Syria: Sectarian War or Class War

Syria: Sectarian War or Class War

Part 2 of short videos on Syria. I discuss the sectarian and class background to the Baath regime and what it means for today’s opposition movement.

Part 1 is here.

Comments (41)

Majhool said:


I am puzzled by your insistence on inflating the influence of “sunni elite” in the current power paradigm, especially when you lump their respective families along with them.

Traditional sunni families are no longer cohesive bodies (have they ever been?). The Sunni rich have no influence on there respective families ( at large) beyond the confounds of their homes and villas.

These are individuals are not communities/families. I have been watching the attitude of friends that belong to these affluent families and most are supporting the people’s uprising ( albeit quietly). Remember that these families’ continued relative wealth is now coming from working abroad (Dubai, KSA, Europe, US etc.. This what’s sustaining there relative affluence.

The super rich are very few and have no political or communal influence whatsoever. The middle of the road merchant is not so happy with the regime.

I would appreciate it if you could shed some light on how you reached your conclusion that sunni elite families are supporting the regime. How did you reach such conclusion? Could you give us examples? If you have a list that you could share with us that would be great.

April 5th, 2011, 10:38 pm


NK said:

Did calm return to the streets ?

This video is of Douma Sunday night…

April 5th, 2011, 11:44 pm


Lebnani said:

It was widely evident in the demonstrations in syria supporting the Bashar regime that majority of sunnis support Bashar. Majority of the pro-bashar demonstrators were in fact sunni (including sunni sheiks), thus suggesting that sunnis support the regime.

Majhool, aren’t sheiks classified as part of the sunni elites??

April 6th, 2011, 12:01 am


SOURI said:

What Joshua avoids in his analysis is the role of Islamism in what is happening, which is strange given the important role of Islamism in Syria’s history and society, especially the last uprising that took place in the 1970’s-1980’s which everybody admits that it was driven by Islamists. I can imagine the reason, because when he posted about the “no Iran, no Hizbullah” demonstration he was sharply criticized by the opposition, so perhaps he wanted to avoid this controversial subject.

Anyway, everybody knows that the Muslim Brother uprising in the 1970’s-1980’s failed because most of the Sunnis (that is, the Sunni elite plus the Sunni lower class) did not support the Muslim Brothers. What we are witnessing today is very much similar to that uprising– the same actors and the same reactions by the regime and the social groups. Like I said before, Bashar wants to end this uprising pretty much in the same way as his father ended the previous uprising. He can do it. The only way that can make those protesters win is foreign intervention.

April 6th, 2011, 12:36 am


SOURI said:

Another important thing to be noted is that the Sunni lower class now is not like it used to be in the 1980’s. Today, if you go to the Sunni rural areas, you will find that Wahhabism is very common there. Those Deraa protesters are mostly Wahhabi, and if they were not Wahhabis, they wouldn’t have revolted. The main reason behind this revolt is not economic hardship. It is simply Wahhabism. The protesters are calling for “freedom.” What they mean by freedom is religious freedom, that is, their freedom to practice Wahhabism. This is the single most important drive behind this uprising.

April 6th, 2011, 12:44 am


Lebnani said:

How can the wahhabis be claiming freedom of religion, are they being deprived of the freedom to pratice their religion in syria?? Or are they trying to dominate syria and convert it to a wahhabis based country? Last time i checked no religion was being deprived of their freedom of reiligion in syria(please enlighten me if im wrong) and it is not part of freedom to try and implement a state religion so they will not succeed in doing so.

April 6th, 2011, 12:58 am


SOURI said:

What was the reason behind the uprising of the 1970’s-1980’s? Was it sectarian reason? We can’t say so because many Suunis supported Hafez Assad. The true reason was simply an extremist religious creed carried by the Muslim Brothers. That war was not Sunni vs. Alawi. It was Baath vs. Muslim Brothers.

What is the reason behind the uprising today? Is it sectarian? Most Sunnis still support Bashar. Is it economic? Most of the lower and middle class people in Syria have not revolted. So what is the true reason? It is political. There are people who feel oppressed by the regime (that is, the Wahhabis) and those are the ones who revolted. Deraa, Banias, Duma are all well known Wahhabi regions. Latakia is not Wahhabi as far as I know but Sunnis there are well known to be Alawi-haters since old times.

