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    A rebel fighter carries his weapon inside a damaged building on the forth day of the truce, on al-Rayhan village front near the rebel held besieged city of Douma, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria January 2, 2017

    'Traitors': Why Armed Opposition Fails to Win Hearts and Minds of Syrians

    © REUTERS / Bassam Khabieh
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    Contrary to common belief, fuelled by the US and EU mainstream media, the Syrian armed opposition has little support among ordinary Syrians who regard them as "traitors," Olga Naccache, a film director of Syrian descent told Sputnik. Syria has long been a secular state committed to religious pluralism and must remain secular, she underscored.

    While the intra-Syrian peace talks have finished in Astana, the question on everyone's minds is whether Syrians will be able to return to a normal life and heal the scars of war when the conflict comes to an end.

    For the last five years the American and European mainstream media have described the Syrian strife as a bitter religious enmity between Shiites and Sunnis, allegedly suppressed by the "brutal" Alawite regime.

    Syria and the Shiite-Sunni Split

    According to Vali Nasr of Johns Hopkins University, "the imbalances between Sunnis and Shiites that lay at the heart of many Arab states" prompted a Sunni rebellion in Syria.

    "Minority Alawites ruled over largely Sunni Syria… For a while, these majority populations were quiescent, held in check by the promise of patronage and threat of violence," Nasr wrote in his op-ed for Foreign Policy magazine, claiming that Syrian Sunnis have simply jumped at the opportunity to break free following the Arab Spring.

    Apparently guided by that logic American and European policy-makers have thrown their weight behind the so-called "moderate" Sunni rebels, despite the fact the rebels vowed to transform Syria, a modern secular state, into a Sunni caliphate operating under their own version of the Sharia law.

    To add to the confusion, many of the "moderate" Sunni fighters are not even Syrians.

    Speaking to Sputnik, Olga Naccache, a Lebanese film director of Syrian descent, underscored that contrary to the mainstream media narrative Syria wasn't affected by the Sunni-Shiite split.

    'Resilient and Pluralistic': What's Behind Assad, SAA's Sustainability?  

    For many decades the Syrians lived in peace despite the ethnic and religious diversity of the country's population.

    "From the beginning it [the Syrian war] has been a proxy war ignited by Wahhabis and the Muslim Brotherhood, backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, for the West," Naccache said, adding that the ongoing conflict is more about building new gas and oil pipelines through the territory of Syria, rather than a "fight for freedom."

    The film director underscored that Alawites and Sunnis had been ruling Syria as partners.

    "There is no divide. Army is controlled by Alawites and 70 percent of [the Syrian Arab Army] is Sunni and loyal to President Bashar al-Assad," she said.

    Military analyst Kamal Alam of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London pointed to this very phenomenon in his op-ed for the National Interest in February 2016. He noted that the Syrian Arab Army's (SAA) core, "perhaps unexpectedly to many, is Sunni."

    Commenting on the SAA's sustainability Alam highlighted that the government forces remain "resilient and pluralistic, representing a Syria in which religion alone does not determine who rises to the top."   

    On the other hand, he stressed that "the moderate Syrian opposition only exists in fancy suits in Western hotel lobbies" while its representatives on the ground are allied with Islamists and sectarian terrorist groups.

    Syrian Arab Army celebrating victory in Sheikh Saeed, East Aleppo.
    © Photo : Vanessa Beeley
    Syrian Arab Army celebrating victory in Sheikh Saeed, East Aleppo.

    Secularism, Historic Legacy Prevent Syria's Society From Splitting Along Religious Lines

    Naccache emphasized that one of the reasons behind the Syrians' pluralistic approach toward the country's religious and ethnic diversity is that Syria remains a secular state in the first place.

    "Secularism is the main feature of Syria and secular it will and must remain," she said.

    Canada-based political analyst Oussama El-Mohtar shares a similar stance. Speaking to Sputnik in October 2016 El-Mohtar stressed that Syria should be restored as a strong secular state, immune to religious strife, to overcome the ongoing crisis.

    Secularism prevents the society from fragmenting along religious lines.

    At the same time, Naccache pointed to Syria's historical legacy. For centuries, Syria was the core of Sufi Islam and it is also referred to as a "cradle of civilizations." Thousands of years people of many different faiths and beliefs lived there side by side.

