by Kristen Gillespie, SYRIA:direct
The Druze of Syria have largely attempted to remain neutral in Syria’s four-year old uprising, although an estimated 14,000 Druze are currently wanted for fleeing mandatory conscription, a pro-opposition Druze human rights activist told Syria Direct last month.
Likewise, some Druze have participated in the civil disobedience that marked the beginning of the Syrian uprising, and periodically clash with regime forces in Suwayda, but the sect has not taken up arms against the government—a possibility many analysts consider far-fetched.
Still, Sheikh Abu Fahed Waheed al-Balaus, leader of the “first real [Druze] political movement to emerge during this crisis,” delivered a widely circulated speech earlier this year in which he called the Druze “more honorable than the Alawites” and alluded to Assad’s ouster from power if he did not “undertake to preserve Syria.”
While the speech found support among Druze outside Syria, inside the country, Balous has since gone underground, withdrawing for a spiritual “retreat” to “recuperate” after months of involvement in public affairs, according to pro-Balaus Facebook page a-Tawhediyun al-Judud.
The fiery rhetoric was particularly notable because of a persistent “leadership vacuum” within the Druze in Syria, says Tobias Lang, a Vienna-based political scientist and Ph.D. candidate who founded the MENA Minorities blog.
“There has always been a vacuum because the regime has prevented leaders from emerging,” Lang tells Syria Direct’s Kristen Gillespie.
Syria’s many minorities have long been plagued by an extinction complex, by which they fear any changes in the political system could threaten their existence by stirring up historical grievances. In this respect, the Druze are no different; their survival is paramount and their decisions reflect that priority.
In recent weeks, Syria Direct has interviewed half a dozen Druze activists from across the political spectrum in addition to defected officers and found that what the Druze want most of all is to protect their land, security and sect.
To this end, the Druze “have managed to position themselves as not being diehard Assad supporters,” Lang says. But among Syrians, they are known for not supporting the opposition. As the war rages around the Druze, “the best thing for them is to stay out of it. But the question is how? Can they stay out of it?” (...)Read the full interview over at Syria:direct