Umm . . . Yes, pretty much every state in the Middle East has secret police or "internal security forces" that includes Egypt, Jordan, Saudi, all the Gulf states. Egypt has operated under special "emergency measures" for nearly thirty years, laws that give the state security apparatus sweeping powers and restrict the rights of citizens to assemble, organize, and speak their mind (truly the US Bill of Rights is a rare and wonderful thing!)
See here for more:
I'm not surprised that you have heard little about Syria and moderate Islam. One reason to locate the play in Egypt is that there has been much, much more research done by scholars, historians, etc there that has been published in English. Egypt is a long-time American ally which means that scholars have been able to get grants to work there for decades. [Plus, British scholars have been there since 1918.]Syria was part of the Soviet bloc for most of the Cold war and it was difficult for scholars to work there (everyone was in Egypt or Iran or Iraq); [those who did were French]. That is changing but very slowly.
Since 1970 and the ascendancy of President Hafez al-Assad, Syria has been ruled by the Alawi sect, an off-shoot of Shia Islam and very distinct from Sunni Islam and mainstream 12er Shia Islam as well. The Syrian state must maintain an official version of Islam that is big enough to include Alawis as Muslims since the Syrian Constitution requires that the President be a Muslim. Any construction of Islam that encompassing Alawis has plenty of room for Sufis, and Sufi's "live and let live" philosophy fits in well. The Grand Mufti of Syria promotes moderate Islam. Here's the website of the recently deceased Mufti.
Here's a story about the new Mufti condemming suicide attacks.
In Syria as in Egypt, Jordan and other countries the mosques are largely state-controlled with the sermons monitored and even produced by the state. Wahabbi Saudi Arabia despises Sufi Islam and its preachers often speak against it. Al-Qaeda views Shia, Alawis, and Sufis asapostatess to Islam and would be happy to eliminate them.
Here's what the CIA had to say on the matter in the late 1980s
Here's a more recent summary, please note the second to last paragraph.
I still think Egypt would better [for the play], more class tension, more outspoken people, more reseach and sources available, lots of tension of the role of Islam, Islam in daily life etc but all Muslims are Sunni so you avoid the complications of Shiism, Alawis, etc that you will have to account for in Syria and you guys have quite a lot on your plate already. Plus, you don't have worry about Egypt as a "state-sponsor of terrorism" etc.
No response yet from the playwright.