It is remarkable how the West keeps believing its own myths and keeps making the same mistakes.
Take the issue of demonization. In Yugoslavia we heard that Milosevic was fueling ethnic hatred by playing on fears from the Serb minorities in Croatia and Bosnia. In fact these fears proved very real in Croatia where now most Serbs have been driven out. The fights organized by Milosevic certainly didn't help - they only further polarized. Now we hear the same thing about the fears of many Alawites and the Christians for the rebels. Again the reasons for those fears are clear and realistic and visible for all who want to see. But again the West prefers to close the eyes for the dark side of those who it supports and doing so creates a mess.
One of the cornerstones of rebel propaganda that Assad's rule is about Alawites suppressing and exploiting Sunnites. But it is not true. In fact Assad was popular before the uprising started and even many of the rebels will admit that they supported Assad at that time.
As all dictators Assad surrounds himself with a core of people he can trust and those are mainly Alawites. But in the commercial area Sunnites dominate. And despite the inevitable occasional discrimination (we all tend to favor folks like ourselves) the Alawites as a whole are still a relatively poor community.
There are aspects of Assad's economic policy that many criticize: the lack of attention to the agricultural sector - that led to mass migration to the cities - and the rise of a corrupt crony capitalism stand out in that respect. But these are just economic policies - they are not sectarian and there is no need for the rebels to treat them as if they are sectarian.
What the Alawites fear even more than this propaganda is the other propaganda, that is mainly found among the Salafists and Jihadists. It refers to the fact that for a long time the Alawites were a dirt poor discriminated group against whom there were Medieval fatwa's that proclaimed them as more infidel than Jews or Christians and that condoned or even praised killing them.
The main publicist of the rebels - Arour - played on these emotions. His statement that Alawites who oppose the revolution should be chopped up and fed to the dogs is well known.
The revolution in Syria is very similar to that in Iran in 1979. The core of the uprising are again disgruntled farmers and former farmers who recently migrated to the cities - due to policies that neglected agriculture - and religious conservatives and extremists. There is also a group of Westernized intellectuals among them, but in Iran that group became soon marginalized after the revolution and the situation for Syria doesn't look much better.
8 June 2013: Sermons on Syria fan Mideast sectarian flames: In Egypt, by far the most populous Arab state, where the Arab Spring protests of 2011 brought the Sunni Islamist Muslim Brotherhood to power, a leading cleric and Brotherhood member led televised prayers on Friday in which he described Hezbollah - 'the party of God' in Arabic - as "the party of Satan". "God, break the backs of Bashar and his supporters," Salah Sultan, secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, said at a Cairo mosque. "God, break the back of Hezbollah, the party of Satan, God, break the back of Iran."
In the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, where Shi'ites and Sunnis have fought, a hardline cleric, Sheikh Bilal Baroudi, told worshippers: "Hezbollah is responsible for the consequences of this jihad invasion against Sunnis in Qusair. "The response that is coming will be harsh."
In Beirut, where the Shi'ite southern suburbs erupted in joy after the fall of Qusair, prominent Sunni preacher Da'i al-Islam al-Shahhal urged followers to resist Iranian attempts to control Iraq, Lebanon and Syria as a step to conquering the Gulf states: "I call on all those zealous and concerned to help us," he said. "Stand with us financially and morally to foil the plan."
Senior Saudi cleric Sheikh Saleh al-Fawzan, in comments in al-Madina newspaper, underlined Sunni suspicion of such calls: Shi'ites, he said, "pretend to be Muslims and try to get closer to the Sunnis ... in order for them to be able to plot against Islam ... these days their hostility has become more apparent in their war against the Sunnis in Syria."
In the Gaza Strip, whose Palestinian Hamas rulers were once allies of Assad and Hezbollah, hardline cleric Imad al-Daya told worshippers that Qusair had exposed the "fraud" of Hezbollah's rhetoric about leading "resistance" to Israel. "Wake up," he told worshippers. "This is a war of religion." Shi'ites, he added, had always been "a knife in Muslims' backs".
