The Syrian sectarian and family-run regime does not like intellectuals. The Alawite sect’s military apparatus removed the Baath party’s historical intellectuals so they could seize power with the least possible clamor. The sectarian regime threw Syria’s accomplished poet “Badawi al-Jabal” into the mud of a dried-up segment of the River Barada, regardless of his stature or his Alawi orientation. Nationalist intellectual Zaki al-Arsouzi died in poverty after he retired from teaching, without tasting any of the spoils that his ruling sect enjoyed.
Following the public assassination of Colonel Adnan al-Malki – an influential figure both within the Baath party and the army – at the hands of a sergeant belonging to the Syrian Social Nationalist Party inside a football stadium in 1955, Syrian intellectual Ali Ahmed Sa’id fled to Lebanon. He was reincarnated as Adonis, the last of the ancient Syrian gods of the pre-Arab and Islamic era, and subsequently installed himself as the prince of Arab poetry.
However, Adonis would not enter history from the gate of poetry. Rather he would enter as an intellectual, a scholar, and a critic of the Sunni doctrine, history and culture. Indeed, the Sunnis and their culture are unfortunate that Adonis wrote in truly wonderful and highly elegant prose, rather than out of mere criticism and persuasion.
In a sign of his embarrassed repentance for affiliating to a fascist party, Adonis fled to France following the eruption of the Lebanese war, where he settled there among a group of Alawite intellectuals, a group of real “human beings” unpolluted by the massacres committed by their sect. Adonis and his entourage then prepared themselves to receive the Nobel Literature Prize, but now the poet seems to have lost hope of winning as a result of his hesitant attitude towards the actions of his sect. The ruling Alawites in Syria have distorted his image regionally and internationally by persisting in committing massacres against their own people.
Among the “exploits” of Adonis and his group was the act of convincing Algerian Amazigh intellectual Mohamed Arkoun of the “progressive nature” of the Shiite Fiqh, in comparison with the Sunni Fiqh. Believing in Adonis’ “theory”, Arkoun wrote in French about this alleged Shia precedence without supporting his views with any research on Shiite Fiqh. The Sunnis here were fortunate that Arkoun applied Orientalist critical theories to Islam; hence his argument became outdated and ineligible, as reflected in his translation into Arabic.
Adonis is an extremely sensitive critic and intellectual, and indeed it seems that tears are always ready to flow in abundance down his cheeks. And yet, his humanity has never been provoked by the Syrian regime’s massacres. In his most recent television appearance, Adonis explicitly said “I’m not against the regime”, and he sounded as if he was apologizing for his previous minor criticisms of Bashar al-Assad. Adonis’ entourage only humor him, and in their hesitation to condemn the regime’s sectarian crimes, the group seems to be implicitly condemning the “sectarian” nature of the Syrians as a whole, whether Sunnis or Alawis!
In my column today, it is not my duty to engage in intellectual sectarian point scoring, as the fundamentals of the Sunni Fiqh are well known. It has its schools of thought and institutions to defend and protect it. Here I intend to challenge Adonis’ hesitation in condemning the al-Assad regime, by presenting an account of the regime’s record that is rife, not only with political maneuvers, but also with massacres and assassinations of its own people, the majority of which are Arab Sunnis. In this first episode, I will detail what this regime has done in Syria, and in next week’s article, I will highlight what it did in Lebanon.
The Alawite sect began its moves to seize power on the same date that the secret “Military Committee” was formed during the time of Syrian unity with Egypt, during the reign of [late Egyptian President] Jamal Abdul Nasser in 1959. The Alawite Baath party officers (Mohamed Omran, Salah Jadid and Hafez al-Assad) all played a major role in this. Within a few years, they were successful in neutralizing the Baath party’s historical leaders (Michel Aflaq, Salah al-Din al-Bitar and Akram El-Hourani), then dislodging them from political activity by staging a military coup. This happened despite the fact that (Sunni) El-Hourani had paved the way for them to enroll in the army.
Salah Jadid’s role emerged first, for he was able to neutralize the independent and Nasserite officers who took part in the 1963 coup. Salah Jadid used two senior officers (Major General Ziyad al-Hariri and Lieutenant General Amin al-Hafiz) to strike the Nasserite trend, before he later on got rid of them by deporting the former and staging a coup against the latter.