April 6th, 2011, 12:59 am


SOURI said:


You obviously don’t know much about Syria. Wahhabis always complain that they are persecuted in Syria. Just talk to any Syrian Wahhabi or read their website and you will find out. Wahhabis are indeed persecuted in Syria. In Syria, it is a crime to have Wahhabi books, and many Wahhabis have been jailed because of possessing books promoting Wahhabism. I personally know some Wahhabis who were jailed because of this reason. This is something that everybody in Syria knows. Wahhabis are persecuted in Syria, and this is the reason behind what we are seeing now.

I say that when the current crisis is over, it is time to eradicate Wahhabism completely from Syria. They need to be kicked out just like how the Muslim Brothers were kicked out in the 1980’s.

April 6th, 2011, 1:08 am


Jad said:

Dear Dr. Landis,
Thank you for the balance introduction of Syrian history and for sharing this with us.
I agree with your views that this movement did give Syrians only two choices in fact it did split Syrians between choosing the regime or the unknown faceless promises.
In my humble opinion the ‘class’ not ‘religion/sect’ is playing the bigger role in this split of choices inside Syria.
From all the videos I watched it seems that the active demonstrators consist mostly of poor to middle-middle class unemployed Syrian youths with moderate educational level (I’m talking about the people in the streets inside Syria not those who are interviewed by media or those who are organizing the movement) For me it seems that those young guys are in favor of the unknown over the existing state not out of political, moral or ideological believes but out of the natural rebellious youth persona phase we all went through and the urge for change, proving themselves and trying something new like everybody else in the region, hence we find them the first ones to start those demonstrations, while the urban higher middle class and richer Syrians are choosing the regime for reasons you mentioned in your interview (business stability).
On the other hand and for those living outside the homeland, the highly educated middle class Syrians, I think many of them are stuck, they are lost between being morally correct by condemning the regime and side with the demonstrators after seeing too many innocent lives wasted and between being cautious knowing from history and facts of other neighboring example that choosing stability over chaos is the wiser choice.
So I’ll lean more toward calling this movement Class war not Civil war at the moment, since I know that the majority of Syrians are not religiously charged enough to start any civil war between any of the Syrian sects and religions, the Syrian society is more united against many people’s wishes.
This is the first time in the modern Syrian history where there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor at this scale and it keeps widening. It’s new to us and we don’t know how to deal with it.
It doesn’t feel or look like a real revolution it’s more of a huge protest against the status quo and it actually did change lots of things already. Its results changed the political system of Syria in many positive ways, I just hope that the Syrian youths know where to stop instead of dragging the whole country into the unknown with them.

April 6th, 2011, 1:12 am


Leo said:

Dear Josh,

@ 8:00, you stated that the opposition would like to see the Allawites kicked out and be replaced by Sunnis. I would expect something better from you than to repeat exaggerated claims that the regime purports. Are there extremists that call that? Yes. Do they represent the opposition? Hell no.


April 6th, 2011, 1:36 am


SOURI said:

Many Israeli websites are pointing to the Muslim Brothers. I believe that the Muslim Brothers do not enjoy as much influence inside Syria today as they used to.

It is hard to know the exact composition of the Islamist block inside Syria, but from my personal experience I can note the following:

-Many mid-class Sunnis (from Aleppo and Damascus) have some Islamist orientation, but their ideas are not mature enough to be called either MB or Wahhabi. I call those the non-politicized Islamists. Those folk would probably vote for the Islamists if there were elections, but they also do not hate the regime much enough to protest against it.

-Another part of the urban Sunnis are the politicized Islamists. Those people carry ideas very similar to the MB ideas, and they hate the regime because they believe its an “Alawi regime that is trying to remove Islam from Syria by forcing secularism.”

-Most Wahhabis come from rural regions. Even those who live in the cities tend to be migrants from the countryside. Few Wahhabis are urban repatriates from the Gulf. Those are the ones who hate the regime the most, and they are the most likely to act against it.

The current uprising obviously comes from the rural areas, and it particularly comes from towns that are well-known for being Wahhabi. So the current uprising is more Wahhabi-driven than MB-driven, even though the MB are obviously organizing it through the Syrian Revolution website and other websites.

I say, the MB are leading the uprising from outside Syria, but it is the Wahhabis who are leading things on the ground inside Syria. It is basically an MB-Wahhabi alliance, but since that most MB members are outside Syria, it is virtually a Wahhabi revolution.

What we need is to kick the Wahhabis out so that they join their Muslim Brother friends and continue the revolution outside the country.

April 6th, 2011, 1:41 am


SOURI said:

Wahhabi plan for Friday, a march on the capital from the surrounding Wahhabi countryside:

This scheme is realistic since that much of the countryside around Damascus is Wahhabi. How will the regime resist such a march?

