‘Assad hides behind minorities,’ top Druze thinker tells Al Arabiya English

The Druze minority in Syria has faced the advance of opposition groups like the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and well as extremist group ISIS

Ismaeel Naar
Ismaeel Naar - Al Arabiya English
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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is hiding behind the minorities as the bloody five-year conflict rages on, leading Druze expert Eyad Abu Shakra told Al Arabiya English this week.

“I think Mr. Assad is hiding behind minorities and not really protecting them," said Abu Shakra, a veteran journalist and columnist who joined pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including Senior Editor, Managing Editor and Head of Research.

"I think that is a tragedy to be honest because the minorities, of course, are not going to be happy under ISIS or Al Nusra Front as well,” he added.

Abu Shakra made the remarks in an Al Arabiya English global discussions session aimed at shedding light on the Druze people, tackling their past, present and analyzing scenarios for their future in a turbulent region.

Druze: Where are they now?

The Druze minority in Syria has faced advances from extremist groups, such as the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and ISIS, as well as other groups operating inside the country. Most of them consider the Druze to be heretics.

In June 2015, Nusra Front massacred 23 residents, including children, in the Syrian Druze village of Qalb Lozeh in Idlib.

The Druze follow an offshoot version of Ismaili Shiite Islam, according to Abu Shakra.

As a result of the shifting sides of the Syrian conflict, they have been divided with some members fighting on the regime's side, while others expressing sympathy for the opposition.

Abu Shakra says that one way forward for the future of minority groups in the Arab world, like the Druze, is the establishment of “a secular and federal entity in the near East.”

“We are not better than the Swiss. I can’t see why the Swiss model could not work out for Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. I don’t want to see the cultural identities of the Yazidis, Alawites and other minority groups to disappear. They should live their lives and cultures freely,” Abu Shakra told Al Arabiya English’s Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas, who moderated the session.

In March, a Syrian Kurdish group declared a federal region in Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria, a move that was immediately rejected by both the government in Damascus and the opposition.

Where do the Druze stand on Palestine?

But Abu Shakra contends that a federalist system may be a struggle given that the goals of minorities have always been to seek dominance and hegemony, and if they lose out, they usually choose self-governance.

“This has always been the case. It happened with the Christians, the Shiites, Kurds. So the issue of partition is not the objective. Whether it is viable or not is even worse. The Kurds are 22 million people, the Druze only number one million.

A host of media officials and political experts attend the session discussing the past, present and future of the Druze people. (Al Arabiya English)

There has allegedly been some level of lobbying from the part of Israeli Druze leader Sheikh Muwafaq Tarif, who has said that his community had no desire for Israel to get involved in the Syrian war but also said that "they will do all it takes to make sure their Druze brothers are not harmed.”

But Abu Shakra says that allegations Tarif is lobbying for Syrian Druze’s sake shouldn’t be taken seriously: “Muwafaq Tarif is a mediocre religious leader who inherited his position from his uncle. He is not a whiz kid or a lobbyist. He is a mouthpiece. Nothing more, nothing less.”

“There are many Druze intellectuals in Washington and some are even endowing a chair at Georgetown University but they have nothing to do with Muwafaq Tarif,” he said.

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