Sectarianism in Syria is Spilling Across Borders

by Ted Thornton

“Like his fellow Shiites in Iraq, Abu Ali, who used his nickname to protect his family back in Syria, said he regards the Syrian rebels as terrorists, not freedom fighters, underscoring one of the complexities of a bloody civil conflict that has persisted as diplomatic efforts have failed. In spite of President Bashar al-Assad’s willingness to unleash a professional military on a civilian population, with lethal results, Mr. Assad retains some support at home and abroad from allies, including religious and ethnic minorities who for decades relied on the police state for protection from sectarian aggression…

The insurrection in Syria, led by the country’s Sunni majority in opposition to a government dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiism, is increasingly unpredictable and dangerous because it is aggravating sectarian tensions beyond its borders in a region already shaken by religious and ethnic divisions…

Some Shiites here see the burgeoning civil war in Syria as the ominous start to the fulfillment of a Shiite prophecy that presages the end of time. According to Shiite lore, Sufyani — a devil-like, apocryphal figure in Islam — gathers an army in Syria and after conquering that land turns his wrath on Iraq’s Shiites.”

Tim Arango, “Syria’s Sectarian Fears Keep Nation on Edge,” New York Times, Feb. 29, 2012

More on Shia Islam

More on Syria

More on Iraq 

UPDATE — March 3, 2012 — See also:  David Enders and Jonathan S. Landay, “Syria Splits Along Sectarian Lines, Shaking MidEast,”, March 2, 2012 


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