Cultural Revolutions

Sunni Spring

Middle East historian William W. Harris described the Levant as the “eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt,” a geographical zone that includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and a “fractured cultural mosaic” of ethnic and religious groups.

Modern Syria, the largest Arab state to emerge from the formerly Ottoman-ruled Levant, was seen by Westernized politicians and intellectuals in the Middle East as a model of a secular state where language (Arabic) and geography would help fuse the Arab-Sunni majority that makes up over 90 percent of the population with the non-Arab ethnic minorities, like the Kurds and the Turkmen, and a cluster of sects, including Shi’ites (Alawites and Ismailis), Druze, and Christians (Antiochian Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Assyrians/Syrians, and Armenians), into a modern nation-state.

In fact, both Michel Aflaq and Antun Saadeh, respectively the founders of the socialist Ba’ath movement (that currently rules Syria) and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (which called for the establishment of a Greater Syria in the entire Levant and Cyprus), were secular Christians who assumed that the archaic ethnic, religious, and tribal identities of the Levant would evaporate in a Syrian melting pot and a wider pan-Arab federation.  (The Ba’ath Party and the...

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