Obama Owes Syrians and Americans a Vision of Syria’s Future

Obama Owes Syrians and Americans a Vision of Syria’s Future

By Joshua Landis
June 15, 2013

[Addendum (24 June) See Thomas Friedman’s op-ed of Sunday 23 for comparison of his three Obama options with my three. Putting it in the context of collapsing Ottoman Empire and nation building is also similar.

It is still unclear to me where the president is going with Syria, but I see only three possible strategies: the realist, the idealist and the God-I-hope-we-are-lucky approaches….

Will Obama be content if the Free Syrian Army can keep the north of Syria and finish taking Aleppo?

Will he decide that the rebels should take Damascus as well, pushing the regime and the Alawite religious group, which predominates within the regime, back toward the western coast-land, where Alawites constitute the majority of the population?

Or will Obama decide to back the rebels with enough firepower to destroy the regime altogether, occupying both the predominantly Alawite and Kurdish regions of Syria?

Now that President Obama has decided to champion the opposition militarily, he must set out clear goals and explain his vision for Syria’s future.

The obvious choices that Obama must choose from are three.

1. The one state solution: Preserving Syria as a unitary state by keeping the country one. This means supporting the Sunni Arab opposition with enough weapons and backing to conquer Hama, Homs and Damascus, as well as occupy both the Alawite and Kurdish regions. The same result could be reached by a political compromise (Geneva), but a negotiated solution seems unlikely. Without a foreign occupation of Syria to impose a solution on all sides, no incentive exists for either the Assad regime or opposition militias to make painful concessions that could diminish their authority.

The Taif Accords that ended the Lebanese Civil War, and are often pointed to as a model for Geneva, were agreed to by the disputing Lebanese parties largely because Syria occupied Lebanon and disarmed the various militias — that is all except for Hizbullah, which continues to defy central authority today. Without Syrian boots on the ground, the Lebanese militias would have been unlikely to lay down their arms or have agreed to live under a common government, even one as weak and dysfunctional as the present Lebanese government.

2. The two state solution: Divide the country into two states, which corresponds to the present reality. This means simply giving the rebels enough backing to stop the Syrian Army’s offensive in the north and empowering them to fully capture Aleppo, Deir al-Zur and their surrounding countrysides. Of course, the rebel forces are made up of over 1,000 militias. This means that the rebel-held north is anything but stable and offers only a rough patchwork security for those who live there. What is more, big hunks of the north are presently ruled by al-Qaida affiliated groups. Thus, Obama has set the US up for a two front war. One against Assad in the south and another against Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies in the east.

3. The three state solution: Divide the country into three, following the ethnic lines of the major combatant groups. This is the Balkan solution, pursued by President Clinton when he cut Yugoslavia into 7 states. This would mean creating an Alawite, a Sunni Arab, and a Kurdish state. Such a solution would be opposed by the rebels and much of the international community, but it would recognize the difficulties in putting Syria back together again.

If the US decides to help the Sunni Arab rebels go for a total victory, it must take responsibility for ensuring that ethnic cleansing of Syria’s minorities is not carried out by the empowered Sunni Arab majority.  Only an international peace-keeping force can guarantee against unnecessary bloodshed if Obama hopes to arm the Sunni militias for a clean sweep. Many of the militiamen make no bones about their desire for vengeance or their belief that Shiites no longer have a place in their country. This is to be expected after the brutal beating they have taken at the hands of the Alawite-dominated Syrian Army.

For those who dismiss the dangers of ethnic cleansing, it is worth remembering that after the defeat of the Third Reich in WWII, over 12 million Germans were driven out of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and other Eastern European states, where they had lived for hundreds of years. So too, were the Armenians and Greek Orthodox driven from Anatolia by Ottoman and Turkish troops during the terrible fighting that swept over the region from 1914 to 1922. Anatolia was close to 20% Christian in 1914. By 1922, less than 1% remained, as over three million Christians were cleansed or forced into a population exchange with Greece, which expelled some half a million of its own Muslims. More recently, Palestinians have been driven from their lands, destabilizing the region for decades. Iraqi Christians took flight from their native land as anti-Christian violence grew to a crescendo with the attack on Saydet al-Najat Church in 2010. Their numbers fell by over half. Ethnic cleansing is only one of the dangers that President Obama must protect against as he builds up the rebels into a more lethal fighting force.

If Obama wants rebels to take Damascus, he must guarantee that that fighting does not destroy the city, as happened to Aleppo. If he provides only howitzers, simple rockets and lighter forms of weapons, stalemate and fierce street-by-street fighting will ensure that Syria’s capital of some 5 million people is leveled. Another major wave of refugees will stream out of Syria.

President Obama is arguing that his new policy of supplying weapons in not really a change of policy at all, but rather a continuation of his previous policy of pushing for a political solution. But this doesn’t correspond to the Syria I know. I doubt that either the rebels or the Assad regime are willing or able to make the painful compromises needed to keep the country unified. This is a recipe for dividing the country along the present battle lines, give or take a bit.

He owes both the American and Syrian people a clear statement about what he sees as Syria’s future borders and how he plans to help Syria’s rebels build what he called a “stable, non-sectarian representative Syrian government that is addressing the needs of its people through peaceful processes.”

Comments (544)

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501. Tara said:



Less intelligent people study harder. No?

Rumors have it that Batta spent all his youth studying..

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June 22nd, 2013, 5:39 pm


502. Ziad said:

“UK policy on Syria has no shred of democratic legitimacy. Overwhelmingly opposed by public and parliament, Hague’s acting in your name/money Syria war: US, Israel, Hague, Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia etc Vs the UN Kofi Anan Peace Plan… Which side are you on?”

“Arms needed to bring about negotiation. Regime’s been waiting at the table for two years.. Rebels refused to turn up. “Foreign forces must leave Syria” ….but only if they are Lebanese or Iranian, says funder of Al Qaeda invasion force….”

George Galloway

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June 22nd, 2013, 6:10 pm


503. Ziad said:

This Rather Strange Alliance

The Saudi-Qatari plan is a simple one. Drive a Sunni corridor through the Middle East all the way to Iran, splitting Syria and empowering the Sunni minority in neighboring Iraq to revolt against the Shiite ruling majority.

The Salafist hardcore clergy that rules the street in Saudi Arabia and Qatar plays ball with the ruling families in the two countries as long as their long-term plan for Sharia law to rule the Middle East is on track. Secular leaders such as Assad, and Saddam before him, have been the stumbling blocks for this grand strategy. Once Assad is gone, and the Sunni revolt in Iraq manages to split that country also, they only need to deal with Iran. That is where Israel enters. Iran could take over the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia in a week, but Israel will never allow it. So we now have this rather strange alliance between the Sunnis, the Americans, and the know-nothing Europeans, with Israel as the tough guy protecting the oil-rich Arabs against the baddies, the Shiites.


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June 22nd, 2013, 6:35 pm


504. Ziad said:

SYRIA: OBAMA, HOLLANDE, CAMERON LIED AGAIN: UN: “Impossible to determine Syria chemical attack perpetrator”

UN: “Impossible to determine Syria chemical attack perpetrator”


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June 22nd, 2013, 6:40 pm


505. SANDRO LOEWE said:

Syria Friends agree at Doha to offer massive assitance to FSA.

The party begins for Russia and US. Now it is when they will make real money. All this thanks to the incredible stupidity of Assad II The Last. Congratulations brainless President-Dog-God. Also called the stray dog or the hyena of the desert.

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June 22nd, 2013, 6:42 pm


506. revenire said:

The Americans have no shame.

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June 22nd, 2013, 6:43 pm


507. revenire said:

b – someone who’s mind I respect – seems to believe that Kerry failed at Doha.

Propaganda Reporting – Kerry’s Failure in Qatar

“Each country in its own way” means Kerry failed – badly – to united the weapon flow. It seems then that Saudi Arabia and Qatar will continue to provide weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra and the other takfiri terrorist groups in Syria.

This disunity should let the Obama administration recognize that their argument to feed weapons to the “good rebels” to starve the takfiris will not work. When Qatar and Saudi Arabia continue to provide these “in their own way” then the takfiris will continue to be the strongest section of the insurgency.

As a lot of new weapons are streaming in the Syrian Arab Army should probably stop its current offense and stay defensive while devising new tactics against such weapons. Tanks advancing openly or as sitting ducks at checkpoints are massive targets and will not survive an onslaught of Konkurs-M, Kornet and other modern anti-tank weapons. There are ways to counter them but that will need some time to be prepared and trained. Meanwhile large weapon transports can be observed and raided in quick and surprising raids could interdict them.

