Muslims Go Hungry While Army Men Go Rambo, and other news

Families break the fast in Taksim Square as protesters crowd the steps of Gezi Park.
Families break the fast in Taksim Square as protesters crowd the steps of Gezi Park.

It's been considerably quieter in the Middle East lately -- not necessarily a reflection of any particular quiet, more likely that a series of disasters at home and a complicated and multifaceted situation in Egypt has kept the media occupied.

It's also the holy month of Ramadan, meaning that many in this part of the world are too exhausted with daytime fasting to be kicking up a fuss.

That said, protests and forums in the aftermath of the long-awaited reopening of Gezi Park, the heart of this summer's anti-government protests, have demonstrated that the communal evening iftar, or breaking of the fast, is a powerful opportunity for organizing.

In one instance, as a response to the municipality's decision to accommodate the daily meal in Taksim Square instead of Gezi Park as in previous years, the Anti-Capitalist Muslims, a faction within Taksim Platform, set up their own tables running the length of Istiklal Avenue.

The meals were followed by large marches up Istiklal into Gezi, which, although not occupied on a permanent basis, remains a hotbed of protest against the government's handling of inquiries into the police violence that claimed five lives and injured thousands.

At least for now, it seems the police are hesitant to clash with protesters who demonstrate peacefully across from religiously observant families eating together during this spiritually important time.

Visitors light candles in Gezi Park for the five killed in clashes with police.
Visitors light candles in Gezi Park for the five killed in clashes with police.

The same can not be said of supporters of the governing  Freedom and Development (AK) party. A disturbing rise in the frequency of supporter violence has followed the release of two men seen in news video stalking the streets with machetes and assaulting protesters.

One of the men, who was a shop owner allegedly suffering crippling losses as a result of the unrest cause by protests, might even be compensated for his losses on the grounds that he is a "terror victim."

Though the courts eventually issued a warrant out for his arrest, the man in question fled to Morocco, escaping persecution.

And in days following, imitation attacks took place in Ankara against Gezi sympathy protests. Footage has also emerged showing pro-AK party demonstrators attacking protesters with batons, and commemorative gatherings and forums run by Taksim Platform have also come under assault by assailants with knives and sticks, leaving several injured.

Journalists have also become the target of angry shop owners in Istanbul's Beyoglu neighbourhood.

It is hard not to see this new brazenness as the result of the minimal response given to blatant instances of assault on demonstrators. Police and the courts seem reluctant to charge or investigate these acts of violence, and members of the AK party and pro-government media attempt to cast the assailants in a sympathetic light.

Inside Gezi Park, nightly marches still end in protests.
Inside Gezi Park, nightly marches still end in protests.

Still, it has nothing on Egypt, which this week has seen tensions rise considerably following the killing of 51 pro-Brotherhood demonstrators by the Egyptian Army. The new powers that be have also closed Islamist media outlets and arrested leading figures of the Muslim Brotherhood, while the once-independent media appears set to portray the army in the most positive possible light.

The "soft" coup against Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi drew some interesting replies from the Turkish government. Unsurprisingly, the initial response of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was one of unequivocal condemnation.

Rumours circulated almost immediately following his ouster that Mursi would be given asylum in Turkey, and though he remains under arrest, it is not entirely unlikely that a released Mursi would find his way to Turkey.

Turkey enjoyed renewed relations with Egypt following Mursi's election as Erdogan's AK party and the Muslim Brotherhood found themselves with the same strategic and social objectives.

Both governments depended on a wave of rural conservative discontent, and both increasingly relied on sectarian politics during times of crisis. Erdogan appealed continually to his Muslim base during Gezi, painting protesters as secularists, and Mursi relied all-to-heavily on sometimes hardline Islamist parties for his power.

This similarity shows in their rhetoric, and not just that directed against an allegedly purely secular opposition. Both appealed to "ballot box" democracy when their legitimacy as majoritarians was questioned.

Indeed, Erdogan even implied that the Gezi protests could have laid the groundwork for a Turkish coup, "like in Egypt," suggesting modern coups are produced by squares full of protesters and that old menace, Twitter.

Following Mursi's fall, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu pressured the European Union and longtime Brotherhood ally Qatar to intervene and condemn the coup, accusing them of hypocrisy in not intervening (though he accused them of the same when they tried to intervene to apply pressure on Erdogan during Gezi).

