Syrian opposition leader seeks religious and minority union to counter Islamists

January 20, 2012

(Kamal al-Labwani, a prominent Sunni Muslim opposition figure, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Amman January 19, 2012. REUTERS/Ali Jarekji )

Syria’s religious and ethnic minorities need to work together with liberal Sunni Muslims to counter the influence of Islamists in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, a prominent Sunni Muslim opposition figure said. Kamal al-Labwani said Islam was being used to galvanize street protests against Assad and the population had grown more devout, but most Syrians still want Islam to “remain a religion, not a political party.”

“The bloody repression has given the opportunity for clerics to pump Jihadist Islamist values into the street, so we have seen the emphasis on slogans such as ‘God is great’ and martyrdom,” Labwani said.

Syria’s Christian, Alawite, Ismaili and Kurdish communities, which form about 30 percent of the population, should join ranks with Sunnis opposed to mixing religion with politics, he said.

There are few accurate indicators of public opinion in Syria but many minority groups, including Assad’s own Alawite sect, are reluctant to support the uprising, fearing an Islamist takeover if the president were to be toppled. Islamists made strong gains in elections following the overthrow of entrenched leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, and are also a growing influence in post-Gaddafi Libya. But Labwani said Syria’s broader religious mix made that unlikely in his country.

“If we allow Islamists to take over the revolution it will be a problem (but) if we ask the rebels to deny their identity and their religion it will (also) be a problem,” said Labwani, a 53-year-old physician from the town of Zabadani who left Syria after being released from a lengthy jail term in November. “The solution is to form an all-encompassing current that respects civic and individual rights.”

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