The specter of civil war in Syria

The World reports:

[Robin] Yassin-Kassab says the Syrian regime is stoking fears of sectarian conflict to shore up support. He says the regime wants to portray the demonstrations as akin to the violent tactics of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria in the 1980s.

The government’s crackdown back then culminated in a massacre of 20,000 people in the town of Hama. It still haunts people today. But, Yassin-Kassab says the two situations are not the same.

“Now we’ve had Alawis and Christians and Druze and so on have been involved in the protests,” said Yassin-Kassab. “There have also been people from all communities shot and tortured and the overwhelming majority of slogans are for national unity. People are calling things like “the Syrian people are One. It’s not a sectarian uprising and the regime is trying to pretend that it is.”

Yassin-Kassab shared an ominous anecdote to share about a friend from a prominent Alawite family unconnected to the regime.

“His parents are receiving threatening phone calls from anonymous numbers,” said Yassin-Kassab. “People saying things like ‘We know where you are, we’re coming after you, your time is up.’ His parents believe that these are Syrian Sunni Muslims, ordinary people, calling up and threatening what’s going to happen to the whole community once this regime has fallen. I believe and my friend believes that it’s actually more likely the Mukhabarat, the secret police, who are calling them up trying to scare them.”

Historian Anne Alexander, a fellow at Cambridge University, also thinks the regime is trying to use sectarianism as a counterrevolutionary tool. She says the real differences in Syria are not ones of religious identity but of social class and geography.

“One view point that I fundamentally disagree with is the perspective that sees the Middle East as some kind of fermenting mass of people who all hate each other on religious grounds,” said Alexander. “And that once you remove the strong state this will all fly apart into people trying to kill each other because their neighbor is from a different religion.”

In fact, says Alexander, the history of the region shows that the gut reaction of national protest movements is to fight for unity, while time and time again, the gut reaction of regimes is to use any mechanisms they can to break that unity apart. In Syria’s case that impulse could hasten the slide toward civil war.

The New York Times reports:

Since violent clashes broke out in a northern Syrian town close to this border last weekend at least 140 Syrians have fled into Turkey, some bearing tales of black-clad gunmen opening fire on protesters without warning. Many other Syrians, camped out in scrubby fields within sight of the Turkish border, are ready to follow them at the first sign that security forces are pursuing them, those who have crossed say.

The influx of refugees has prompted Turkey’s leaders to toughen their criticism of the situation in Syria. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed increasing concern about the refugees and repeated his call for immediate reforms in Syria, including that authorities allow peaceful civilian protests.

“We hope that Syria will immediately become more tolerant in its attitude towards civilians and fully realize the steps it has started towards reforms in a way to persuade civilians,” the semi-official Anatolian News Agency quoted Mr. Erdogan as saying.

In all, hundreds of Syrians have crossed into Turkey since the protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad began in April. Many have taken advantage of a porous border and the relaxed border controls put in place last year. Some have gradually returned to Syria on their own; Turkish officials have also provided assistance to nearly 260 people sheltered in a tent city less than 40 miles from Hatay, in Turkey’s southeast.

The Lede at the New York Times reports on doubts about the authenticity of what has come to be viewed as one of Syria’s most prominent blogs:

On Wednesday, the mystery surrounding the identity of the Gay Girl in Damascus blogger further deepened when The Wall Street Journal reported that photographs said to show Ms. Arraf were in fact pictures of someone else entirely. As Isabella Steger explained in a post on The Journal’s Web site:

The photos are of Jelena Lecic, who lives in London, according to [a] publicist, Julius Just. A press release he distributed includes a photo of a woman who he says is Ms. Lecic, who appears to be the same woman in the photos accompanying stories about Ms. Araf. Mr. Just said Ms. Lecic’s ex-husband contacted him when he saw that the photos circulating of Ms. Araf were in fact of his ex-wife.

Later on Wednesday, Ms. Lecic herself appeared on a BBC television program and insisted that she did not know the author of the Gay Girl in Damascus blog. She said the photographs appear to be taken from her Facebook page.

Jillian York of Global Voices Online, who made contact with the blogger last year, posted a gallery of photographs Ms. Arraf added to her Facebook page last year under the title “Me!” — which are all of Ms. Lecic.

The Guardian, which conducted an interview with the author of the blog last month, reported on Wednesday that one of the photographs Ms. Lecic said was of her had been “supplied directly to the paper last month by the blog’s author.”

The newspaper also explained that a journalist in Damascus “was given an e-mail for the blogger by a trusted Syrian contact, and suggested in extensive e-mail correspondence that they meet in person or talk by Skype. The contact had never met Araf. Araf, who according to blog posts was living on the run, agreed to meet Marsh in person but did not turn up for the rendezvous. In later e-mails she said she had been followed, and so aborted the meeting.”

The Lede, NPR and The Associated Press searched unsuccessfully on Wednesday to find anyone who had ever met Ms. Arraf in person. The A.P. reported that it had also looked for family or friends in Virginia, where the author of the blog wrote that she was born. A.P. reporters “found no public records with her name or her parents’ names, or evidence they were there.”

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