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Syrian dissidents slam regime’s attempts of portraying revolution as Islamic

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Syrian dissident intellectuals have lashed out at they describe as the regime’s attempts to portray pro-democracy protests as being Islamist or even terrorist and slammed the stance of their loyalist counterparts who propagate the idea.

The fact that a large part of the protests stemmed from mosques does not in any way make the revolution Islamist, according to Iyad Eissa, one fop the first dissident Syrian journalists.

“The reason why many protests started in mosques is that this is the only rallying place available for Syrians who are otherwise not allowed to gather in groups,” he told Al Arabiya

Eissa criticized the stance of prominent Syrian poet Ali Ahmed Said Asbar, also known as Adunis, for claiming that protesters are zealots because mosques are their meeting points.

“I am not surprised at Adunis’s statements and the double standards with which he judges the Syrian revolution.”

For Eissa, Adunis contradicts himself when his reason for slamming the pro-democracy movement in Syria for its alleged Islamic character while he is known as a staunch supporter of the Iranian revolution.

“This reveals his sectarian bias as he sanctions revolution for Shiites and prohibits it for Sunnis.”

Eissa argued that Adunis is not against the revolution only because he is loyal to the regime, but also owing to his elitist stance that has made him isolated from the demands of the common people.

“For Adunis, a revolution should probably start in a ballroom and should be inspired by his patriarchal, elitist poetry that only he understands. This revolution was not staged by people like Adunis who is the regime’s perfect cultural representative.”

Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa agreed with Eissa as far as the use of mosques in the revolution is concerned.

“Where else would protests start in a country where 50 people cannot rally without permission from security? The opera house?” he told Al Arabiya.

Opposition figure Khalaf Ali al-Khalaf argued that starting protests from mosques has nothing to do with religion or with the revolution being Islamic.

“The use of mosques was a successful tactic that activists devised because there it was easier to gather as many people as possible.”

According to Syrian thinker Yassin al-Hajj Saleh, any place from which protests had started would have been slammed for one reason or another.

“Had the protests started at universities for example, the regime would have found another excuse to turn this against the revolution.”

Yassin al-Hajj Saleh said it is likely that Islamists come to power in Syria like they did in post-revolution Egypt, yet this scenario is not as harmful as it might seem.

“When Islamists come to power, they lose the status of the victim that they had counted on before for sympathy and their actions will be carefully scrutinized by the people.”

It is also possible, he added, that Islamists would turn into dictators themselves and therefore people will rise against them like they did with the former regime.

“Even if they do not make mistakes, they are not likely to get as many votes as they did in Egypt since their numbers and leverage are much less in Syria even though they are important players on the political scene.”

For Iyad Eissa, the Muslim Brotherhood is part of the Syrian people and the honor charter they have recently drafted is a positive step towards integration.

“As for their role in Syrian politics, this is to be determined through elections and we have to accept the results no matter what they are if we want democracy.”

Eissa, however, admitted that there is cause for concerns when it comes to the role of the Muslim Brotherhood especially in relation to their attempts to appear as the leaders of the Syrian revolution.

“Many Brotherhood members try to present themselves as the initiators of the revolution with the help of some satellite channels, but people realize that those who claim to speak on behalf of the revolution on screen are not the same as those staging protests on the ground.”

Another problem, Eissa explained, is that the Muslim Brotherhood tries to control the Syrian National Council in a way that is not proportional with their role in the revolution.

“They try to exclude other political factions from the council and also work on monopolizing humanitarian aid to serve their political agenda and gain the people’s sympathy.”

Despite the validity of such concerns, Eissa said he expects the Brotherhood to be much smarter in case they come to power.

“They are aware of the ethnic and sectarian diversity of the Syrian society and which is not the case with the Egyptian society. They also cannot afford to make mistakes similar to those of their Egyptian counterparts because they will lose support on the spot if they do so.”

For Khaled Khalifa, the rise of Islamists in Egypt was the result of 60 years of military dictatorship.

“This is the price of long dictatorships and Syrians will pay this price like Egyptians did. However, Islamists will not necessarily be able to maintain their gains and at the end a civil state will prevail.”

Several foreign allies of Arab dictatorships, Khalifa noted, do not want to see democracy established.

“This is another obstacle, but the people have started moving forward and will not go back.”

For Khalaf Ali al-Khalaf, the worst-case scenario in Syria is not the rise of Islamists, but rather the remnants of the current regime.

“Anything else can be tolerated and if Islamists come to power through elections and not violence, they will not be powerful as they are expected to be because the Syrian society is too diverse to allow for the hegemony of one faction.”


(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)