As for the new Egpytian govenrment, it looks as though relations with Turkey may be permanently marred, as the government continues to call for the release of Mursi and the reinstatement of his government. One spokesperson for the AK party accused Egypt of "backwardness" in ousting a democratic government, and suggested, as always, that foreign powers were responsible.

There are interesting parallels between modern Turkey and the Brotherhood in their mutual fear of an independent armed forces with the power to intervene on behalf of the often ambiguous "will of the people."

In the shadow of Egypt's coup, Turkey's parliament just yesterday amended the constitution to specify the army as a defense against foreign aggressors, rather than as the much more loosely defined "safeguard [of] the Turkish Republic as stipulated by the Constitution".

It was this article that enabled the army to overthrow and threaten previous governments, including the AK party during their appointment of Islamist president Abdullah Gul.

Though this constitutional change is widely supported in Turkey and indicates that, for Turks, the age of coups truly is over, Mursi's attempt to assert the same merely resulted in his arrest and deposition.

It is no surprise that a fellow Islamist government with a recent memory of coups finds the overthrow and potential suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood so shocking.

But though Erdogan need not fear a coup anymore, he could learn something from the stunted regime of the Brotherhood about majoritarian governance. Some greater tact may be needed from a governing Islamist party than would be required from any other, especially when dealing with the voice of minorities and the opposition.

The protesters can learn something too. There were times during the Gezi protests where it seemed that if the people dared ask for a coup, the army would have given them one.

With the constitutional changes in effect, they will have to be much more intelligent about their opposition should they want a change in powers. The army can no longer provide the national unity in discontent that the opposition parties fail to provide.

Istiklal erupts in clashes as protesters move to retake Gezi


An updated (and more coherent) version of this article has been published on Your Middle East. You can read it here.

Above: A map showing the sites of clashes as of midnight, June 6. See the full map here.

All of Istanbul's central Beyoglu district is in chaos again, after protesters attempting to march on Taksim Square were met with heavy police intervention.

If there is a new policy against indiscriminate tear gassing, it certainly isn't in effect. Police wage minor street battles with protesters in side streets, firing countless rounds of tear gas as hardcore demonstrators respond with bottles and rocks.

Today's demonstrations were an attempt by Taksim Platform, the organization to emerge from last month's Gezi Park protests, to push police out of the park, which was the centre of anti-government protests for over 20 days.

The park remains occupied by police more than a month after a court decision rejecting government proposals to construct a shopping mall and historic barracks over one of Istanbul's last green spaces.

A brutal police clearance that saw hundreds injured and medical staff, children, and elderly gassed and detained ended an Occupy-style protest in the park. Sympathy protests against the increasingly authoritarian regime of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) continue across the country, often being met with the same indiscriminate police violence.

Protesters attempting to erect barricades on Istiklal Avenue, the central shopping avenue of the Old City, have been beaten back by blasts of water from TOMA crowd control tanks and tear gas.

The Interior Minister has called the interventions "normal", but Istiklal, normally the scene of wild parties and late-night shopping on Saturday nights, is filled with fearful bystanders jumping at the sound of exploding tear canisters.

From Taksim Square, which is completely cut off from the public by riot police, to Galatasary Tower, at the end of Istiklal Avenue, is being patrolled by small groups of police firing gas into side streets.

The operation, despite pushing protesters further and further off of the main avenue, will eventually have to end in indiscriminate police violence if it is to have any effect. Istanbul's Beyoglu neighbourhood is a network of densely packed winding streets which provide perfect escape routes for protesters.

Businesses and local residents, ostensibly with their doors and windows shuttered, are sheltering protesters fleeing gas. The Istanbul Bar Association's Beyoglu office is providing medical aid, and countless heavy iron gates from Ottoman days guard escapees from the riot tanks that race down Istiklal, firing gas down the avenue.

Next to the Pera Muzesi, where a small covered souk connects Istaklal Avenue to the adjacent Tarlabasi road, a fierce battle is being waged between stone throwers and police, filling the mall with clouds of gas.

Protesters driven from the side streets by gas are for the moment congregating near the Marmara Hotel, though there is constant movement to and from Istiklal.

