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In Defence of the Syrian Arab Army

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By mid 2013, more than two years into a bloody conflict, it is quite clear that the army has not fractured on sectarian lines. They have held together as a national force, very clear that they are facing sectarian and often foreign opponents.

The entry of Lebanon's Hezbollah into the fighting to re-take the town of al-Qusayr hardly represented a sectarian turn in the fighting. Hezbollah, with many allied Shiia communities close to al-Qusayr, was fighting alongside a secular Syrian Arab Army and in defence of the secular Syrian state. Indeed Hezbollah, while Shiia Islamist, also supports a secular (or at least pluralist) state in Lebanon. Through its alliance with Lebanon's largest Christian group (led by Michel Aoun) it now forms part of the Lebanese government. Hezbollah rejects the salafis' 'takfiri' ideas.

So when commentators claim the Syrian conflict is becoming 'increasingly sectarian', they are simply paying more attention to Muslim Brotherhood arguments and ignoring the fact that, across the region, secular nationalism remains an important force.

The 'elephant in the room' in this discussion has been the big powers: the USA, Britain, France, and Israel, and their collaborators Turkey and the gulf monarchies. The sad reality is that, through their various interventions in the region (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya), these powers have been using the most reactionary sects within Islam to divide the peoples of the region. If this seems to contradict publicly-stated doctrine, Israel defence official Amos Gilad has made it clear that al-Qaeda elements creating chaos in Syria are far preferable to a united Syria-Iran-Hezbollah axis.

But this discussion has been about the Syrian Arab Army, criticisms of which seem particularly absurd coming from those western countries whose armies spend much of their time invading and occupying a variety of foreign countries, most of them oil-rich, supposedly for the good of the local populace.

Cynics suggest that arbitrary national boundaries and entities created by the colonial powers have no value. However, hundreds of thousands of young Syrians put their lives on the line every day to defend a nation that gives them identity, education, and a range of shared institutions. I suggest that deserves some respect.

The Syrian Arab Army has been vilified by those very same regimes that arm the foreign jihadis and the local sectarians. Yet despite the relentless attacks, this army has held together and is showing strong signs of resuming control of their own country, in service of a secular and socially inclusive state. If that is not the legitimate function of a national army, I don't know what is.


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Basma Atassi (2011) 'Free Syrian Army grows in influence ',  Al Jazeera, 16 November, online:  

BICOM (2013) 'Amos Gilad: Al-Qaeda threat not as serious as Syria-Iran-Hezbollah axis', 2 April, online:  


Ghaith Abdul-Ahad (2012) ' 'The people of Aleppo needed someone to drag them into the revolution', The Guardian, 28 December, online:  

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Muhammad Riyad Al-Shaqfa (2011) 'Muslim Brotherhood Statement about the so-called "Syrian Revolution"', on The truth About Syria, Muhammad Riyad Al-Shaqfa is the General supervisor for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, statement of 28 March, online at:  


Pew Research Centre (2013) "The World's Muslims: religion, politics and society', Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, April 30, online:  

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Tim Anderson is an academic and social activist based in Sydney, Australia

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Thank you Mr. Anderson for this well written artic... by Lilly Martin on Friday, Jul 5, 2013 at 3:30:28 AM
The Assad government was not perfect, of course (n... by jean labrek on Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 4:21:01 PM
Very Interesting Article___Some people beleive the... by jean labrek on Monday, Jul 15, 2013 at 4:07:45 PM