Probably they are going to deploy huge forces in the Wahhabi towns around Damascus. The regime can foil everything as long as it has the loyalty of the army, the security forces, and the Baath militias. Until now, there is no sign that non-Wahhabis are joining this uprising, which means that its doomed to failure.

April 6th, 2011, 2:06 am


Lebnani said:

Wow i never knew such a thing. Is there a particular reason they are prohibited from praciticing their religion? It seems as though they are trying to implement wahhabism upon the nation.
To be honest i need to do some research on wahhabism as i did not know it even existed, i only thought there was the basic alawi, sunni and sheya.

April 6th, 2011, 2:10 am


SOURI said:

Read this:

لا احد ينكر فداحة النظام النصيري الكافر ومدى حقده على المنهج السلفي بشقيه الصحوي والجهادي
وما يقوم به هذا النظام المجرم الكافر من تنكيل للسنة في سورية وخاصة السلفية
فلو انك دحلت الى مواقع حقوق الانسان في سورية لترى ان كثير من السلفية في السجون وان من المعروف ان في سورية الجريحة كل من يوجد عنده كتيب لابن باز او الشيخ ابن العثيمين حكمه خمس سنوات في السجن
واما ان وجد عنده كتب لمشليخ السلفية الجهادية حدث بلا حرج
اما اعدام او سجن لاتقل عن عشرين سنة
ومع هذا الا ان هناك نور يابى الله الا ان يتمه وقد ساعد على اتمام هذا النور بفضل الله تعالى قناة الناس والخليجية والقنوات الاسلامية حيث وصل المنهج السلفي الى منزل كل واجد من اهل السنة في سورية وتعتب قناة الناس اول محطة يشاهدها السوريون وخاصة دروس الشيخ محمد حسان وساعد في نشر الحق بين الناس وان بشكل قليل
واما منهج السلفي فمنذ عدة اشهر تم تحجيمه بشكل كبير وخاصة بعد المصائب التي اتت بها المعارضة السورية في الخارج وعلى راسهم الجبان عبد الحليم حدام
فبعد كل تصريح اول لقاء له او للبينوني تشن المخابرات السورية هجوم للارعاب الشعب الذي يعاني الجوع والفقر وترهبه وتزج في السجون الشباب الكبير
ومن هنا نرىان النظام السوري يشدد قبضته على السلفية
ومع هذا اين دور الدعاة في سورية
طبعا ان الله هو من يهدي
وما انتشار الفكر السلفي الجهادي في سورية بشكل كبير الا للصحوة العارمة الكبيرة
فيذكر ان في سورية بلدة في جنوب دمشق عدد سكانها حوال العشرة ألا ف نسمة نصف هذه البلدة ينتمون الى السلفية ويوجد في هذه البلدة مجاهدون واسلحة ارعبت النظام السوري ومخابراته وخباتهم في الغرف
ومع ان في هذه البلدة لوحدها فيها 85 معتقل كلهم بل غالبيتهم سوف ينفذ بهم حكم الاعدام وهذا لامناص منه الا ان الصحوة السلفية في سورية نزلت للعمل بشكل شري من خلال تلقي العلم عبر قنوالت الاسلام

April 6th, 2011, 2:21 am


Zenobia said:

Really great interview again Joshua, very fascinating.

April 6th, 2011, 2:23 am


Jad said:

I doubt that the Damascenes will stay by-standard if such thing happened. I think that we will see many average people are fighting with the security against this attack, it sound like invasion and not a peaceful call for freedom, the next thing they will come up with is going to every residential building and drag people by force to go out in the street, it’s getting ridiculous and out of hand.
I know too many people in Damascus are already bored of this movement, the business is dead and many are complaining that things are forced on them when they are not willing to participate, going ahead with such plan will make many people on the side to stand with the regime against this movement.
Doing/thinking of this idea is a prove that this movement is a class-oriented more than religious one.

April 6th, 2011, 2:30 am


haz said:

Lebnani, I wouldn’t take Souri’s word for it. He/She hasn’t given any evidence to back up his/her argument. In fact if you question him/her you will be accused of ‘not knowing Syria’. The number of times he/she mentions Wahhabi in his/her posts is over the top – trying to drill it in to your head – wahhabi, wahhabi, wahhabi. It starts to look like propaganda to me. Now that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is starting to look reasonable and trustworthy,and the MB has obviously been destroyed in Syria, people need a new monster and that new monster will be wahhabi. It will be mentioned on every discussion board and will make its way into the news and one day the US President will mention it as a reason to support some evil government somewhere.
Maybe Souri is right, but I need to see some real evidence with links to reputable sources before I will join the party.

