De siste månedene har Syria slått ned på opposisjonen, samtidig som moskeene har fått frie hender. Regimet er øyensynlig ikke så redd for sitt liv som før, og er oppmuntret av Irans innflytelse i Irak og Hamas valgseier. Friere tøyler for de religiøse er en måte å søke ny legitimitet på.
But things have moved in the opposite direction. Syrian officials are aggressively silencing domestic political opposition while accommodating religious conservatives to shore up support across the country.
Security forces have detained human rights workers and political leaders, and in some cases their family members as well. They have barred travel abroad for political conferences and shut down a human rights center financed by the European Union. And the government has delivered a stern message to the national news media demanding that they promote — not challenge — the official agenda.
The Syrian government has gone further to accommodate religious conservatives than in the past, officials and religious scholars said.
It has appointed a sheik, as opposed to a secular Baathist, to head the Religious Affairs Ministry; allowed, for the first time, religious activities in the stadium at Damascus University; and permitted a speech emphasizing religious practices and identity to be given to a military audience. President Bashar al-Assad has increasingly inserted references to religious identity and culture into his speeches.
Most striking was the government’s recent decision to reverse itself one month after trying to limit activities taking place in mosques. The Religious Affairs Ministry effectively ordered mosques closed for all activities but prayers, but a few weeks later the decision was deemed a greater threat to a government controlled by the Alawites, a minority religious sect, than the potential for political organizing among the majority Sunni Muslims.
«Before, religion for the regime was like a ball of fire, » said Abdul Qader al-Kittani, a professor of Islamic studies at Fattah Islamic University here. «Now they deal with it like it could be a ball of light.»
He added: «Two factors pushed the regime toward this direction. The first is the beat of the street. The second is external pressures on the regime.»
Når det gjelder FN-etterforskningen av drapet på Rafik Hariri, har belgiske Serge Brammertz overtatt for Detlev Mehlis. Brammertz har offentliggjort en rapport som går på at attentatet var meget proft organisert.
Men i Damaskus er man ikke lenger redd FN-granskerne. De tror de kan ri den av.