    Villages in north-eastern Syria liberated from ISIL
    © Sputnik / Valery Melnikov
    Villages in north-eastern Syria liberated from ISIL

    Syrian political analyst Ghassan Kadi echoed Nakkas.

    "Syria was never perfect and probably never will be.  Racial, religious and sectarian divides have plagued humanity everywhere. If anything, because of its kaleidoscopic demographic fabric, Syria is more vulnerable to strife than most other nations," Kadi told Sputnik commenting on the issue.

    "Nonetheless, Syrians of different ethnicities and backgrounds have lived in harmony for centuries. It is worthy to note that despite the current strong Sunni/Shiite rift, the last 'battle' between the two camps was 1,300 years ago," he stressed.

    "Pictures speak louder than words. This photo, taken in a Damascus rally in 1925 against the French occupation, displays in its bottom right corner a cross, a crescent and the Star of David. Such was Syria pre-Wahhabism and Israel," Kadi remarked.

    'The Challenge': Who is Behind Syrian Armed Opposition

    Those who continue to fan the flames of the Syrian war are trying to drive a wedge between the country's various communities. It is no longer secret that since the beginning of the conflict in 2011 the Syrian insurgency has been driven by the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists and al-Qaeda in Iraq (also known as "Islamic State").

    Naccache has made a great deal of research during the Syrian war, while shooting her latest documentary The Challenge, Syria (2016).

    Syria The Challenge
    Olga Naccache
    Syria The Challenge

    "The characters of this film are ordinary workers, their age range from 22 to 36 years old. They all fled the chaos of their countries, sorry, the Arab spring!" she said commenting on her film.

    "Although I know that Syrian people want reforms and more freedom, the events in Syria proved to me to be another Islamist insurgency for regime change, sponsored by Western actors and their Arab allies," she stressed.

    Syrian Army Finds Stockpile of Weapons in Aleppo
    Syrian Army Finds Stockpile of Weapons in Aleppo

    According to the filmmaker, the so-called opposition is regarded as "traitors" by ordinary Syrians. People say that "rebels" are being sponsored by foreign powers to destroy Syria, she added. At the same time, the popular support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is growing.

    Naccache highlighted that the 2011 protest movement was caused primarily by economic problems.

    "Protests started mainly for political reforms, more freedom and pluralism. There were economic hardships due to neglect of agriculture and divide between the cities and the countryside but nobody was begging. Everything was very cheap, I mean commodities and all, and education and healthcare was free," she said.

    However, two or three weeks later these demonstrations were hijacked by Islamist terrorists, who not only sought to topple President Bashar al-Assad but also began to kill ethnic and religious minorities in the country, she recalled. They also killed a lot of Syrian Sunnis, she added.

    "It is just a proxy war. They are using mercenaries and distorting Islam for their means. Most [Syrian] Sunnis are against them," Naccache said.

    She recalled that back in 1982 Syria was also engulfed by an uprising incited by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists. According to the film-maker, it was sponsored by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan. She believes that the US could have been behind the turmoil. However, then President of Syria Hafez al-Assad "crushed it in a month."

    Likewise, today Islamist fighters and their and Wahhabi backers have no chance of winning hearts and minds of Syrians, she believes.

    "These Islamist terrorists have no program except for the Sharia law which is suiting the West, that wants to install a puppet government in Syria. But the people of Syria will never accept anything but a secular state where diversity of different communities is secured," Naccache told Sputnik.

    According to the film director, there are all preconditions for Syria rising from the ashes.

    "The people [of Syria] are more united than ever against these barbarous Islamists which do not belong to the history of Syria but to Wahhabism and Muslim Brothers. Syria was the core of Sufi Islam during its history, and it will restore its genuine co-existence between all confessional groups and go on living as it always had but in a more reformed democratic state," Naccache concluded.

    Olga Nakkas (Naccache) a Lebanese film director of Syrian descent. She directed and produced her own films, including Lebanon: Bits and Pieces, Women of Turkey: Between Islam and Secularism, Mother, Lebanon and Me and others. Syria, The Challenge is her latest film on the war in Syria (2016).

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

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    Alawites, Sharia law, Wahhabism, secularism, Sunnis, Salafists, Shiites, religious tolerance, The Syrian war, Daesh, Syrian Arab Army, Al-Nusra Front, Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, European Union, Bashar al-Assad, Europe, Turkey, Syria, United States, Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia
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