- 2 - These economic changes further resulted in class divisions, as well as urban-rural divideswhich in turn affected the Uprising. At a conference on Syria at the University of Denver lessthan two months ago, the journalist Stephen Starr explicated that in the current Uprising, the“silent majority” consists of middle and upper middle class urban Syrians.
He notes that whilethe recent droughts have forced peasants to migrate to poor suburbs, where the protests began,urban Syrians, especially those who benefitted from the state’s economic policies mainly wantthe Uprising to end. “They don’t care who wins.”
For them, the Uprising is an obstacle and anuisance. It hinders them from travelling outside Damascus because the proliferation of check-points has made travelling time-consuming and taxing.As the state’s economy shrank, the Ba‘ath Party and the army’s funding decreased, theinfluence of the ruling party lessened. At the same time, Bashar al-Asad broke with his father’sdedication to support Shi‘ism and secularism and allowed, maybe even encouraged, conservativeSunnism to flourish. For example, the previously banned conservative Sunni women’sQubaysiyyat group was permitted to spread by 2006. This trend towards piety in Syria mirrorssimilar developments across the region. Thomas Pierret from the University of Edinburghattributes the fact that the first demonstrations made Sunni references and spatially extendedfrom mosques to this growing piety.
Yet, Pierret emphasizes that even though pious languageand symbolism pervaded these early demonstrations, they cannot be labeled as “Islamist”because they did not articulate an Islamist agenda. Nevertheless, since then, there has been aproliferation of militias, some of which are more and some of which are less Islamist in theirdemands. In part, Pierret blames the lack of US and European support for the opposition for thegrowing popularity of Islamists.