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June 22nd, 2013, 6:51 pm


508. majedkhaldoun said:

Aren’t you ashamed making silly analysis, and what is it now you quote Goerge Gallaway,while in the past you quote Bassam al Qadi, is this a promotion?.
I say silly analysis, as you say Israel is protecting KSA, we all know that US is protecting KSA, would you stop this nonsense,this is holagu Khamieni ideas

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June 22nd, 2013, 7:00 pm


509. Ziad said:


Majed said:

“Silly and nonsence comments does not require response”

June 12th, 2013, 11:40 am

In spite of two errors in an 8 words phrase, this is a good advice I will follow.

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June 22nd, 2013, 7:27 pm


510. Dawoud said:

It’s almost over for the murderous dictator and his Shia Lebanese/Iraqi/Iranian/Houthi/Bahraini/Masar’al-Sharif’s (Afghan Shia)TERRORISTS! Please read the following from Reuters:


“All this has already started,” a Western source said. “Broadly speaking, Western nations will do this, while Gulf Arab nations will deliver the weapons. It’s a division of roles.

“If the northern front receives enough material and non-material support quickly, it could soon be equivalent to thousands of men, or even tens of thousands,” the source added.

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June 22nd, 2013, 7:39 pm


512. AMEERA said:

فاز محمد عساف لك ريتا ما تبلى هالطلة
معبود العرب او عرب ايدول جاي على طعمة و نكهة فلاسطينة

يا ريت داوود يتعلم من عساف و يخدم بلدوا حاجه حاشر حالو مع السوريين و نازل تطبيئ بتارة

تارة حبيبتي هدول الرجال بدون مية سنة ليفهمو شو بتحب المرة بالزلمة فلا توجعي راسك مع زوو و انا عرفانة انت ليش معجبة بحمد بن جاسم و الحق معك الزلمة شكلوا ماكن مزبوط مو متل ولاد هالايام مسحنكين و مغطسين بالجيل. بس انا بئول اسما ما خرج تحملوا بنوب اي شوفي وركا شو ضيق و صغير

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June 22nd, 2013, 8:25 pm


513. zoo said:

@510 Dave

GCC’s farts are noisy and smelly. France is sending gas masks and ear plugs…

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June 22nd, 2013, 8:39 pm


514. zoo said:

Qatar behind the chemical weapons found in Khan Al_Assal. Turkey guilty of complicity in covering up the transfer..

Two Qatari officers transferred chemical materials used by terrorists in Khan al-Assal


Jun 22, 2013 – Beirut (SANA – H. Said) – The Lebanese al-Akhbar newspaper revealed that the toxic chemical materials which the terrorist groups used in Khan al-Assal area in Aleppo last March were transferred by two Qatari officers across Turkey.

The newspaper pointed out that the transfer of chemical substances was done with the knowledge of Ankara, according to security information disclosed by an intelligence apparatus of a certain regional state.

The Qatari officers are Maj. Fahd Saeed al-Hajiri and Capt. Faleh Bin Khalid al-Tamimi, according to the information.

The Lebanese newspaper noted that the Turkish authorities tried to cover up the transfer process, particularly after Russian demands for explanations, by announcing the arrest of 12 Jabhat al-Nusra members with chemical materials, including 2 kg of sarin gas, in their possession.

The information provided by the aforementioned intelligence service stressed that the two Qatari officers were killed in a suspicious explosion in Somalia, which meets with Russian presumption on the same issue.

The newspaper was referring to the suicide bombing which targeted a Qatari procession in Mogadishu on the 5th of last May and in which 8 people at least were reported killed .

Media reports then highlighted how Qatar was trying to keep what happened off light to conceal the death of two high-ranking Qatari officials, one of them was in charge of coordinating work of recruiting terrorists who are being sent to Syria.

The information revealed by al-Akhbar newspaper coincides with reports by The Washington Post which stressed that after months of lab tests by U.S. experts, no evidence was reached to prove the allegations made by the “Syrian opposition” that chemical weapons were used by the Syrian government.

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June 22nd, 2013, 8:48 pm


515. majedkhaldoun said:

Is it possible that Moaz Khatib will return to head the SNC, now that there will be more american support? SNC now has excellent president ,Mr Goerge Sabra.

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June 22nd, 2013, 8:49 pm


516. AMEERA said:

الله يئطع قطر ما بيجي منها الا البلا

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June 22nd, 2013, 8:49 pm


517. Tara said:


I wasn’t talking about his physical attractiveness.

