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Al-Assad and the Alawites | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The balance of international power continues to frustrate any serious action towards the al-Assad regime in Syria, and similarly, the Syrian opposition continues to go from one failure to another. The recent conferences held for Syria in five-star hotels – as pointed out by the chief of the UN observer mission Robert Mood – reflect only the extent of international inability to adopt a firm decision towards Syria. Neither Russia, with its blood-thirsty and indifferent history, is ready to change its stance, nor is America’s President Obama ready to move a muscle before the end of the presidential election in November. As for Europe, it is totally immersed in the mire of its deplorable economy and the problems of Greece, Italy and Spain, and so is even more crippled than the US and unable to take the initiative.

The mobilization of regional countries towards Syria – with positions overtly adopted so far by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – can be assessed these by their respective political stances. However, it seems that the Syrian opposition still cannot be unified, and that some support is being offered on the ground, the details and outlines of which are yet to appear, which is normal, but there are several indicators of it.

This brings us to the internal Syrian situation, where the regime is becoming increasingly ferocious and the role of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is becoming more essential. In a horrific leaked video recording that shows the torture of a Syrian citizen at the hands of the regime’s forces, one soldier repeats the question “do you want freedom?”, a phrase that has appeared in numerous videos ever since Bashar al-Assad declared war against his own people. Yet what is new in this particular recording is that the soldier also asks “do you want to fight the Alawites?”

On 18th February 2012, I wrote in this column that “a year has passed since the eruption of the crisis, and from the outset or soon afterwards, the regime seems to have been eager to drag the country into the worst of all options; a civil war.” In this newspaper on the 2nd June 2012, reports began to suggest that Bashar al-Assad is endeavoring to create a state of “internal fighting whereby he can hold control over small districts of Syria; mainly Latakia and the Alawite mountains.”

What was once analysis has now become the reality. The Alawite military doctrine has begun to appear in the army, as seen in the statements issued by its officers, soldiers and thugs, and its actions on the ground. A look at the map shows that the regime is intensifying its major destructive operations near the Alawite eastern mountains and the lowlands extending around them; from Homs and Hama to Idlib in the north, where citizens are being forced to flee, aiming to create empty regions to function as a border for the Alawite state which the regime considers as its last shelter.

As for the relationship between the Alawite sect and the Syrian authority, Hafez al-Assad was raised in a sectarian environment where he developed his pro-minority awareness. In the Baath party and the army, he undertook the extensive mobilization of minorities in order to build up a political and military power that could eventually dominate. Later on, however, he abandoned these minorities and relied solely on the Alawite sect and then upon his own family, with which he managed to control of all elements of power in Syria. Bashar al-Assad seems to be following in his fathers’ footsteps with regards to his Alawite military sectarianism but he is also adopting a contrary policy of deliberately shrinking his political control; hoping to consolidate dominance over a smaller Alawite state rather than the whole of Syria.

Hafez al-Assad created a military structure for the armed forces in a manner that guaranteed that the decision-making process and powers remained centralized and confined to the Alawites. In this endeavor, he relied heavily on these forces’ absolute loyalty, his extensive expertise and extreme caution; characteristics which his son has sought to emulate. Consider the large-scale defections from the army by senior officers who then joined the FSA. Had the overall military structure not been solid, those defectors could have staged a complete or partial military coup incorporating border districts that could have been fully liberated and defended. Media outlets observed that 15 generals defected from al-Assad’s army and joined the FSA in one week alone, let alone the dozens of ordinary soldiers who defect every day.

Last week, Turkey and Iraq adopted positions that are worthy of contemplation. The Turkish stance relates to the incident of al-Assad’s forces downing a Turkish aircraft, an act that has passed by unpunished. Turkey has adopted a position of silence even though the attack could have been used as a pretext to act outside the Security Council, either to strike al-Assad’s air force or at least to create a buffer zone on the border. If this was to happen, Russia would not have intervened; it would have been content with provoking riots via Iran, but it seems there was no Turkish-Western inclination to back such action.

As for the Iraqi position, this was truly striking and was declared in Cairo. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari expressed the al-Maliki government’s stance with regards to the Syrian state of affairs. In his statement, the minister evoked the history of the Baath party by comparing the status of the Iraqi opposition prior to the ouster of Saddam Hussein to that of Syria’s present-day opposition, which suggests that Tehran has pressured Iraq to distance itself from al-Assad. Perhaps, this decision indicates Iran’s fear that if al-Maliki continues to adopt a sectarian stance against the Syrian people, this will lead to substantial Iranian losses in Iraq if the Syrian regime is toppled.

Al-Assad’s marked bias towards his Alawite minority and his family – an attribute which he inherited from his father and which he thinks could be the way for his salvation – may in fact accelerate his downfall. Syria is a country of multiple religions and ideological sects with ethnic and tribal loyalties. Therefore, in view of the blatant Alawi sectarian orientation adopted by the regime, there is a strong endeavor to unify all these variant categories and the Sunni majority to face the regime.

The al-Assad regime is almost over, and now it is only a question of time before the regime’s illusions collapse on its head. If Bashar al-Assad is to find shelter in the outskirts of Tehran or Moscow, his Alawite sect will still remain in Syria. Hence today it is the duty of rational Alawites to side with the people and the country, and announce their complete disavowal of al-Assad’s sectarian and blood-thirsty policies; otherwise the son’s legacy in Syria will be even worse than his father’s.

The future of our Arab republics seems to be full of sectarianism, fractured social loyalties, and the ideologies and organizations of political Islam. However, the future is not promising in terms of development, civilization, awareness and advancement.