Tone of Ashura commemoration in Syria raises alarm
By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo
The heavy presence of militiamen from or affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) at Ashura commemorations across Syria, and the militant tone of these events, has raised concerns in some areas.
Syrian cleric Sheikh Muath Abdul Karim, former imam of an Aleppo mosque, expressed concern that the IRGC has been taking advantage of a legitimate religious occasion to amplify its presence and influence in Syria.
This is a cynical move on the part of Iran that is intended to widen the sectarian divide among Syrians and ignite tensions, he told Diyaruna.
A heavy presence of IRGC-affiliated militiamen of various nationalities was observed at this year's Ashura ceremonies, he said, with the largest ceremonies held in the streets of Damascus, Aleppo and in Deir Ezzor province.
The tenor of the commemoration has changed, Abdul Karim said, noting the heavy presence of uniformed youth, as well as pilgrims who had come from Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain to take part in the commemoration in Syria.
He pointed to the extravagant expenditure on the preparations for the ceremony and the many gifts distributed to children and participants, seemingly designed to win their approval.
He also noted that participation this year was focused on those who adhere to the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist), which calls for allegiance to al-Wali al-Faqih -- Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.
Sermons addressed political topics and were laced with incitement, he said.
Abdul Kareem said manipulating religion to push a political agenda will have "devastating consequences for Syrian society", warning that the IRGC will reinforce its presence under the pretext of protecting Wilayat al-Faqih adherents.