kapil Komireddi urges attention to those rebels' sectarian agenda:

As Saudi Arabian arms and money bolster the opposition, the 80,000 Christians who’ve been “cleansed” from their homes in Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan in Homs Province in March by the Free Syrian Army have gradually given up the prospect of ever returning home.

The rebels’ conduct has prompted at least some Sunnis who had supported the rebels and once-wavering Syrians to pledge renewed loyalty to Assad. Many who once regarded the regime as a kleptocracy now view it as the best guarantor of Syria’s endangered pluralism.

A Sunni shopkeeper in the impoverished suburb of Set Zaynab, which was partly destroyed in the clashes last week, no longer supports the rebellion. “I wanted Assad to go because he is corrupt,” he said. “But what happened here, what they did, it scared me. It made me angry. I cannot support the murder of my neighbors in the name of change. You cannot bring democracy by killing innocent people or by burning the shrines of Shiites. Syrians don’t do that. This is the work of the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia,” he added, referring to the ultra conservative Sunni sect.

Repeated attempts by Free Syrian Army fighters to destroy a shrine to Sayyida Zeinab, the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad revered by Shiites, have not yet caused the area’s Sunni minority to flee — many Shiites here have refused to blame their Sunni neighbors for the rebels’ crimes.

Over the past week, more than a dozen Syrians — chiefly Alawi and Christian, but also a handful of Sunnis — affirmed to me their determination to pick up arms to defend Assad.