Residents in countries near Syria are largely critical of President Bashar Assad, as the 15-month-old uprising and crackdown on dissent only looks to worsen, according to a recent survey.
The “vast majority” of Jordanians, Egyptians, Turks, and Tunisians—countries that have a large Sunni majority—want to see Assad step down from power, the Pew Research Center reported following a survey on attitudes in the region. In Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia, 89 percent of respondents said he should step down, and around 67 percent of Turkish respondents felt the same.
In Lebanon, however, Assad is viewed more favorably, at least among the Shi’ite Muslims, with 96 percent of the Shi’ite community supporting Assad. Among the Christians, only 34 percent favor Assad and that goes down to 8 percent among the Sunni population.
Assad and his family are members of the Shi’ite offshoot Alawite sect, which is generally considered heterodox by Sunni Muslims. The shabiha, a civilian militia that takes orders from Assad and has been blamed for some of the worst atrocities during the uprising, are also primarily Alawite.
Despite being ruled by Alawites, Syria is around 80 percent Sunni. Other than Russia, Syria has received support from mainly Shi’ite sources, including the Shi’ite-dominated Iranian government, and the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah.
Although the majority of respondents in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon said they would like to see Assad ousted, at the same time, they do not support harsher sanctions on Syria. However, Tunisians are in favor of more pressure.
“Tunisia is the only nation polled in which most would support military intervention by Arab states to remove Assad from power,” the Pew poll said. During the Arab Spring movement, Tunisia was the first country to oust its former, longtime dictator.
None of the polled countries would like to see a Western country’s military intervene in the Syria conflict.
Some analysts believe that Syria, which has an extensive border with Lebanon, wants to incite a sectarian war along Sunni and Shi’ite lines in an attempt to divert attention away from Damascus.
According to a recent report in Lebanon’s The Daily Star, there have been fresh clashes between Alawites in the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood and Sunnis in the Bab al-Tibbaneh neighborhood—in the city of Tripoli, Lebanon. The neighborhood clashes have been ongoing since the mid-1970s during the Lebanese Civil War.
“We are attacked on a daily basis and our businesses are targeted,” Alawite Mohsen Dahil told the Star in a report on Saturday. “But we won’t leave. … We’re Lebanese and we’ve got nowhere else to go.”
Last month, around 12 people were killed and 100 wounded in clashes between residents of the neighborhoods. In early June, 15 people were killed and more than 60 were wounded in clashes, prompting the government to deploy the army on Syria Street, which divides the two neighborhoods.
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