When protests against Bashar Assad’s regime began, official
propaganda portrayed the opposition as Islamist fanatics bent on
punishing secular Syrians and religious minorities. This was aimed
especially at Alawites and Christians, groups that each make up around
10% of Syria’s 22m people. In fact, the protesters have come from all
classes and creeds, and activists have worked hard to stress the need
for sectarian unity. Other even smaller minorities have taken part.
Ismailis, concentrated in Salamiya, north-east of Homs, have joined the
anti-Assad fray. The Druze have become more hostile. So have young
Kurds, though their political leaders have been wary of speaking out.
But the regime’s propaganda may be getting closer to reality in Homs,
Syria’s third city and the revolution’s current centre, which has a
very mixed population. There and elsewhere, sectarian hatred seems to be
on the rise, with protesters expressing increasingly fierce hostility
to the Alawites, in particular. This is because Alawites, a heterodox
offshoot of Shia Islam, are disproportionately represented in the civil
service, the armed forces (especially the senior ranks) and thuggish
militias sponsored by the regime. They have overseen the bloody
crackdown on the protesters.
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