Traffic continues to move on many of Istiklal's non-pedestrianized side streets, and cars and cabs are being caught up in clouds of gas.

Two streets over from one of upper Istiklal's most fierce battles, bars overflow with patrons enjoying beer on a street just recently subjected to the attentions of a TOMA tank.

Journalists with press cards were kettled behind riot police in Taksim Square, while unaccredited photographers roamed Istiklal, dodging tear gas canisters as they kicked up sparks on Istiklal's cobbles.

Frightening video has emerged of indiscriminate machete attacks on fleeing bystanders and protesters earlier in the day. They have allegedly been detained by police.

Today was supposed to be a quiet night of jazz in Beyoglu, as the Istanbul Jazz Festival staged its "festival within a festival", the Tunel Concerts. I was trying to get to Sisane, near Galatasaray Tunel, when the closure of Taksim Square's metro station told me something was up.

Protesters had warned they would occupy the park by Sunday, when the interior minister said it would be reopened to the public, regardless of the police presence.

And of course I forgot my camera...

Egypt Invites the Army In, Turkey Blames the Jews, plus many links

Egypt looks increasingly like a clusterfuck and to hordes of internet commentators it is no surprise, though many seem to be big fans of the word "foreboding." As it stands today, the clock is ticking on a 48-hour ultimatum from the Egyptian Army to address "the will of the people." President Mohammed Morsi has "rebuffed" the army, arguing that the ultimatum sets the stage for an unconstitutional coup.

Of course, that constitution he's citing was the one he rushed through with Islamist support, largely ignoring the will of the opposition parties that constitute the bulk of those protesting.

After the 48 hours is up, which conveniently coincides with a deadline imposed by the protesters, the army will impose a "road map" to conciliation, though they've stressed they want no political role beyond possibly installing a technocratic government to rewrite the constitution and supervise presidential elections.

This itself is an interesting move given the Egyptian Army's historical role as a political player since the coup that brought former President Gamal Abdel Nasser to power in 1952. It's more than possible the army is taking this stance because of the threat that cutting the Islamist parties and the Brotherhood out of the conciliatory process would pose to Egypt's security, the self-declared interest of the army.

Brotherhood supporters, which include a large number of Salafi extremists, are likely to view any move to oust Morsi as "a coup against not just the president but against Islam as they perceive it," says Khalil al-Anani, an academic at Durham University, in the Guardian.

The implication here is that if you piss off a secular opposition, it's street protests and urban chaos -- but if you piss off an Islamists, especially by deriving them of power, there's the possibility of this being rephrased in jihadi terms. The risk there is that the Salafis who provided so much support to Morsi, and who have received inordinate sway over Egyptian politics in return, may simply forgo democratic processes altogether, viewing them as corrupted by the opposition.

Attacks against the opposition by Salafi preachers already reached fever-pitch and suggested jihadi street politics before the opposition began calling explicitly for a coup. Any attempt to cut them out of the political process would not only be undemocratic, given their widespread support within Egypt, but also dangerous for the integrity of the Egyptian state. As one blogger put it, it would no longer be citizen against state, "it will be citizen against citizen."

Of course, the question remains whether the Egyptian state has any integrity left at all. Vigilante justice, like that suggested by supporters of Morsi donning homemade helmets and riot shields to "defend" Brotherhood headquarters, is no new feature, nor is it unique to Morsi's loyalists.

The near-complete unraveling of the security state, so strong under former President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian regime, has created an entire generation of revolutionaries conditioned to street violence and able to purchase any manner of weapons on Egypt's expanding black market. The police are powerless to stop this, both because of inadequacy in administration and their own unwillingness, many of them the same people who broke skulls and tortured prisoners under Mubarak.

There is also no guarantee any successor would be able to deal with the problems that have faced Egypt since well before the revolution, of food shortages, economic unsteadiness, sectarian violence, and unraveling security.

Nonetheless, as Nathan Brown in the Financial Post points out, protesters are prematurely jubilant as they were on the eve of the revolution that ousted Mubarak in favour of Morsi and the Brotherhood. This revolution has become a personal one, Brown writes, more to do with the deposition of Morsi and the perceived empowerment of secular opposition than it is about any systemic change.

