The Druze Position Is A Challenge For Syria's Uprising
03 July 2015
By Eyad Abu Shakra
The massacre recently committed by Al-Nusra Front elements in the village of
Qalb Lozeh, in Idlib province in northwestern Syria, could not have come at a
worse time, given the way the Syrian uprising is moving, and how it is
Here, I am not talking about how tragic the incident is, because Syria has
witnessed far worse massacres since the uprising began in March 2011.
Furthermore, it is not right to overemphasize the fact that its victims were
from a "minority" when the "majority" has been suffering similar massacres
for over four years.
It is not acceptable to turn a blind eye to the reality that some of the
leadership in Syria bluffed themselves into believing that they could easily
escape from their miscalculations and evil deeds, and cover up one crime with
a bigger one. Given this fact, and in addition to foreign support and
international collusion, Syria finds itself where it is now—in an abyss.
The heinous crime committed against 25 villagers in Qalb Lozeh is one in a
veritable catalog of tragedies, and a case in kind, another example of the
collapse of the state in the absence of a mature, revolutionary alternative.
Still, what took place in Qalb Lozeh was not only tragic, but happened at the
worst possible time.
The Qalb Lozeh massacre was committed a few hours before rebels in southern
Syria were preparing to liberate the Tha'aleh Military Airbase. Just like
Qalb Lozeh and 16 other neighboring villages in Syria's northwestern
countryside, the little town of Tha'aleh—close to the airbase—is inhabited by
the Druze minority. In fact, the town is the western gateway to Sweida
province where the world's largest population of this heterodox Muslim sect
The Druze have inhabited Jebel Al-Summaq in Idlib province and its
southeastern foothills for around 1,000 years, living mostly in peace with
their neighbors. When the Great Syrian Revolt broke out in the early 1920s
against the French mandate, the family of Ibrahim Hananu, the revolt's
leader, was given refuge at the home of the local Druze notable Mohammed Ali
Al-Qassaab in the village of Martahwan. And when the 2011 uprising broke out,
Druze villages in the region provided food and refuge to their neighbors, and
cared for and treated the bereaved and wounded.
In Sweida province, in southern Syria, the Druze population have been a part
of the fabric of the larger Hawran region for around 400 years. Their history
in that part of Syria is well-documented, whether from the days of
nationalist uprisings against the French mandate, or during their
participation in patriotic movements and nationalist parties and
organizations before the latter lost their way and soul.
It is a pity that the Assad regime's bets paid off when it came to finding
ways to destroy Syria. The cruelest of these has been the use of excessive
force in its lengthy attempts to crush the uprising. This led to the
destruction of the final hope for moderation within the Sunni majority. After
ensuring the angry, doubtful and vengeful current within the majority held
sway, the regime then began to use it as a means to blackmail religious and
sectarian minorities. These minorities were put before two choices, each
worse than the other: either seeking protection from a regime that is
actually using minorities as a shield, or facing the rage of extremist
revenge. Incidentally, in order to ensure that everything went according to
plan, the regime freed from jails a number of extremist activists imprisoned
for terrorism-related crimes. Moreover, it later intentionally ignored the
rapid growth of extremist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
(ISIS), as it did in Raqqa, Aleppo province, Palmyra, and the Damascus
suburbs and countryside. Indeed, one of the Syrian regime's henchmen in
Lebanon said once in a TV interview that when the Free Syrian Army (FSA)
first emerged, a worried Assad regime decided to weaken it by allowing
extremist and terrorist groups to grow and expand at the expense of the FSA—thus,
Syrians would be left to choose between either the regime or the terrorists.
Iran and Russia's direct support, and the collusion of the US, have provided
the Assad regime with ample room to maneuver. Washington's reluctance to push
for regime change, through its continuous refusal to provide the Syrian
rebels with any qualitative military aid, stopped all military and political
desertions, and pushed minorities to keep quiet and adopt neutrality.
Meanwhile, as extremist foreign "muhajer" fighters continued to flock into
Syria—many not even Arabs—the initial identity of the uprising gradually
started to change, and its aims almost buried. On the other hand, patriotic
rebels and opposition figures began to feel frustrated and let down by the
international community, which seemed to be punishing them simply because
they were moderate, and sought a free, independent and democratic Syria in
which all its citizens can enjoy freedom, dignity and justice.
In normal circumstances, the two military airbases in Tha'aleh and Khukhuleh—also
in Sweida province—should be wrested from the regime, more so since the
regime re-equipped them for use against the rebels as well as the towns and
villages in the Hawran and Quneitra regions. However, the failure of naïve as
well as dubious pronouncements to differentiate liberating two airbases and
"conquering Sweida"—implying punishment and revenge—only a few hours after
the Qalb Lozeh massacre, was indeed a bad mistake.
Immediately, the regime seized the opportunity. A few days after failing in
its attempt to withdraw its heavy weapons from the province—thus making it
vulnerable to the encroaching ISIS threat—the regime suddenly decided to send
reinforcements to the Tha'aleh Airbase—as a punishment to the families of
27,000 young Druze men who refused to serve in the army.
What will happen in Hawran next will surely determine where Syria's uprising
is heading. The people of Sweida, and the Druze elsewhere, are not gambling
on protection provided by Assad and his backers; but it is very much in the
interests of the Druze and all constituent communities of Syria that the
uprising goes back to its original political aim, and get rid of those
seeking to classify the Syrian people into different categories and take
turns in vetting their faith and patriotism.
The world has insistently disregarded the suffering of Syria even before it
fell prey to terrorism, so how can we expect it to behave when it has become
a hotbed of terrorism?
Moreover, if we are calling on the whole world today to take notice and react
to the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, how can we remain silent
while an inclusive Syrian homeland, that rises above sectarianism and
tribalism, is under threat?
Eyad Abu Shakra is the
managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since