Over the past year, the US-led imperialism and its junior partners in the region have waged a relentless proxy war against the Syrian Republic. Under the guise of a popular revolt, reactionaries have armed and trained rebel groups to carry out attacks against the Syria’s state and civilian population. One of imperialism’s most surprising allies […]

Since the beginning of the unrest in Syria, “the government has said that while some protesters have legitimate grievances, the uprising is driven by militant Islamists with foreign backing.” [1] This hardly squares with the view of Western state officials and media commentators who say that an authoritarian regime is killing its people and violently suppressing a largely peaceful movement for democracy.

Who’s right?

There’s no question that there has been a longstanding Islamist opposition in Syria to Ba’athist rule. The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party has been in power since 1963. The party’s roots are in Pan-Arabism, non-Marxist socialism, and liberation from colonialism, imperialism and religious sectarianism. Being secular, socialist (though diminishingly so) and dominated by a heterodox Shiite sect, the Alawi, Syria’s lead party has held no appeal for the Sunni majority, which has leaned toward the Muslim Brotherhood.

Neither is there any question that Islamist uprisings have become a habitual occurrence in Syria. Condemning the Alawi as heretics and resentful of the Ba’athists’ separation of Islam from the state, the Muslim Brotherhood organized riots against the government in 1964, 1965, 1967 and 1969.

On coming to power in 1970, Afiz Assad—the current president’s father– tried to overcome the Sunni opposition by encouraging private enterprise and weakening the party’s commitment to socialism, and by opening space for Islam. This, however, did little to mollify the Muslim Brothers, who organized new riots and called for a Jihad against Assad, denigrating him as “the enemy of Allah.” His “atheist” government was to be brought down and Alawi domination of the state ended. By 1977, the Mujahedeen were engaged in a guerrilla struggle against the Syrian army and its Soviet advisers, culminating in the 1982 occupation of the city of Hama. The Syrian army quelled the occupation, killing 20,000 to 30,000.

In an effort to win the Islamists’ acquiescence, Assad built new mosques, opened Koranic schools, and relaxed restrictions on Islamic dress and publications. At the same time, he forged alliances with pro-Islamic countries and organizations, including Sunni Sudan, Shia Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. While these measures secured some degree of calm, Islamists remained a perennial source of instability and the government was on continual guard against “a resurgence of Sunni Islamic fundamentalists.” [2]

The United States hasn’t created an opposition, but it has acted to strengthen it. US funding to the Syrian opposition began flowing under the Bush administration in 2005 [3] if not earlier. The Bush administration had dubbed Syria a member of a “junior varsity axis of evil,” along with Libya and Cuba, and toyed with the idea of making Syria the next target of its regime change agenda after Iraq. [4] Continue reading