The beliefs stem in part from a bold Bush administration political proposal that has faded into obscurity in the West, but remains lodged in the minds of many here. Known as the Greater Middle East Initiative, it was formally introduced by then-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006 at a conference in Tel Aviv. Her references to "the birth pangs of a New Middle East" and the unveiling there of a new map of the region featuring a "Free Kurdistan" are still remembered with resentment.
Even with a new administration in the White House that has sought to distance itself from the previous administration's Middle East policies, many in the region are suspicious of US motives and don't believe that the various uprisings began as indigenous, people-driven movements, independent of any US involvement.
Refik Eryilmaz, a Turkish parliamentarian from Antakya with the opposition Republican People's Party, says that Western superpowers are trying to incite a sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites so that countries in the region fragment along ethno-religious lines, becoming weaker in the process.
Syria is predominantly Sunni, but President Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite, a Shiite offshoot, as is most of his government.