Earlier this month, reports came from the Syrian city of Qusayr of an ominous warning to the town’s Christians: Either join the Sunni-led opposition against Bashar al-Assad or leave. Soon after, thousands of Christians fled the town.
After decades of protection by a secular-leaning dictatorship, the Qusayr ultimatum warned of a dark future for Syria’s Christian community. As the 15-month conflict rages with no end in sight, Syria’s many minorities have come face to face with the emerging threat posed by radical Sunni Islamists. These elements have established themselves as a key factor in Syria’s future, backed by immense political and economic support from the Arab world and indifference from the West.
Throughout the years, Christians, like many other minorities in the region, have lent their support to those regimes that have guaranteed their security and religious freedom. In Iraq, Christians rose to the highest levels of society under Saddam Hussein’s regime, while in Egypt, Coptic Christians were protected from ultraconservative Salafists under Hosni Mubarak. As secular leaders from the secretive Alawite sect, the Assad dynasty largely preserved Christian life, protecting Syria’s minorities from what was perceived as a collective threat from the country’s Sunni majority.
Intelligence Analysis: Jordan’s Covert War Against an Islamist Spillover
The Jordanian regime has been growing increasingly concerned about the possible spillover effects of violence in Syria, especially since Jordan’s Jihadist-Salafist Sheikh Abu Muhammad Tahawi recently released a fatwa calling for jihad in Syria. In his fatwa, Tahawi stressed that Alawites and Shiites are currently the biggest threat to Sunnis, even more than the Israelis.
Fatwas of this sort, usually play on the sentiments harbored deep within historical sectarian feuds between the Sunni and the Shiite faiths. They also serve the purpose of mobilizing Sunni extremists in a bloody ‘Jihad’ against the other factions of Islam, which radical Salafists classify as “outsiders”.
According to media reports, Jordanian Jihadist-Salafists seem to have responded to Sheikh Tahawi’s call as a group of over 30 Jihadists tried to enter Syria a few weeks ago. All but seven, including Abu Anas Sahabi, an explosives specialist, were caught by Jordanian intelligence services. On April 15 a Jihadi-Salafi demonstration resulted in violent clashes with police, leaving dozens of wounded officers and numerous civilian casualties. In response, authorities cracked down on Salafists during a raid in al-Zarqa and other towns located near the Syrian border. Approximately 147 individuals were arrested by Jordanian authorities and charged with terrorist activities.
Intelligence Analysis: The Syrian Spillover into Lebanon
Nine Lebanese were killed after days of clashes in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli between long-time bitter foes, the Sunni dominated Bab al-Tabbaneh and the Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods. Clashes and tensions in Tripoli are not new and represent persistent volatility in Lebanon, as well as in the region, both in terms of politics and security.
The Sunnis of Bab al-Tabbaneh, a hotbed of Salafism, denounce the ‘heretic’ Alawite regime of Assad and decry his killing of their fellow Sunni-Muslims in Syria. The tiny, yet well- armed, Alawite community of Jabal Mohsen however, remains a steadfast supporter of the Syrian president. With just a single street, ironically named the Syria Street, separating them, the current escalation highlights not only a localized spillover of the Syrian war into Lebanon, but the overarching problem with Lebanon itself – the continued presence of sectarian militias.
The latest bloodshed in Cairo underscores worrying trends and emerging realities regarding Egypt’s internal security and political future. The recent clashes in the vicinity of Cairo’s Abbasseya Square illustrate the readiness of prominent political groups to forcefully impose their views, demands, and ideologies as they battle for the country’s new identity. Sadly for Egypt, this process has just begun and is not likely to end anytime soon; indeed, the bloody volatility in Egypt has not subsided since the events of January 2011.
Under these circumstances – from a security point of view – what is most important to note here is how the volatile political situation directly translates into an erosion of the security condition on the ground. Violence in downtown Cairo is often centered on political disputes, involving opposing factions, who are more prone to resolve their differences by force, as they believe this the most optimum course of action to achieve their goals.
As a conservative Muslim nation, Iraq, is by and large opposed to Western ideals and movements deemed contrary or heretical to Islam. One Western export, the “emo” subculture – an American-born hardcore punk music movement – is considered almost synonymous with being gay in Iraq, a label that carries severe risksin the Muslim world. While the targeting of “emos” throughout the world and especially in Iraq is not new, the intensity and brazenness with which Iraqi Shiite militias are currently eliminating them is telling of a broader development – the increasing aspirations to violently enforce an autocratic and fundamentalist Shiite state in Iraq.
Over the past few weeks, a surge in brutal extra-judicial killings of Iraqi youth suspected of being affiliated with the “emo” subculture has shocked human rights groups in the country and around the world. The withdrawal of American troops in December and overall support coming from a sympathetic Shiite government in Baghdad have facilitated an upsurge in vigilante violence against the aforementioned subculture. The security vacuum left by America’s troop withdrawal, along with an increase in religious fundamentalism, have created a climate of fear for anyone who is suspected to be involved or affiliated with the group.