In the Red Sea city of Hurghada, where some Iranians have been on holiday lately, preacher Mohamad Daraz, whose Salafist movement sees the Brotherhood as too liberal, said: "God, annihilate the Shi'ites and those who cooperate with them."
See also Hezbollah Entry in Syria Fans Shiite-Sunni Fires
25 June 2013: New wave of foreigners in Syrian fight: The call of Qaradawi has had effect. This article reports that many Egyptians are flocking towards Syria.
22 June 2013: Fight or flight? Saudi cleric heads to London after call for jihad in Syria
14 June 2013: Egypt Brotherhood backs Syria jihad, denounces Shi'ites: Egypt's ruling Muslim Brotherhood blamed Shi'ites for creating religious strife throughout Islam's history, as the movement joined a call by Sunni clerics for jihad against the Syrian government and its Shi'ite allies.
1 June 2013: Middle East: Influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi has called on Sunni Muslims to join the rebels fighting the Syrian regime, as he lashed out at Shiite group Hezbollah for sending its men to fight the mostly-Sunni insurgents in Syria. Qaradawi, a controversial figure in the West but who has millions of supporters, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood, also hit out at Iran for backing the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. "Every Muslim trained to fight and capable of doing that (must) make himself available" to support the Syrian rebels, the cleric said at a rally in Doha late Friday."
The reaction from a pro-Assad source was: After the killing of the head of the Islamic scholars in the Levant, Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Bouti, by a suicide bomber inside al-Iman Mosque and during his funeral at the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, the crowd that were paying him their respect started calling for the head of al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric who is the main theologian of the Muslim Brotherhood and a star guest on al-Jazeera’s program al-Sharia w al-Hayat (Sharia and Life). On one of the episodes, he issued a ‘death fatwa’ as he clearly advocated the killing of all Syrians who side with the government, while explicitly mentioning that pro-government Islamic scholars are legitimate targets.
Here is a critical review of prior radical statements by Qaradawi from The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Watch
31 December 2012: Saudi Wahhabi Cleric Issues Fatwa Allowing Jihadis to Rape Syrian Women: A prominent Saudi cleric issued a fatwa allowing jihadists to rape women in Syria as young as 15 years-old. From the video: A Wahhabi cleric in Saudi Arabia, Muhammed al-Arifi, who is very influential in Jihadi circles, recently issued a fatwa (religious edict) that permits all Jihadist militants in Syria to engage in short-lived marriages with Syrian women that each lasts for a few hours in order to satisfy their sexual desires and boost their determination in killing Syrians. He called the marriage as ‘intercourse marriage’. It requires that the Syrian female be at least 14 years old, widowed, or divorced.
28 October 2012: Saudi cleric calls for 'urgent' action to stop Syria bloodshed: The imam of Mecca's Grand Mosque called on Arabs and Muslims on Friday to take "practical and urgent" steps to stop bloodshed in Syria that has killed some 30,000 people, and urged world states to assume their moral responsibility towards the conflict: "The world should bear responsibility for this prolonged and painful disaster (in Syria) and the responsibility is greater for the Arabs and Muslims who should call on each other to support the oppressed against the oppressor," said Sheik Saleh Mohammed al-Taleb in his sermon during Eid prayers."
16 March 2012: Egyptian cleric issues death fatwa against Al Assad: Egypt's prominent Muslim cleric Safwat Hejazi has said that the killing of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad is a duty for every Muslim. "He who has the chance to kill Al Assad and does not do this is a sinner," Hejazi told a rally held in Cairo in support of a popular revolt against Al Assad's rule." "Hadn't I been a known face, I would have gone myself and killed him," added Hejazi, who had a high profile during an uprising that forced long-serving Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to step down last year.. Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy wrote an article (Welcome to the Syrian Jihad) in which he describes Qaradawi as an opportunist who always seems to seek to tell what the Arab mainstream thinks. He sees the recent Syria speech as a knee fall to Saudi Arabia that has been hostile to Hezbollah for a long time.