How a Victorious Bashar al-Assad Is Changing Syria

(Economist-UK) A new Syria is emerging from the rubble of war. In Homs, the Muslim quarter still lies in ruins, but the Christian quarter is reviving. In their sermons, Orthodox patriarchs praise Assad for saving the community. Like all of the cities recaptured by the government, Homs now belongs mostly to Syria's victorious minorities: Christians, Shias and Alawites. These groups banded together against the rebels, who are nearly all Sunni. More than half of the country's population of 22 million has been displaced inside Syria and abroad. Most are Sunnis. The authorities seem intent on maintaining the new demography. Four years after the government regained Homs, residents still need a security clearance to return and rebuild their homes. Few Sunnis get one. In Damascus, the Iranian-backed Shia militias that fight for Assad have expanded the city's Shia quarter into Sunni areas. Portraits of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Hizbullah Shia militia, hang from Sunni mosques. Advertisements for Shia pilgrimages line the walls. Many men have left, many fleeing the draft and their likely dispatch to the front. As in Europe after the First World War, Syria's workforce is now dominated by women. There are female plumbers, taxi-drivers and bartenders. The country has been led by Alawites since 1966, but Sunnis held senior positions in government, the armed forces and business. Even today many Sunnis prefer Assad's secular rule to that of Islamist rebels. The country's chief mufti is a Sunni, but today there are fewer Sunnis serving in top posts. Iran has resisted Russia's call for foreign forces to leave Syria. It refuses to relinquish command of 80,000 foreign Shia militiamen. Skirmishes between the militias and Syrian troops have resulted in scores of deaths, according to researchers at King's College in London. Having defeated Sunni Islamists, army officers say they have no wish to succumb to Shia ones. But Assad still needs his backers. Though he rules most of the population, about 40% of Syria's territory lies beyond his control.

2018-07-02 00:00:00

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