April 6th, 2011, 2:35 am


pamela said:

Souri your links are unaccessable here in Syria , if there is really going to be demos on Friday and you have info please share it to those of us who are living here …

April 6th, 2011, 2:38 am


SOURI said:

This Wahhabi has also called on people to march into Hama from the countryside around it:

The Wahhabis understand that they have no support inside the cities, so their only chance is to move Wahhabis from the rural areas into the cities. This scheme can be easily foiled by the regime.

April 6th, 2011, 2:43 am


Jad said:

مين هلمصروع بلا زغرة؟
في حدا بيسمعلو؟
Is this the major ‘surprise’ the revolutionists were talking about today on FB? The organizer wrote that there will be a very pleasant surprise and when people start asking him, he wrote that he doesn’t want to say it so the security wont be able to screw it for him.

April 6th, 2011, 2:49 am


Majhool said:


SOuri is the embodiment of th word spam. 50+ useless comment per day.

By the way i like your post above.

April 6th, 2011, 3:41 am


Czar said:

Wahabis, Islamists, MB…..That’s all what I read in the comments here.. Seriously people have you checked the state of economy in Syria?

How about the extreme poverty that millions of Syrians suffer from as a result of the Baath ruling…what about repression and maltreatment by police/security? Is that not enough to mobilize many after seeing Egypt and Tunisia?

I’m really surprised to read these comments as in the past couple of weeks, I didn’t talk to any of my Sunni upper-middle class friends in Syria who did not clearly show support for a major change in Syria, especially after the president’s speech. Though they are all worried about the unknown but what is holding them from taking an active role in the demos is simply the fear… If the barrier breaks down completely, we would see huge movements in the streets of Damascus….

Also, nobody seems to note that many Damascene families, who used to be middle class one day, have moved to live in the mentioned suburbs. I know many people who sold their houses in prime locations in Damascus so they can afford to buy two or three houses in Artouz or Harasta and the like so that their boys would be able to get married….

You guys are ignoring the economical side of the whole movement and focusing on Wahabis. Deraa did not uprise because of a Wahabis’ agenda… Teens were arrested and the issue was poorly dealt with by those in charge of security in Deraa!

I have lived in Syria most of life and have been forced to take part in many pro-Assad demonstrations. Everyone in Damascus knows that, except for you guys! I know plenty of people who took part in the pro-Assad demo last week, but none of them participated willingly! So you can’t really use that demo as an evidence of Assad’s popularity! I’m sure many do support and like Assad, less after the speech though, but many more do not but are silent for now!

It’s about class and poverty and not sectarian! The regime and its supporters are the ones focusing on the sectarian aspect in order to curb people’s ambition of a change that Syria dearly needs!

April 6th, 2011, 4:05 am


Shami said:

We have been told here on this forum by Dr Landis and others ,that rural syria is more inclined to support the regime and now because they demonstrated,they become wahhabis,which is a lie ,from what i saw in Syria,the most conservative muslims live mostly in the cities.
The percentage of hijabi women in the cities is by far more important than in rural Syria.
And btw a Salafi is not necessarily extremist.
Be it ,the small minority of the regime that has destroyed lives and stones will always be scared in face of change and this paranoia is going to reach a peak.
There are factors that play in favor of this unrest,class struggle between the corrupt people connected to the regime and the dying middle class is one of them.
Also ,those who had doubt are now aware that Bashar is not an outsider but member of the evil gang .

April 6th, 2011, 4:59 am


Shami said:

For Aleppo ,Damascus ,Hama who can say that they wont be able to overcome the moukhabarati fence ?

April 6th, 2011, 5:23 am


Shami said:

…. has also called on people to march into Hama from the countryside around it:

Mharda is Christian and Assalimiyeh mostly Ismaili ,are there islamist masses there ?

April 6th, 2011, 5:41 am


Revlon said:

Dear Joshua, your part I expose is justifiably biased!
I would like to comment on three of your “impressions”

The significance of pro-regime Demonstrations:
They were staged demonstrations! If they truly reflect his popularity he should have no reservation in holding free elections!

Syrians have been scared of civil war!
This is the regime’s scare-crow to stifle any move for radical reforms.
All Syrians I have talked to, in the country and outside, do not voice such concern

Syrian example is emulated by Lebanon and Iraq when it comes to risk of civil war!