One unsuspecting Bekaa Valley village has become the focal point of the battle for perceptions of the Syrian conflict.
Immediately after another deadly suicide bombing ripped through central Damascus on Friday, the Assad Regime, the Syrian opposition, and their allies abroad unloaded accusations as to the identity of the perpetrators. While opposition’s assertion of a regime-orchestrated conspiracy has fallen on deaf ears around the world, this latest bombing certainly bolsters Assad’s claim that radical Al Qaeda-linked militants have joined the ranks of collective struggle to topple him. Regardless of the actual perpetrators, both Assad and the opposition understand that perceptions of Syria descending into sectarian chaos only further cement the international community’s hesitation to expedite his ousting. At the base of Assad’s claims lies the town of Arsal, a sleepy village in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, whose unsuspecting citizens have become embroiled in a heated debate which may just decide the outcome of the Syrian conflict.
Arsal was catapulted into the global spotlight immediately after twin car bombings struck Damascus on December 23, 2011. After the attacks, Syrian officials based their claims of Al Qaeda involvement on statements made days prior by Lebanese Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn, who stated that Jihadists were infiltrating into Syria through illegal border crossings. Ghosn claimed that Arsal, a Sunni village of 40,000 people located 35 kilometers from the Syrian border, had become a hotbed for these activities. The statements sparked outrage amongst Arsal’s residents, who claimed that there was little evidence to suggest that the town was harboring Al Qaeda extremists. While village elders admitted that some local mosques were known as bastions of fundamentalism, they enjoyed little influence over the town’s residents. In the days that followed, Arsal became the focal point of a heated debate in Lebanon over the existence of Al Qaeda extremists in the country. Continue reading The Battle For Arsal→
Egypt’s Elections: The SCAF’s Last Chance?
By Daniel N.
With Islamist’s hands tied by their ongoing success in parliamentary elections, the army has one last chance to secure its influence in Egypt’s future government before it’s too late.
Last week, a ranking SCAF official held a highly unusual press conference exclusively with foreign correspondents. In what was widely perceived to be a message to the West, the official called the recent election results into question and stated that the SCAF would maintain oversight over the drafting of a future constitution.
While less than one month ago the same issue sparked mass demonstrations, Islamists groups including the Muslim Brotherhood have remained largely silent in the face of these provocative statements. The SCAF now has a window of opportunity to press ahead with efforts to secure its influence in a future constitution, leaving Islamists with the choice of disrupting the election process or allowing the promise of an Islamist Egypt to slip from their grasp.
Ever since the March 2011 constitutional referendum, the SCAF’s insistence on influencing the makeup of the future constitution has fueled tensions in the country, most recently with Egypt’s powerful Islamist factions. This tension came to a boiling point in November, when the SCAF-backed Sharaf government refused to give ground on the implementation of “Supra-Constitutional Principles”, sparking mass protests by the Muslim Brotherhood, which eventually evolved into the nationwide unrest which nearly compromised parliamentary elections. These principles, which would have effectively implanted boundaries on the power of any future Islamist-led parliament, have until now remained the SCAF’s tool to ensure Egypt as a secular state, as well as autonomy in deciding the military budget.
The results of the first round of parliamentary elections has however, reignited fears both within Egypt and around the world of the possibility of an Islamist takeover, with both moderate and Salafist parties garnering 60% of the vote. As the second and third rounds of elections scheduled to take place in rural areas of Egypt, there is a high likelihood that these parties will only secure more and more seats in the future parliament. Liberal parties who once opposed the SCAF’s encroachment on Egypt’s future governance, now find themselves marginalized with the realization that the military is now the best chance they have at securing a secular and democratic future for Egypt. In addition, the prospect of an Islamist victory may also have swayed the West, which just three weeks ago joined protesters in Tahrir Square in calls for a transition of power to a civilian government. Continue reading Egypt’s Elections: The SCAF’s Last Chance?→
Dissecting Egypt’s Islamist Victory
By Daniel N.
Election results show that Egypt’s future rests solely in hands of conservative Islam.
Had he been alive today, Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al Banna would have been proud. Nearly 83 years since its founding, it appears as though the Islamist organization’s patience has finally paid off, after the group came away as favorites from Egypt’s first round of parliamentary elections. While the elections still have two more rounds of polling in various governorates of the country, the preliminary results of the first round which was held in Egypt’s largest population centers of Cairo and Alexandria are a telling indicator of things to come.
After polls closed on November 30, initial results estimate that Islamist parties have captured 120 of the 168 seats up for grabs in the first round of elections. The Brotherhood, represented by its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) claimed 40 percent of votes, while ultra-conservative Salafist groups came in second with 20 percent. The Egypt Bloc, a coalition of secular and Coptic Christian parties originally assembled to challenge the Islamists, came in third, beating out the long time favorite liberal Wafd party.