There are plenty of Syrian secularists that could have been embraced by the West. On September 17, the Coalition of Secular and Democratic Syrians launched in Paris. “We are all against totalitarianism in any form and that includes Islamist rule,” a spokesperson said. Its President, Randa Kassis, says that at least half of the population wants separation of mosque and state.
“The Islamist groups, which are superbly financed and equipped by the Gulf states, are ruthlessly seizing decision-making power for themselves. Syrians who are taking up arms against the dictator but not putting themselves under the jihadists’ command are being branded as unpatriotic and as heretics,” she said.
The good news is that the Free Syria Army is, by far, the most popular opposition force and it has butt heads with the SNC. One reporter writes that FSA soldiers, many of which defected from the secular regime, “do not appear to consider themselves mujahedin or otherwise fit the stereotype of Islamic extremists. Accordingly, individuals…[say] Islam does provide them with inspiration and strength but they do not fight for Islam and their goals are generally secular.”
It’s common for Free Syria Army officers to express their disdain for Al-Qaeda and Islamism. “Al-Qaeda is not welcome here and everybody knows it. Their ideology is not accepted and their help will be refused,” said one officer operating along the Turkish border. Former SNC President, Burhan Ghalioun, predicts that a free Syria will end its alliances with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.
There are visible Syrian secularists inside and outside the country, such as: Riad al-Assad, Riad al-Turk, Kamal Labwani, Michel Kilo, Walid al-Bunni, George Sabra, Burhan Ghalioun, Fawaz Tello, Abdulbaset Sieda, Suhair Atassi, Fayez Sara, Randa Kassis, Sherkoh Abbas, Ammar Abdulhamid, Farid Ghadry, Zuhdi Jasser and countless secular defectors. Some of them are part of the SNC and others are not.
The demographics of Syria are often regarded as a barrier to the Islamists. About 10-13% of the population is Allawite, 10% are Christians, 10% are Kurds and 3% are Druze. These are all secular minorities. The majority Sunni population is divided between secularists and Islamists. This leads Dr. Barry Rubin to conclude that “Syria isn’t likely to see an Islamist takeover.” Others argue that the percentage of minorities is much lower than this, with the Christian population as little as 3.5%, Druze being only 1.7% and the Allawite population has been said to be as low as 6% by the Washington Post.
One problem in understanding the makeup of the opposition is the Assad regime’s years of deception. It has long worked hard to make the opposition appear to be wholly Islamist. Christians are persecuted but also pro-regime outlets are responsible for pushing stories, such as on claiming that 90% of Christians in Homs are being ethnically cleansed.
No one can tell what Syria will look like in one year or even a few months from now. It could be governed by Islamists or by democratic secularists. There may be a shaky balance between the two. Assad may carve out an Allawite refuge. Syria could descend into chaos, ravaged by sectarian violence and proxy warfare. There is simply no way to know.
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