On July 18, 2010, Syria issued a ban on the niqab, or full face veil, from its university campuses, including students and professors. Though the niqab, widely seen as a symbol of Islamism, has not been prevalent in Syria’s history, it has become more so over the last 25 to 30 years as Syrians returning from working abroad in the Gulf brought with them Islamist ideals. Syria, a Sunni Muslim majority country, has been ruled by the secularist nationalist Ba’ath party, led by minority Alawite Muslims, since 1963. In the 1980’s, the Syrian government put down an Islamist revolt in Hama by leveling the town, killing tens of thousands, including Islamists and their sympathizers. The ban is intended to curb Islamism in education and comes on the heals of 1,200 niqab-wearing schoolteachers being removed from the classroom and reassigned to desk jobs a month earlier.
Stage One: Agenda Setting
Because Syria is ruled by the minority Alawite Muslim-led secularist nationalist Ba’ath party and the majority in Syria is Sunni Muslim, the government is under constant threat by extremist elements among this minority – namely, Islamists. In addition to the previously mentioned revolt in Hama that President Asad’s father put down in the 1980’s, President Assad himself has had to intervene more recently to stop Islamists from pushing through legislation intended to pave the way for sharia, or Islamic law. Now, the growing prevalence of the niqab, especially in the educational milieu where it threatens to influence young students toward Islamism, has become a growing concern for the incumbent government in its struggle to maintain its secularist rule.