Syria Crisis

In A Broken Syria, Romeo And Juliet Casualties Of War

Sectarian differences have long created problems for some marriages among Shia, Sunni and others. But with the death and hatred of war, romantic tragedies abound.

In Raqqa, in north central Syria, in November 2012.
In Raqqa, in north central Syria, in November 2012.
Younes Ahmad

DAMASCUS — Umm Mohammad blames the Syrian war for the breakup of her marriage.

She is a Sunni and her husband is an Alawite, the Shia minority of President Bashar al-Assad. It's been more than two decades since the 47-year-old homemaker met her husband while he was performing his military service in her hometown of Aleppo. Despite objection from their parents, who were concerned about a marriage across two sects, they moved together to Tartus, where they married and had three children.

At first, Umm Mohammed's relatives held a grudge. Her brother-in-law refused to visit their family until her oldest son was four years old. But relations eventually thawed. They lived as neighbors, their homes next door to one another in one village until the war began. Then the conflict changed everything. Umm Mohammed's brother-in-law went to fight with Assad's government forces.

In November 2013, he was killed by rebels in Aleppo. Mohammed's husband blamed her for his brother's death — simply because, in his eyes, she represented Syria's Sunnis. "He changed completely. ... He divorced me as if I and my family were responsible for the murder of his brother," she says. "I honestly don't know why things went that way. I'm very surprised by my husband."

Broken country, broken families

Umm Mohammed isn't alone. Across Syria, couples from different sects or with opposing political views are seeing their once strong family ties begin to fray. Nawal, a 39-year-old Alawite housewife from Tartus, is married to a non-Alawite man from Bab al-Nairab in Aleppo. As the conflict progressed, her husband's family kicked her out because her brother-in-law didn't want her living with them any more. She not only lost her home but also custody of two children.

"My husband divorced me according to the wishes of his family," she says at a cafe in Tartus, where she has returned to live. "I have four sons and a daughter in Aleppo. Two of them wanted to come with me, but their father prevented them."

A family in Western Syria — Photo: watchsmart.

Other marriages have ended not because of sectarian rifts, but because of political differences, or because a husband takes up arms for a group that does not look favorably upon his wife.

Suha, a 27-year-old housewife in the town of Tal Minyn in rural Damascus, says she ran away from the house she once shared with her husband Samir, a construction worker, when clashes broke out there in September 2012. After she left, he joined Jabhat al-Nusra and was out of touch for three months. When Suha finally managed to reach him, "He said he was divorcing me according to orders of the Sharia committee that said any jihadist should divorce his wife if she is from another sect. He wouldn't discuss it. He just said, "I can't disobey commands," and hung up the phone."

One day recently at the Damascus Ministry of Justice, Shaden, a 33-year-old engineer, was searching in vain for a lawyer to help complete her divorce from her husband. Originally from Yabrud, Shaden supports the Assad regime. Her husband was a former Assad soldier who defected 15 months ago to joined a rebel group.

"I want to divorce him at any cost," she says. "I don't want to remain his wife for another day. Thank God that we didn't have children, so nothing will bind us."

Still, other Syrian couples who come from different backgrounds have managed to stay together. Hamdan, a 48-year-old Shia from Homs, says he refused to bow down to family pressure and divorce his non-Shia wife. Instead, they fled together from Jableh to Damascus.

"We are living away from our families because we came under great pressure from our parents who wanted us to get a divorce," he says. "My wife and I refused."

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Iran To Offer Master's And PhD In Morality Enforcement

For those aiming to serve the Islamic Republic of Iran as experts to train the public morality agents, there are now courses to obtain the "proper" training.

Properly dressed in the holy city of Qom.

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

A woman in Tehran walks past a mural of an Iranian flag

The traffic police chief recently said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes

Rouzbeh Fouladi/ZUMA

New academic discipline

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

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