News / Middle East

    Could an Alawite State in Syria Prevent Post-Assad Reprisals?

    In this Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 photo, Free Syrian Army fighters aim their weapons as they chant religious slogans during heavy clashes with government forces at a military academy besieged by the rebels north of Aleppo, Syria.
    In this Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 photo, Free Syrian Army fighters aim their weapons as they chant religious slogans during heavy clashes with government forces at a military academy besieged by the rebels north of Aleppo, Syria.
    Cecily Hilleary
    A new report by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights offers disturbing evidence that the civil war in Syria is turning into a sectarian battle between the country’s majority Sunni and minority Alawite Muslim communities.  At the same time, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has expressed concern that Syria could plummet into a continued cycle of violence and retaliation.  
     
    These dire assessments come amid growing rumors in Syria that President Bashar Al- Assad may be fortifying an Alawite enclave in the mountains that could form the foundation for a breakaway Alawite State.  But how credible are these reports and could such a state or enclave be a solution to Alawite fears of massive post-Assad reprisals?
     
    History
     
    The Alawites are an ethno/religious offshoot of Shi’a Islam who traditionally lived in the an-Nusayriyah Mountains, in the west of Syria.  Because they do not follow the standard practices of Islam, they were historically marginalized and ostracized. 
     
    That all changed after the French occupation between the two World Wars, when France recruited Alawites to fight an Islamist insurgency.  By the 1960s, the Alawites had permeated the military and the Baath Party, and after Hafez Al-Assad became the first Alawite president of Syria, their power was assured.
     
    Today, the majority of the Syrian military and militias, or shabiha, have been recruited from among the Alawites.  That is not, however, to say that all Alawites support Bashar Al-Assad, but supporters or not, they all have good reason to fear what could happen to them if the Assad regime crumbles.
     
    But war, by its nature, polarizes communities and forces them to take refuge with the familiar. War fractures the bonds that hold the society together.
    Retreat to the heartland
     
    In December, 2011, an Israeli online publication called Debkafile published a report -- so far unconfirmed -- that Syrian engineering corps was building a fortified encampment in the heavily wooded areas of the an-Nusayriyah mountains, surrounding it with anti-tank defenses and anti-air batteries. 
     
    There also were unconfirmed reports that Alawites had begun flocking to Tartus province, close to the Mediterranean, fueling speculation that Assad and his supporters, at the first whiff of defeat, would move to this stronghold and possibly try to create a new Alawite state.
     
    Joshua Landis, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies, says it’s only a matter of time before Damascus falls, but predicts that Assad won’t leave Damascus until it is completely destroyed. 
     
    “I think he will be forced into the coastal mountains.  Now, the question is whether he can set up a separate state there.  I don’t believe that the world will recognize a separate Alawite state on the coast of Syria.  That doesn’t mean that he’ll be defeated, in the same way that Hezbollah resides in Southern Lebanon, where Shi’ite Lebanese are the majority, and that forms a social base and a protection for Hezbollah.”
     
    Landis believes that Syria’s Alawites are preparing for a mountain defense.  “There is a legitimate basis for fear, because this has turned into a sectarian war,” he said.  “The government has so mistreated the Syrian people and used so much force, killing so many and making others homeless that there’s going to be revenge.”
     
    What remains unanswered is whether the Alawites could survive as a military power in the mountains. Landis says that would depend on two factors:  “Whether Iran is willing to continue to invest and support them militarily by sending weapons and money, and whether the Sunni Arabs overcome their deep factionalism and unify.”
     
    If the Sunnis, who represent 70 percent of the Syrian population, do unify, Landis says it is likely they would be able to defeat the Alawites. 
     
    “But if they remain divided and they fight amongst themselves over Damascus and other ideological reasons, then it’s quite likely that the Alawites may survive the military power along the coast.”  
     
    Self-rule not feasible
     
    Faisal al-Yafai is an award-winning journalist and essayist and chief columnist at the United Arab Emirate’s newspaper, The National, who has lived in and reported from Syria. He agrees with Landis that reprisals against the Alawites are inevitable.
     
    “For about a year now, I've been arguing that the longer the conflict drags on – and is allowed to drag on by the international community – the harder it will be to put the mosaic of modern Syria back together,” Al-Yafai said. 
     
    However, unlike Landis, Yafai argues that an Alawite state isn’t practical, feasible or defendable.
     
    “It is hard to see how the Assads might persuade Alawites to form a last stand with them, especially if a new Syrian political leadership could guarantee their safety in a new Syria,” Yafai said.  
     
    “Would Alawites, some of whom have done extremely well out of the rule of the Assads, but many of whom remain of rather humbler economic status, be willing to join a state where they are entirely reliant on the goodwill of the Assads?” Yifai asks.  “It seems like a political fantasy to me.”
     
    Not to mention the fact, adds Yafai, that rebels, anticipating the possibility that Alawites would retreat to the mountains of Latakkia, have already made territorial gains there.
     
    Argument for unity
     
    Jordanian political analyst, blogger and commentator Amer Sabaileh concurs with Yafai’s assessment.   Rather than focus on separating Sunni from Shia, he argues that the world should instead channel efforts into a political transition that will help the Syrian people preserve their identity and unity.  Talk of sectarian differences concerns him, and he says it is a trend that is spreading in the region.  Once you start talking about one ethnic group forming its own state, it opens the idea for many other groups.
     
    “The Druze, for example,” Sabailah said.  “Or the Ismailis.  You also have the Christians, and once you start looking at them, you’ll discover the many different sects within Christians in the Middle East.”
     
    Sabaileh cites the example of Iraq, which, he says may not be divided politically, but is certainly divided culturally and socially.  He believes that the best hope for Syria is a political solution that focuses on unity.
     
    “I think the challenge from the beginning was in keeping Syria united and achieving a political transition,” he said. “This still should be the focus, because otherwise, the more we are in a crisis, the more risk we have that the crisis expands and the more we will think of division as a way to solve the problems.”
     
    All that is needed for a political settlement of the crisis, says Sabaileh, is international willingness—but more importantly, a consensus between the U.S. and Russia—and finally, steps on the ground to pave the way for a democratic future.

    You May Like

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: rgw46 from: usa
    December 21, 2012 6:26 PM
    whole region there was not divided correctly when setup anyway,but then they would be fighting anyway..thousands of years of hate and stupidity..

    by: Youssef Benlamlih from: New York
    December 21, 2012 1:51 AM
    Thank you for the article. I think that an Alawite state is unlikely to happen or that it would not hold out for very long because it is not a homogenous province, and Assad would have a hard time keeping the two regions under his control as he does with much of Syria. Also, I think that some groups of the FSA, despite their disunity, would still follow the Syrian regime and fight because some of them are fighting for revenge, while others are also guided by Sunni extremist ideology and would like to see the Alawite dominated regime fall.

    Additionally I think that the Syrian regime now realizes that it cannot win militarily and will now seek to achieve a negotiated settlement with the opposition. For my take on the situation, please check out the link below.

    http://youperspective.blogspot.com/2012/12/syrian-regime-pulls-out-negotiation.html#!/2012/12/syrian-regime-pulls-out-negotiation.html

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.