Bashar al-Assad’s Not-So-Secular Regime

Feb. 15 2021

Some defenders of the Syrian dictator have argued that, as secular ruler, he is an important bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism, and that support for his ouster amounts to support for the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, or even Islamic State. But even setting aside its close alliance with Islamist Iran, or its own role in Islamic State’s rise to power, the Syrian regime is in many ways anything but secular. Explaining why this is so, Asser Khattab first notes that official propaganda never mentions secularism:

The country long dwelled in a gray area because the regime does not correct anyone who dubs it as secular, even though it never calls itself that and never ceases to court conservative Sunni currents at the same time. The Syrian regime’s claim that it is a force against terrorism and extremism in the region hardly suffices for Syria to be regarded as a secular country.

Books coming from abroad have long needed to get the approval of the Ministry of Religious Endowments before reaching Syria’s bookstores. TV shows . . . also require the approval of religious authorities. . . . More generally, . . . Article III of the Syrian Constitution states that the president of Syria must be Muslim and that Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) is a principal source of legislation.

During the five decades of the Assad clan’s reign, conservative Islamism never ceased to be useful to the regime. . . . [I]n Damascus in 2006 . . . the Danish embassy [was] burned down by angry Syrians (who also attacked the Norwegian embassy) after cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad were published in the two countries. The regime stood aside and allowed that to happen.

Control over the Christian clergy is important to the regime, too. Protestant pastors often complain in private about the persecution and shutdown of their churches in Syria over the decades as a gift that the regime gives to the incomparably larger Catholic and Orthodox churches, the heads of which are key allies of the Assad regime.

Read more at Newlines

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Middle East Christianity, Secularism, Syria


In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan