Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fine piece on current dynamics in Suwaidaʾ

Firas Maksad from the University of Maryland has an opinion piece about the situation of the Druze in Suwaida' on the German online-portal Qantara (run by the Deutsche Welle). The author follows the same line of argument as in his article published last year in Foreign Affairs: i.e. the Druze are a potential ally of the west against ISIS and could be a game changer in Syria. Makasad modified his argument a little, while in his 2014 piece he also implicitly proposed the Druze as an ally against Assad, now it is mere alone about the coalition against ISIS. Even though I fully agree with the author that the Druze are increasingly drifting away from the regime, I consider a break off with Assad and therefore a game changer role as very unlikely-remember the regime is still the biggest power in Syria. Even though its position in Suwaida' is weaker than ever before a Druze break off with Assad might only happen if the overal situation changes dramaticly against the regime's and this is not the case for the time being.

However, reading is strongly recommended, as it is the best contemporary piece on the subject:

The Druze in the Syrian conflict: Potential to tip the scales
by Firas Maksad, Qantara.de
For many years, Syria's Druze community was regarded as a loyal ally of Assad. Yet their pleas to Damascus to protect them against extremist groups fell on deaf ears. Now, on account of their increasing distance to the Baath regime, the Druze arare at risk of getting caught in the crossfire. Details by Firas Maksad
Despite the three years of civil war raging in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad has until now succeeded in maintaining the loyalty of most of the country's religious minorities. In particular, the dictator has continued to enjoy the support of Syria's Christians, Alawites and Shia Muslims. It appears that these minorities, which make up almost a quarter of the Syrian population, prefer to live under the Assad regime rather than face an uncertain political future. They fear that extremist forces could emerge victorious from this civil war. Only the Druze community is gradually distancing itself from the Baath regime in Damascus.
The majority of the Druze live in the southern province of As-Suwayda near the Syrian–Jordanian border. Their growing opposition to the Assad regime and their bitter animosity towards the radical groups in the conflict has placed this influential segment of Syria's population in a rather unique position in society. The Syrian Druze are now in a position to support the international alliance against Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaida and, therefore, to change the balance of power in the Syrian conflict.
Since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, there has been an inherent difficulty in clearly discerning the political loyalties of the Druze community, particularly as they tend not to openly announce their political convictions. The Druze find themselves in the same position as most Syrians living in areas controlled by the Assad regime: they are afraid to openly show their opposition to Assad's rule. Nevertheless, some leaders of the Druze community recently addressed representatives of the Arab media and publically expressed their opposition to the Assad regime. This is a remarkable turn of events, as, up until now, Druze spiritual leaders have officially only declared their praise of the Syrian president.(...)

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