Syrian civil war forces Sunni and Shiite Muslims to pick sides
From Religion News Service 31 May 2013 -
Syrian civil war forces Sunni and Shiite Muslims to pick sides. The Syrian civil war is increasingly drawing in nations across the Middle East, a regionwide conflict that threatens to pit world powers against each other and Muslim against Muslim.
On Wednesday (May 29), the United Nations Human Rights Council pushed through a resolution to investigate the abuses of the Syrian regime, over the objections of the regime’s ally Russia, who insisted the West was making matters worse.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continued his travels in the region, trying to get all parties to agree to a peace conference in Geneva in the next few weeks. But councils representing the Syrian rebels again refused to join, demanding that representatives of Bashar Assad’s regime be banned.
In a war that is now clearly pitting the two main branches of the Islam — Sunni and Shiite Muslims — against one another, the dithering and differences between world powers is bringing about a desperate situation, according to experts.
“The longer this conflict goes on the more chances it has of spilling over,” said Vali Nasr, dean of John Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.
Whether the battle will be contained to Syria is in doubt now that Islam’s two major strands have taken sides against one another, threatening to spark a wider war that is centuries in the making between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
“There is great fear over a massive sectarian war starting. If it does, the entire region will turn into a genocidal war, engulfing everyone,” says Samir al-Ibrahim, 55, secretary-general of the Syrian Free Religious Scholars Association and a Sunni Muslim in Idlib, Syria.
Sunni Muslims, who include the royal families of the Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms, have banded behind the rebels (Sunnis are the majority in Syria). The royal family of Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been funneling arms and cash to rebels, and Sunni Muslims who dominate al-Qaida have dispatched fighters to the front.
Assad has appealed to the Shiites, who are helping him hang on to his regime. The Shiite theocracy of Iran has deployed officers and fighters from its Revolutionary Guards. The U.S.-designated terrorist group Hezbollah, which has fought two wars with Israel from its base in Lebanon, is pouring militants into Assad’s forces.
Religious leaders from both Islamic branches in Sunni-dominated Egypt and Shiite-heavy Iraq have denounced each other for killing Muslims. Arab capitals have expressed fears that restive members of one sect or the other will erupt in the streets as they did in Bahrain during the Arab Spring of 2011.
Already, the fighting has bled across Syria’s border with Lebanon, where Lebanese Alawites are fending off attacks from Sunni citizens of the same nation, leaving several people dead. Rockets have been fired back and forth between Turkey and Syria and Iraq.