The Military Committee’s movements remained secret, and the Syrians knew nothing about it, even after it was dissolved as a result of disagreements between its Alawite leaders. Major General Mohamed Omran was murdered in his house in Tripoli, Lebanon, following accusations of being a liberalist and “conspiring” with Salah al-Din al-Bitar, who himself had left the Baath party following a disagreement with Aflaq.
Then came the role of Hafez al-Assad, who objected to Salah Jadid’s attempt to apply Marxism to the Baath party. As a result of al-Assad’s military coup, the “Ismaili” Chief of the Intelligence Apparatus Abdel Karim al-Jundi was either murdered or committed suicide, and Salah Jadid was imprisoned, together with the president and prime minister. In 1993, Salah Jadid died in jail, whereas Yusuf Zuaiyin, the prime minister, was released. As for “President” Nureddin al-Atassi, he was released in the same year, and a few weeks later died of cancer in a hospital in Paris.
Under Hafez al-Assad, the Alawite sect completed the process of securing absolute control of power. The Syrian people remained detached from politics and freedom, and they carried Hafez al-Assad on their shoulders after he was appointed as president. The Sunni majority rejected the Muslim Brotherhood’s call to stage civil disobedience to cripple the sectarian regime, and al-Assad returned the Sunnis’ favor by destroying their liberalist powers when independent unions (lawyers, doctors, engineers and pharmacists) demanded true democracy in 1980.
Nevertheless, al-Assad continued to promise to meet the Sunnis’ demands, and so the unions ended their sit-ins and strikes, and again he returned the favor by imprisoning those who participated in the strike for several years and by nationalizing all unions. Since then and until now, the Syrian security apparatuses has appointed the heads and members of unions.
Yet the tension in Lebanon seemed to exhaust Hafez al-Assad, who suffered life-threatening ills at a young age. Having regained consciousness following a long coma as a result of a heart attack, he found himself and his regime on the verge of collapse. His brother Rifaat, along with officers from the Alawite sect, who once were his opponents, quelled the Muslim Brotherhood’s protests in Hama by destroying the city with heavy bombardments in 1982. Subsequently, the victors disagreed with one another over al-Assad’s power legacy, believing that the president would not regain consciousness.
However, Hafez al-Assad, having recovered, sometimes resorted to maneuvers, sometimes to settlements, and sometimes to tricks and threats, until he eventually ended up successfully neutralizing his younger brother Rifaat by expelling him from Syria (in 1998) and discharging his opponents. The remaining Muslim Brotherhood members were pursued mercilessly, reminiscent of the 1,000 Brotherhood detainees who were killed in the Tadmor Prison massacre.
Al-Assad’s revenge extended even to previous, peaceful Brotherhood leaders; and the wife of former Brotherhood leader Isam al-Attar was assassinated in her house in Germany when the death squad failed to find her husband.
Hafez al-Assad’s patience was limitless; he gained control over Lebanon, struck the Maronites and the Sunnis there, relied upon the Shiites, contained the Druze, and maneuvered and declined to enforce the Taif Agreement. Having grown tired of the Syrian President, the US appointed Hafez al-Assad as its “policeman” in the region, and simultaneously, two Lebanese presidents were assassinated.
Rewarding him for his participation in the Second Gulf War (expelling Saddam Hussein from Kuwait), the US and Europe allowed al-Assad to besiege Michel Aoun, hence undermining his “state” and forcing him to flee to France. However, 15 years later, Bashar al-Assad allowed him to return home, but this time as an obedient allay.
The al-Assad regime, during the reign of both the father and the son, has a story worthy of narration, not only in terms of its well-known political aspect, but also in terms of its dark side; its intelligence guise.
Next week I will write again hoping that Adonis and his associates have reconsidered their support for the Syrian regime, regardless of their sectarian affiliation which I do not hold them accountable for. However, I do blame them for dedicating this sectarian orientation entirely to leveling accusations at the Syrian Sunni majority. Over 50 years, the sectarian regime has brainwashed the Syrian people to only think in terms of sect, rather than as Arabs. Here the regime today is repeating the same old tragedy by slaughtering the uprising and giving it a “sectarian orientation”.