The popular uprisings that have swept the Middle East and North Africa have had similar causesin each country: economic stagnation, corruption, decades of dictatorship. Not all of them haveoccurred in ethnically-divided societies. Egyptians widely held nationalist sentiments and unitedacross the Muslim-Christian divide in opposition to Hosni Mubarak. Syrians, however, amajority-Sunni population ruled by an ethnic minority supported by other minorities, are variedin their attitudes toward the ruling party.Protests against the regime of President Bashar al Assad began on January 26, but did not turnviolent until March 15, when security forces attacked protesters in the southern city of Deraa andDamascus held demonstrations
in a “day of rage”.
Youths had written “the people want the fallof the regime”, the slogan of the other Arab Spring movements, on walls in Deraa, and were
tortured and killed as a result.
Since March, protests have taken place around Syria, and mosthave been brutally crushed. The UN estimates that 5000 people have been killed since then.
Tens of thousands have been arrested, including some 14,000 reporters.
Some observers of Syria are speculating that we are seeing the beginnings of a civil war. The bolder among thembelieve that it will be an ethnic civil war, with the Sunni majority pitted against the ruling Alawisect.This essay will not look at the situation of all ethno-cultural groups of Syria. Syria has some ninesuch groups
(including Palestinian and Iraqi refugees) with populations over 100,000. Itconsiders only relations between the Sunnis and the Alawis, as the commentators and experts seethem as the two key parties. If any two groups will fall down the hole of ethnic conflict, it will bethem.Is Syria in civil war? British prime minister David Cameron warned it was heading toward civilwar in late November.
President Abdullah Gul of Turkey said Turkey is preparing for theworst.
director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma,
predicted in April that Syria would descend into a civil war between Sunnis andAlawis.
There is evidence of an inchoate civil war, but it is truly an ethnic conflict? If we canfind clear evidence of major, sustained clashes between sects, or systematic violence against onesect by the army, we will have reason to say an ethnic conflict is occurring in Syria.
Unknown author (March 16, 2011). Middle East unrest: Syria arrests Damascus protesters.
Unknown author (November 22, 2011). Syria protests: What you need to know.
Unknown author (December 12, 2011). Syria: 5000 dead in violence, says UN human rights chief.
Nasseri, Ladane (December 11, 2011). Syrian protesters urge general strike, pressure on Assad grows.
World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. Syria overview.
Minority Rights Group International
Unknown author (November 22, 2011). David Cameron: ‘Civil war a real possibility’ in Syria.
Unknown author (November 21, 2011). Turkish president, Gul, ‘prepared for worst’ in Syria.
Bakshi, Amar C. (April 26, 2011). Why Syria is descending into civil war.