Syria’s Alawite-run government has been seeking to alter its basic principles regarding freedom for citizens, and early tentative steps toward democratic leanings. President Bashar al-Assad has closed the country’s single casino, the first in four centuries, opened in January of 2011 in Damascus. The westernization of Syria in the form of music, business and the casino may have been a part of an effort to encourage tourism.
Al-Assed also reversed an earlier ban on teachers wearing the Islamic veil, called a niqab, which reveals only the eyes of the wearer. The original ban was emplaced to reduce visible sectarian differences in primary school teachers. Syria’s schools are government run. Many teachers who wore the niqab were transferred to administrative jobs in June of 2010. The niqab was not popular in Syria, until recently, when it became more widely prominent.
These moves are viewed as a response to pro-democracy demonstrations and an attempt to reach out to conservatives, and the majority Sunni Muslims. About 80 people have been reported killed in protests over the past three weeks. The demonstrations are seen as a mixture of ideology; democratization on the one hand, but de-westernization on the other.
Syria’s ruling family for forty years has been of the Alawite branch of the Muslim faith. Alawites are secretive and unique. They follow the Muslim holidays and the Qur’an, but have hope of achieving a similar plane as Christians. The Alawites are a mixture of Muslim and Arab religions. There are currently about one and a half million Alawite Muslims in Syria.
The Alawite government is not by modern standards visionary. Human rights organizations centered in the United States, in New York, have called on Syrian President Assad to order Syrian security forces to stop using “unjustified lethal force against anti-government protesters.”