I simply do believe he is helping Syrians because his hearrt aches for them. I like for a man in power to feel the pain of others. I like to feel, see, and touch humanity. I do search for it very hard. I am damn honest in my emotions hence, l particularly like Hamad and Erdogan.

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June 22nd, 2013, 8:54 pm


518. majedkhaldoun said:

what do you think of Tamim?

Zoo and Ziad, you don’t like the look of HBJ are you better looking? show us your picture, I doubt it.

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June 22nd, 2013, 8:54 pm


519. zoo said:

#516 Majed

The SNC does not exist anymore, it is history. Now Selim Idriss is the leader. Where is Hitto the PM of the ghost “government in exile”? Is he already in Edlib?
What happened to the three ghosts ‘ambassadors’? still looking for a room for their ’embassy’?

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June 22nd, 2013, 9:07 pm


520. majedkhaldoun said:

The SNC does not exist anymore

I told you you are in different world

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June 22nd, 2013, 9:12 pm


521. zoo said:


Is HBJ married? If so, is his wife invisible?

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June 22nd, 2013, 9:18 pm


522. majedkhaldoun said:

Is Khaminie married, is his wife invisible?

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June 22nd, 2013, 9:20 pm


523. zoo said:

#521 Majed

Move on, dear…
Sabra, Al Khatib are all sidelined after their inability to unite, their ability to further divide, and their reapeted failures. There has been not a single reference to the SNC in Qatar.
Selim Idriss is the new horse the Gang of 11 is betting on. The others including Hitto are dead horses.

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June 22nd, 2013, 9:22 pm


524. majedkhaldoun said:

They said they agreed to arm the opposition, but they said also they took secret decisions, when do we know those secrets?

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June 22nd, 2013, 9:24 pm


525. zoo said:

#524 Majed

Khamenei wife exists, she even gave an interview.

Rare Interview Surfaces With The Wife of Iran’s Supreme Leader


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June 22nd, 2013, 9:32 pm


526. zoo said:

%526 Majed

Arab politicians mention ‘secrets agreements’ where they agreed on nothing…
They think they can fool people…

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June 22nd, 2013, 9:34 pm


527. Tara said:

Khamenei’s woman wears cloth inside her house according to Islamic chastity.  What does that mean?  A sleeping chador?  Would be too difficult to manage.

Rare Interview Surfaces With The Wife of Iran’s Supreme Leader


The  wives of most Iranian politicians are almost invisible on Iran’s political scene. Iranian leaders seem to believe that a good and honorable wife is someone who stays away as much as possible from the public sphere.

Khamenei’s wife appears to be the most invisible.

There is no picture of her and no one seems to know anything about her. Her last name is reportedly Khojaste; her first name remains a mystery and so does her face.

What does your husband expect from you?

He doesn’t expect anything but a happy, calm, and healthy family environment.
Please tell your view about the Islamic Hijab for our readers.

I think chador is the best cover for outside the home. For inside the home, it’s very different. Of course clothing should always be according to Islamic chastity.

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June 22nd, 2013, 9:39 pm


528. zoo said:

#529 Tara

You should know better about Islamic chastity.. You’re moslem, right?

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June 22nd, 2013, 9:53 pm


529. zoo said:

Another fabulous pearl from Fabius:

“We are fully against the internationalisation of the conflict,” he told reporters.

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June 22nd, 2013, 9:59 pm


530. majedkhaldoun said:

the article that you posted easily can be used against you, did you read it before you posted it?
And don’t Shiaa believe in Mutaa wife? do you have the same thinking?
You asked the question, and then you asked to move on, why did you go back? this is very embarassing to you,I bet you regret you asked the question.

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June 22nd, 2013, 10:31 pm


531. majedkhaldoun said:

Syria is begging Russia for help
, وأيضاً ضرورة انجاز ما تم الاتفاق عليه بخصوص المساعدات الروسية للاقتصاد السوري ولاسيما الودائع والقروض المصرفية”.

بدوره, حذر سفير سوريا في موسكو رياض حداد من أن “البعض في الغرب يراهنون على سقوط سورية بسبب الاقتصاد وهذا ما لا يجب أن يسمح به أصدقاؤها”.