One skeptical protester blogging Revolution 2.0 is right to point out that many who took to the streets to end the army's repressive rule are now the ones clamouring for a coup. "It is either we have become the counter-revolutionaries or the revolution has become the counter-revolution," she writes.

It is certainly becoming harder to imagine Morsi's Brotherhood as the torchbearers of the revolution. If it is a counter-revolution, one can only hope that the whiff of power a coup will give to the military will not encourage them to seize the reigns and end Egypt's "experiment with democracy."

Meanwhile, in Turkey...

I can't help looking at Morsi and seeing some interesting parallels to Erdogan during the Gezi Protests. Though they were in no way on the same scale as the June 30 protests, Erdogan's approach during Gezi, and Morsi's approach during these protests, seem to me to identify a type.

It's the self-appointed democrat/authoritarian, the man in power who panders to his base, which may indeed constitute a thin majority, while taking an authoritarian stance to opposition.

A few comparisons. Both have employed pretty much identical rhetoric in the face of mass opposition. They began by delegitimizing protests as the work of foreigners, terrorists, and traitors, though this is nothing new.

They also both reigned in national media, instructing them to focus on their base, which they simultaneously galvanized to action with counter-protests and mass rallies. The both rose to power with the aid of "clan-based practices," with electoral platforms promising wide-reaching reforms but, when in power, appealing to specific religious or ethnic bases.

Both have also been told off by President Obama using pretty much the same language -- "Democracy is about more than elections."

Perhaps where Morsi failed, and Erdogan succeeded, is in neutering the army. In both states, the army stood as the "powers that be", the hand of the state that acts out of the reach of squabbling politicians but is given the power to remove them from office, at the whim of "the people".

Even though Morsi used Erdogan's exact words, saying "the age of military coups is over," and even though the Egyptian Army argues they want no political role after the exhaustion of their post-Mubarak junta, the widespread support of the opposition in Egypt for a military coup, something abhorred by Turkey's fledgling opposition, indicates that the age of military coups is anything but over.

In other news, one deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, said marriages at "early ages" is a "very rewarding thing", while the other, Besir Atalay, said the "Jewish Diaspora" was behind the Gezi protests. Where else but Turkey?

The EU's Wrong on Everything, Justice Enjoys a Siesta, and more from Turkey


I've been absent for a few days as my girlfriend prepares to return to Canada for the summer and one of my dogs slowly dies of kidney disease. Fortunately, there's always lots of news to read, and in this instance too much for one post. So here's the news roundup from Turkey in the past few days, with one for the rest of the Levant to follow.

The Protests

The past few nights have seen renewed energy behind continuing Taksim protests, though they remain for the most part prohibitively suppressed by the continuing police presence in the heart of the city.

Tuesday night, thousands of protesters reoccupied Taksim Square in a brief and tightly controlled protest against the release of a police officer accused of killing a demonstrator at the beginning of the occupation of Gezi Park.

The officer, identified as Ahmet S., was released pending trial on the grounds that his actions resulting in the death of protester Ehmet Sarısülük could've fallen within the bounds of reasonable self-defense.

Having seen video of the moment Sarısülük was allegedly killed, it looks to me like "Constable S." was beating the shit out of Sarısülük for whatever reason (and police here often don't need one), found himself far away from his buddies and under concentrated attack from stone-throwers, panicked, and made a stupid decision to shoot an unarmed man in the face.

In these sorts of instances, and looking at a lengthy history of police abuses that left four other demonstrators dead in the past month alone, it is hard to sympathize with police, and even harder to excuse this ending without a single officer convicted, despite numerous human rights violations.

The protest saw incredibly tight police controls, including extensive checks and searches on all present members of the media, indicating that police and the regime have no intention of allowing momentum to build off of new protests.

Earlier this week, a commemorative march to Taksim for protesters killed by police resulted in clashes with police. Using water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets, police dispersed the large crowd leaving a minority of protesters throwing stones and bottles. Some great photos emerged as angry protesters, armed only with commemorative carnations, pushed back against riot police -- flowers against firepower.