First, the civil war in Lebanon in the seventies, was largely mediated by the presence of armed Palestinian movements. There is no such parallel in Syria.
Second, the Syrian regime used the same, civil war scare crow to justify their presence in Lebanon until five years ago! To their dismay no civil war took place after they withdrew!
Third, the Iraqi tripartite leadership is in agreement to keep the country together. Much of the chaos is a consequence of the American invasion and occupation. There is no foreign occupation in Syria.

April 6th, 2011, 6:27 am


Leo said:

Why are Reuters personnel/photographers in Syria being detained for no justifiable reason? Foreign personnel seem to have it easier in that they are being deported, without reason. If they happen to be Syrian nationals, then they are detained and their families would not know their whereabouts.

And why the is access to WIKIPEDIA restricted in Syria? Is the government that much afraid that its population will start to investigate and learn things on their own and away from the government censorship?

April 6th, 2011, 6:37 am


Akbar Palace said:


Good questions/points. These demonstrations have ZERO to do with ethnicity, religion, sect, Palestinian rights (which are far better than Syrian rights) or the Golan and EVERYTHING to do with the economy and freedoms.

You don’t need Alawi in-laws or a Phd to see that.

April 6th, 2011, 7:11 am


Revlon said:

Part II: Dear Joshua, Sunnis Generals were in control of the Syrian army, early on after independence.

Generals who made the first coups d’etat were Sunnis!
They did not have sectarian inclinations, otherwise they could have cleansed the army of high ranking minority officers, like H Asad did to the Sunni officers after he came to power.

Merchant Sunni elites: Al akhras family (Asad’s wife)!

You mentioned Iraq twice, when discussing risk of civil war!
Where is the civil war in Iraq? There is Chaos of occupation!
Yes the Sunni minority lost all Sadam privileges! Many, but not all Sunnis yearn to Saddam’s days
The Alawis and other minorities privileges given by this regime would naturally and justly have the same fate!

The majority want their rights, that are unjustly robbed by the regime and his supporters.
The Syrian revolution’s slogan has been all about freedom and peace!
They will continue to march in demonstrations peacefully until they get what is their right!
Slogans of national unity and hope of freedom have dispelled any lingering fear of civil war.

April 6th, 2011, 7:14 am


Revlon said:

#26 Akbar Palace,
Thank you for the note.

I did not just mean that!
Joshua’s discourse gives me the impression that his sources of information and most of his friends are biased in favour of the regime.

I do not expect him to be otherwise, though!
I am also biased by my upbringing and experience with the regime!
Joshua is on the side of fear of civil war
I am on the side of hope of Free Syrian People!

April 6th, 2011, 7:39 am


Revlon said:

Now this demonstration in Duma, yesterday, gives a far more representative view of the weight of support of the regime in the street, than the staged one over a week ago.

Check this out for some fun!

April 6th, 2011, 8:29 am


Revlon said:

Scenes of intifadat al7jara in the suburbs of Damascus!
Is there any parallel with the west bank?
Just a retorical question!

April 6th, 2011, 8:40 am


Akbar Palace said:

Joshua is on the side of fear of civil war


I thought Professor Josh was on the side of fear of losing a job;)

Anyway, you’re the only one on this website that makes sense.

Don’t give up!

April 6th, 2011, 9:56 am


AIG said:


Just want to make sure I got this right. Wikipedia is a restricted site in Syria? Since the number of Syrians who read English is small, how does this even make sense?

April 6th, 2011, 10:11 am


Jamil halabi said:

Jad seems to be more balanced than most,however,educated people must be opened to other views too. If the opposition turns sectarian or use violence they will be rejected by most Syrians. The regime has no choice but to change and rebuild alliances,they have lost a lot of support due to corruption and oppression. You will see gradual but steady reform measures that target the poor, the Kurds and the moderate low-middle class religious groups.albaath will have to share power and people should not be arrested for writing an article. By the end of April,a third choice for cellular services may be available to Syrians ,I hope rami stays out of it and keep a low profile,he is a liability now.
I was disappointed by the lack of discussion about alawites and other minorities that oppose the regime.

April 6th, 2011, 10:24 am


Shami said:

There is an arabic version of wikipedia.

April 6th, 2011, 10:32 am


AIG said:


I know there is an Arab wikipedia. Is the Arab Wikipedia restricted and the English one allowed, or is the English one also restricted?

April 6th, 2011, 12:02 pm


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