Unravelling Syria's Entho-Sectarian Politics
Townshend, E. J. (2013). Unravelling Syria’s Entho-Sectarian Politics (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10289/8726
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/8726
Goaded by the regional repercussions of the Syrian crisis sectarian tensions are emerging as the key threat to Middle Eastern and Syrian stability. Sectarianism has had a big impact on politics in Syria, it is implicated in the maintenance of authoritarianism, and sectarian dynamics are escalating the intensity of the uprising against the Assad regime. Prior to the civil war communal bonds between regime members and minority sect insecurity were key to the survival of the regime. Political power and control was maintained through fear and this was not just fear of the powerful security forces but also fear of sectarian conflict with the regime highlighting the risk of sectarian conflict, minority persecution and instability should the regime fall. As a result many supported or tolerated the Assads out of fear of the alternative. This thesis aims to analyse the extent and the manner in which political players in Syria have used religious narratives and manipulated sectarian identities in their pursuit of power. It concludes that sectarian tactics have been intensified within the Syrian uprising by both the regime and within the opposition. Religious narratives for mobilising support have become widespread and an emphasis on dangers from the ‘other’ is prevalent. Given Middle Eastern history of intolerance towards other religious and ethnic groups this emphasis on confessional narratives is intensifying the dangers of sectarian violence within the civil war and creating rifts that will be hard to heal. The use of religious narratives for political goals is a feature of the religious and political landscape and this is analysed through the lens of Ethnic Conflict Theory. With radical Islam heavily featuring narratives that emphasise opposition to other, an entitlement to dominate and an admiration of religious warrior characteristics alongside the cultural importance of nested communal groups, Islam has served as a readymade construct for mobilising sectarian groups against political foes. However although many sectarian narratives refer heavily to history the current confessional tensions relate specifically to the present. With Middle Eastern autocratic regimes under threat due to the Arab Spring many groups perceive that political power is up for grabs and are finding it expedient – and religiously justifiable - to mobilise through the established channels of confessional loyalties and networks particularly along Sunni versus Shia lines. Plus given the importance of religion to the region it is a clear front runner as justification for political and/or armed action. Advances in communications technology, specifically social media, and the breakdown of regime authority has allowed for voices to be heard from within an autocratic state that had otherwise been silenced, thus providing an unprecedented opportunity to analyse sectarian politics within a civil war.
University of Waikato
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- Masters Degree Theses