Another memorial gathering, this time for the 1993 massacre of Alevis in the Sivas Hotel, was also declared to be in solidarity with Taksim. Alevis, as a generally oppressed sect of Shia Islam, don't like Erdogan, for his generally pro-Sunni, anti-Shia politics, as in his support for Sunni rebels over the Shia Iran-Hezbollah-Assad alliance in Syria. His choice of name for the controversial third bridge over the Bosphorus, which will be named for the Alevi-slaughtering Sultan Selim "the Grim", also didn't impress.

The Politics

The European Union has backed down on its earlier threat to suspend EU accession talks in light of abuses of power during the Gezi protests, now saying they will reopen negotiations in October.

Some EU members, particularly Sweden, argued that continuing talks would encourage the government to improve human rights and media freedoms. This seems pretty hopeful, given that EU members Greece, Hungary, and Italy are all experiencing a frightening slide towards fascism.

More importantly, Turkish EU Minister Egemen Bagis has already shown he is ready to draw a line in the sand over EU interference in domestic politics, denying the parliament's legitimacy to criticize the government and taking a generally hard line with EU negotiators.

If this is the starting point for Erdogan's government, I'm with MEP Andrew Duff, who said in an interview with Hurriyet, "I don’t think [Erdogan] really understands what the EU is. He sees it as a club that he would quite like to be a member off. But he does not understand it is in fact a system of government that is federal, pluralistic, secular, and far reaching."

The Party

As is to be expected, Erdogan and his Freedom and Development (AK) party has continued attacking his opposition and increasing the state's power to clamp down on criticism.

Monday night, Erdogan warned that the opposition is nuturing sectarian tensions while simultaneously defaming protesters for allegedly drinking and wearing shoes in a mosque, a crime abhorred by his conservative Islamic base and repeatedly denied by the imam of the mosque in question.

In a fiery speech yesterday, he has defended the actions of police as a "heroic saga", including even the storming of the Divan Hotel, where a pregnant woman lost her baby in clashes and children and elderly were gassed as they fled from police violence.

He stood behind Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek, who has received widespread mockery for accusing BBC reporter Selin Girit of being an English spy, saying the BBC is just another part of the "planned operations" to undermine the AKP and Turkey's march towards progress.

I've only had the privilege of going to one of Erdogan's speeches thus far, but surely even his supporters are getting tired of the international plot theories.

As always with Erdogan, it's worth reading the full summary of his speech for the full effect.

The Plotters

They may be trying to undermine the AKP as part of an international conspiracy, but at least one social media company is willing to narc -- and to no one's surprise, it's Facebook.

That's not strictly fair, since Facebook categorically denied having responded "positively" to government requests for information (in the words of Binali Yıldırım, communications minister).

But following on revelations about their buddy-buddy relationship with the NSA's invasive PRISM program, it hardly inspires faith in the company that holds all your best protest photos that they have allegedly "been working in coordination with the Turkish authorities for a long time."

On the other side of things, I fell in love with Twitter a little more this week after hearing their categorical rejection of cooperation with Turkey to censor tweets.

Coming up...

Egypt looks due for another revolution, Lebanon looks due for another civil war, and Palestine and Syria look... well, like Palestine and Syria. Up tomorrow.

Taksim 2.0, Egypt plans a sequel, & Syria has a religious awakening

TURKEY Taksim Square was looking properly familiar last night as clouds of tear gas once again engulfed protesters fleeing on neighbouring side streets and battalions of riot cops marched in line with water cannons, firing rubber bullets.

A demonstration yesterday involved the laying of carnations on the steps of Gezi Park in commemoration of the four protesters killed in clashes with police over the past few weeks. As the crowd swelled, a minority of young protesters, some just children, began hurling rocks and bottles at police and TOMA crowd control tanks, and police fired several cans of tear gas to disperse the crowd.

As per usual, the square emptied out pretty fast, and police then began a relentless hunt in side streets, spraying bystanders with water cannons and injuring several with rubber bullets.

These clashes follow several days of peaceful civil disobedience in the form of "standing man" protests, which have occupied Taksim Square. It's still not clear whether Istanbul is due for another few weeks of civil unrest. Protesters in Taksim, with the exception of a small minority, by and large complied with police requests to clear the square, but were nonetheless subject to police repression on Istiklal Avenue and adjacent streets.

