Perhaps, there is not an certain way to measure it. But I am curious. Is Assad’s regime less extremist and less strict on religion than Rebels?
Assad, like Saddan Husein, the Shah of Iran, and Mubarak, has a very western outlook with a significant lack of emphasis on fundamentalist point of view. Strict separation of the sexes, headgear, sharia law, etc were not part of the government. Sometimes these governments tried to suppress religion for varous reasons - the imams would preach agianst their police state tactics, or against polices like allowing women to go out without a head covering, etc. The most organized opposition and the one they could not really safely suppress came from the mosques.
however, there is also a faction, an emerging generation, that is western educated or exposed to western ideas, is not deeply concerned with moslem concepts, has seen western democracy or seen the news about it, and wants the same for their homeland. these people were the impetus for the original Arab Spring.
The Syrian rebels encompass the whole spectrum, just as the mob that overthrew Mubarak did. There are westrn-oriented, educated secular types who don’t give mcuh importance to religion (but of course nobody tries to strictly suppress it). There are Syrian groups that are religious fanatics, with a very strong fundamentalist viewpoint. These attract money and volunteers from all over the middle east, much as al Qeda in Iraq did (does).
One article I read, said that initially one of the free army groups started with money and weapons - unfortunately, the type they attracted tended to be thugs and crooks, who found themselves in the role of the only armed authority and used that to steal and beat up people. The religious faction comes in with much more discipline, the locals in rebel terrirtory appreciate that.
(OTOH, there’s the story of the fundamentalist rebel who demanded free tea from a 14yo tea vendor. he said “The Prophet Mohammed himself would not get free tea from me - he would have to pay if he wanted my tea”. The guy went off, came back with a collection of his buddies in the militia, they accused the child of “insulting the prophet” and had a quick trial before they shot him. The locals are seeing the fundamentalist rebels as a double-edge sword, enforcing behaviour that was not forbidden before…)
Keep in mind too that this is a religious-ethnic strife, just like Iraq. Assad’s clique are Alawite, a subgroup of Shiites. the majority (different tribes or clans) are Sunni, so get the support of Sunni states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. meanwhile, Assad get the military and financial backing of Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon ond the Shiite regime in Iran. Minority Christians among the elite tend to side with Assad to protect their business interests and fear of the fundamentalists who may use intolerance and exact revenge against the elite when Assad goes. The Russsians back Assad because he and his father took their money and because they took the (secular) Arab side against Israel, since the USA supported Israel during the cold war; Russia wants to continue to wield influence, so they help, much as they did with Serbia in the 90’s.
Israel would like to see Assad go, but he has been a stable player in the region, and the border there has been peaceful; but he does allow Iran to supply Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel’s biggest fear is that fancy new weapons make their way to Hezbollah. Plus, the support of Israel is seen as the kiss of death for any arab faction, so the Israelis stay out of it as much as they can. Fanatic islamics may occasionally attack the Golan Heights to try to draw Israel into the mess. Whoever wins, the return of the Golan Heights will continue to be a sore point.
Hezbollah does not want to lose their friendly supply lines.
So you see, it’s all a giant mess and the deeper you dig, the more fresh fertilizer there is in the mess.
That the million-dollar question, not just regarding Syria but with the whole Arab Spring. It’s not at all clear that the rebels are people we should be supporting, and in fact there’s a fair amount of evidence that, from a Western/Christian perspective, we were better off with the old guys.
Which mainly just bolsters the position of those who say that we should stay the hell out this whole giant mess.
Unfortunately, American Christians, often with a neoconservative bent, have chosen to completely disregard the plight of their Christian brethren in the Middle East in favor of intervention wherever possible. Just look at the fate of Iraq’s Christians and other religious minorities.
Personally, I prefer multicultural and secular democracies, but if the people of the Arab countries want to elect Islamist governments in free and fair elections, I’m willing to accept that. Better a freely elected Islamist government than a pro-Western, nominally secular dictatorship.
Very good explanations. Thank you very very much. I love you all.
The point is that the Arab Spring movements were popular uprisings done by the more secular, worldly, and hip younger, educated crowd using twitter. Typically they were students and unemployed youth dissatisfied with the old regime and traditional ways. However, as demonstrated in Tunisia and Egypt, once the elections roll around, only groups like the traditional Islamists and the massive Muslim Brotherhood organization had the organized base (mosques, clubs) to heavily campaign and get the voter turnout - the secret to any successful election here or there.
The protest against Assad went much the same way. People dissatisfied with repression and corruption began with peaceful protests. Much of this, like Egypt and Tunisia, was secular and modernist. When the regime met them with repression, they fought back and it turned into a civil war. The fundamentalist Moslem organizations were better able to attract money and dedicated fighters and foreign volunteers, so they are the most obvious part.
However, the forces fighting Assad often turn on each other over alpha male issues, who calls the shots and who is the police authority and what rules are to be enforced.