Michael Totten

"A President Afraid of Allah"

The Syrian opposition is burning Iranian and Hezbollah flags, which indicates a post-Assad government in Damascus may very well terminate its membership in the Tehran-led resistance bloc. That does not mean, however, that a post-Assad government would be all that friendly to the West or to Israel.

“Not Iran, not Hezbollah, we want a president afraid of Allah.” That’s what the demonstrators are saying while burning those flags. What they mean is that they want a president who is Sunni — not a radical Islamist necessarily, but not a “heretic” from one of the other sects.

More than 70 percent of Syria’s citizens are Sunni, but Assad is an Alawite, and Hezbollah and Iran are Shia. Most Syrians naturally want someone from their own sectarian community at the wheel, not only because they’d be more comfortable with that at home, but also because they want a president who aligns himself with the Sunni Arab mainstream in the region at large.

Syrian demonstrators are not, as you may have noticed, chanting slogans against Hamas, which is Sunni, or burning Hamas flags.

Syria’s Alawite regime is bound to fall eventually, even if it doesn’t happen this year. I wouldn’t expect anything like a liberal democracy to emerge in its place, though, nor would I expect a pro-Western alignment or a peace treaty with Israel. Regime-change in Syria would, however, give Hezbollah and the Iranian government a serious case of heartburn, and it would open up some breathing space next door in Lebanon. It would be a good thing for us, even if it would not be a wonderful thing, and the West should push for it now, and push for it hard.