Protesters continue to be disappointed by the government response to instances of police brutality during the Gezi Park protests, which included gassing hospitals and hotels, arresting medical officials and members of the media, and injuring thousands with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. Gezi Park remains closed to the public following a brutal police clearance on June 15.

The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to spat with the European Union, which seems increasingly unlikely to continue negotiations for membership. In particular, France, the Netherlands, and Germany, which has a large Turkish expat population, are critics of Erdogan's uncompromising response to public criticism.

Sweden argues EU membership will prevent a greater slide towards authoritarianism within Erdogan's government. The majority of protesters in Istanbul are of the more progressive, pro-European type that would benefit from membership, they say.

Erdogan has continued, in a series of speeches to his constituents, to blame the protests on foreign influences and an "interest rate lobby" (the meaning of which no one seems capable of deciphering) and has even argued that protests currently engulfing Brazil are related to the same international plot to undermine emerging economies.

His government is now investigating possible "foreign links" and has suggested the protests could be aimed at undermining a peace process with Kurdish militants in Turkey's east initiated by his government. The peace process looks increasingly in danger of devolving into violence, with news emerging of clashes on Turkey's eastern border.

For photos of yesterday's clashes, see here.


Tensions in Egypt are undeniably on the rise as the opposition to the government of President Mohammed Morsi, now united under the "Tamarrod" or Rebel Movement, prepares for mass protests on June 30.

The Tamarrod Movement will submit a series of petitions of non-confidence in Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood-led government to the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) and march on government ministries and the office of the presidency in a recreation of the peaceful uprising that led to the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Rumour has it they've tallied more than 15 million signatures, exceeding by millions the votes received by Morsi in presidential elections.

On the other side of the equation is a increasingly violent base of Salafi Islamists, who have been pulling Morsi's strings to the ire of Egypt's liberals. Counter-protests began recently and are due to end on June 27, but the potential for clashes on June 30 is high.

Morsi recently angered many Egyptians by taking a firm stance against the government of Syria's embattled Shia President Bashar al-Assad and appointing Islamists and members of the Muslim Brotherhood (which controls Egypt's upper house, the Shura Council) to important ministries. In the eyes of the opposition, these sorts of actions lend credence to the notion that he is increasingly controlled by hardcore Sunni extremists.

The Egyptian Army, which maintains an arms-length distance from the government of Morsi and has repeatedly indicated a wish for a more political role, has announced their intentions to stay out of June 30, protecting protesters and vital state institutions but not necessarily the government of Morsi.

Police and army both have said they will not protect the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, frequently the targets of protester violence, and reports have it that thousands of police officers will be joining in.

It's possible we could see another regime change a la Tahrir Square with both the army and police backing away so clearly from Morsi's government. Hamdi Hassan nicely lays out the possible outcomes in a piece for Your Middle East.


Meanwhile, Egyptian Salafi clerics are increasingly convincing their middle class congregants to buy "a plane ticket and a gun" and join the Syrian revolution.

Even though fewer than 10 per cent of Syria's rebel forces are foreign, according to the Washington Post, the influx of religiously motivated foreign fighters, including Gulf-backed Salafis and Iranian-backed Hezbollah, is making the conflict increasingly sectarian.

This threatens to complicate matters for big imperial powers like France, Britain, and the US, which, under the pretext of preventing chemical attacks, have started arming rebel groups. Exactly who are the "good", "secular" rebels and who are the "bad", "jihadi" types is the sort of question that has been complicated by the influx of al-Qaeda linked fighters, financial backing from Gulf theocracies like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Qatar, and videos of a Syrian rebel commander eating a human heart.

In Lebanon, the increasingly vital role of Hezbollah to the Syrian Army has drawn the ire of Sunni populations in Lebanon's divided and sectarian society. Violence has routinely spilled over on Lebanon's eastern border with Syria. Hezbollah accuses Israel and the US of financing the rebels (probably not far off from the truth in this crazy place), and Sunnis accuse Hezbollah of playing puppet to Iran in a crusade against fellow Muslims.

The religious dimension risks exacerbating violence against civilians, with reports of ethnic cleansing already emerging in Alawite (Assad's sect of Shi'ite Islam) and Sunni strongholds. Syria is already one of the worst refugee crises in history, with millions displaced, heightening tensions with locals in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.