Why is everyone picking on Syria?
The question is a semi-serious one. After all, look at the list of the 18 Arab League countries that voted to suspend Damascus’s membership in their club and to impose sanctions on the country unless Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stops the violence against protesters and agrees to admit an Arab League monitoring group.
The list includes such countries as Sudan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, not exactly bastions of democracy themselves. Indeed, when pro-democracy protesters took to the streets of Bahrain earlier this year, Saudi Arabia couldn’t wait to send in troops to put down the uprising.
Yet here are these Arab countries ostracizing Syria – one of the “original six” that founded the League in the first place in 1945 – and threatening sanctions unless Mr. al-Assad ceases the violent suppression of his country’s uprising.
What’s the difference?
Well, for one thing, all those who voted against Syria are states with Sunni Muslim leaderships, while Syria is ruled by members of the minority Alawi sect, a spinoff from Shiism. Lest anyone think the League members were concerned about Syria’s “minority” government, it’s worth noting that the rulers of Bahrain are a Sunni minority, lording it over a Shia majority.
It’s also worth noting that one of the two states to support Syria in voting against the Arab League decision to suspend Damascus is Lebanon, whose government is effectively controlled by the Shia Hezbollah movement, and the only country to abstain from voting against Syria was Iraq, another country with a Shia majority and a Shia-dominated government.
Anyway you look at it, the Sunni regimes are clearly lined up against the Shiites.
Another feature that distinguishes Syria and irritates its Arab opponents is that the Alawi regime in Damascus has close links with Shia regime in Tehran. Non-Arab Iran is the state most in competition with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey for supremacy in the region. Turkey, another Sunni-run state, has sided with the Arab League four-square against the non-Sunni regime in Syria.
As Mark Heller writes in an article published Wednesday, “sectarianism is the dirty laundry of Arab politics.” While these politics may well change as a result of events unfolding in the Arab world this year, many of these Arab countries have yet to do their laundry.
To read Mark Heller’s article published by the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, click here.