Qadri Jamil is placed under house arrest,so he will quit open his mouth.he criticized Mayyaleh.
Today Assad increase salaries 5-40%, immidiately raised the price of Mazot.to 60 lira for one litre, this means every thing will go up double soon.
Has anyone heared about Farooq Shar3
Most analysts think Lira will drop further,and could reach 300 for one dollar

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June 22nd, 2013, 10:50 pm


532. Ziad said:

الاستاذ حسنين هيكل وقرارات مرسي بشأن سورية ومشاركة حزب الله

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June 22nd, 2013, 11:15 pm


533. Ziad said:

Religious School Bombing Kills 14 in Pakistan

At least 14 people were killed and 28 injured in an attack on a Shiite religious school in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, police officials said, while Taliban militants claimed responsibility for killing a provincial lawmaker and his son in the southern port city of Karachi.


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June 22nd, 2013, 11:40 pm


534. majedkhaldoun said:

Hasanein Heikal is wrong his opinion is worthless, his numbers are messed up.,

There are news that the Lebanese army may get arms to bolster its power, from US and Europe,these news are not verified,The Lebanese president said HA should not interfere in Syria without the Goverment of Lebanon approval,John Qahwaji agrees with him
US has news that the rockets that were directed to Beirut ,only HA has them
The other news is that Persia gave HA one billion dollar to fight in Syria

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June 22nd, 2013, 11:51 pm


535. Ziad said:

my stance on Syria

“For those who asked me on Twitter yesterday, I say: I am not only in favor of the overthrow of the Bashshar Asad regime: I am fully in favor of an armed insurrection against the regime but not by Islamist tools of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and the rest of Western Enemies of Syria. Show me a secular progressive battalion fighting against the Syrian regime, and not getting Saudi-Qatari-Israeli help, and I will send them money–if it is legal because I think under US laws you can only send money to either Israeli terrorists or to the terrorists in Syria who are on the pay of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”

As’ad AbuKhalil

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June 22nd, 2013, 11:58 pm


537. revenire said:

Brother Majed I see you are confused again. It is the terrorists who begged for help in the form of weapons or American, or Israeli, strikes against Syria.

Idris begged.

Syria does not beg.

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June 23rd, 2013, 12:35 am


538. don said:

Bill Maher: “We’re basically arming Al-Qaeda” in Syria

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June 23rd, 2013, 12:42 am


539. don said:

Syrian Army Heavy Battle | Aleppo (English Sub) | Syria War 2013

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June 23rd, 2013, 1:09 am


540. Badr said:

The highly unlikely solution: A negotiated controlled power transfer to a new system

Special Report – Deepening ethnic rifts reshape Syria’s towns

By Alexander Dziadosz and Oliver Holmes
IDLIB PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters)

“When the revolt started, Sunni activists tried to reach out to minorities, framing the uprising as a collective move against oppression for all Syrians.

Opposition figures blame the failure of those efforts on government propaganda characterising the rebels as violent extremists and on the use of Alawite paramilitary militias known as “shabbiha” to harass, maim and kill unarmed protesters.”

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June 23rd, 2013, 2:05 am


541. apple_mini said:

The famous east coast sunni syrian celebrate did it again: mouth foaming.

According to her, she and her kind of people are not only more good looking, also more intelligent. Their blood is purer and their pedigree is higher on the top.

Just remind you. We are all humans.

Now explain to us why those cannibals and child beheaders and from your kind of pedigree?

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June 23rd, 2013, 4:25 am


542. Tara said:


No!  We are not all human.  Being a human is a status you do not have.  You lost that classification since calling the pile of throat-slit children and their mothers on top  in Bayda,  Banias “hardly a massacre”. 

I am glad I make you angry.  It gives me a fleeting  satisfaction when expressing the contempt I feel towards “hardly a massacre” beings successfully.   But please, I beg of you, do not tell your shabeeha family and friends and I am sure many of them are.  I just do not want you beings take it out on yet to be slaughtered Syrian child.  I am sure you can be comforted by reviewing all the images linked by Syrian Hamster” about the massacre and forget all about me.  Go and enjoy.   

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June 23rd, 2013, 7:08 am


544. Mina said:

Nearly 24 hours after a mob lynching of an Egyptian Shii family in its own village by a crowd of 3,000 neighbours, still no condemnation by the governement or the religious authorities.

No article either on Le Monde or the BBC.

Memo: the Shii community in Egypt exists at least since the tenth century. Al Azhar mosque was initially founded by the Fatimids as a tool for Shiite propaganda. Many Egyptian Ismaili Shiis emigrated to India at the beginning of the twentieth century.

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June 24th, 2013, 6:56 am


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