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The irony of sectarianism: Sectarianizing by desectarianizing in Syria

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/04/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>Digest of Middle East Studies
Issue number2
Number of pages20
Pages (from-to)131-150
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The study seeks to resolve a conundrum in Syrian politics: the ruling regime has always claimed and celebrated a harmonious social fabric, national unity, and a long‐standing tradition of coexistence despite the prevalence of an opposite grim reality marked by sectarian divisions and factionalism which the regime itself mainly created or sustained. I explore the process of acting “as if not” by analyzing the speeches of Syria's President Bashar al‐Assad since the eruption of the conflict in 2011, a period when the country has been buffeted by extreme sectarian waves. The process shows how Assad has constructed a process of desectarianization based on repetition, frequency, and resonance of specific frames in his speeches, and also based on building an image of an idealized present of internal unity and integration. The process includes externalizing sectarianization as a “western” import and emphasizing the regime's ideologies of pan‐Arab nationalism and secularism as bulwarks against it. Furthermore, the Assad regime has taken credit as a “desectarianization guardian” in different ways including maintaining the status quo and consolidating the impression of his active positive leadership drawn on taking the country down the path of unity and solidarity. However, ironically, desectarianization has also entrenched the very sectarian practices which it claimed its mission to stand against. Sectarianisation and desectarianization are both sides of the same coin in Syria's politics of authoritarianism.