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Sectarian myths and Syrian realities: Can Alawites join the Suwayda protests?

Sectarian myths and Syrian realities: Can Alawites join the Suwayda protests?

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Opinion The Truth

Monday 2 October 202301:39 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

حول دعوة العلويين للانضمام إلى احتجاجات السويداء


Since the onset of the Syrian people's uprising in March 2011, challenging the oppressive regime in pursuit of freedom, dignity, and the establishment of a pluralistic democratic system, many questions remain. Questions like: How would the Alawites act? What would be their stance regarding the ongoing events? Would they continue supporting the regime until the end? These questions have been the subject of numerous speculations.

As significant battles subsided, and Syria became fragmented into areas of international influence, the central concern, both domestically and internationally, shifted towards finding a political resolution to the Syrian crisis. Speculations surrounding the role of the Alawites in the proposed solutions for the Syrian crisis were renewed. Would they accept the regime's continuation after paying such a high price in terms of the blood of their sons and their sources of livelihood? Today, with the Sweida uprising underway, the focus once again centers around the possibility of an Alawite uprising against the regime, particularly amidst a severe economic crisis affecting all strata of society. Life has tested all these bets and speculations, and shown that they are losing bets.

In principle, framing the question around a specific sect makes it intrinsically flawed, thereby depriving it of a correct answer. Firstly, because the Syrian regime does not represent an exclusively Alawite system, the Alawites do not constitute its foundational social element. Secondly, there is no single sect or societal group with a uniform stance, whether in politics or any other sphere. Thirdly, analyzing the Syrian political landscape through sectarian terminology and constructs is an invalid approach.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian people's uprising in 2011 against the oppressive regime, many questions remain: How would the Alawites act? What would be their stance regarding the ongoing events? Would they continue supporting the regime until the end?

The Syrian regime is fundamentally rooted in interests, and it should be studied and analyzed within the realm of interests to identify its sources of strength and weaknesses. It is a regime characterized by a conservative financial and security alliance that, over the course of more than five decades, has managed to forge relationships based on interests with diverse social segments. While some of these relationships are genuine, others are built on illusions that have, for many, transformed into a form of conviction for many. From this illusion stems the misconception that the Syrian regime is inherently Alawite, with Alawites constituting its societal bedrock, leading to the assumption that they would support it until the very end.

Alawites are not known to be religiously sectarian, nor do they distinguish themselves from the followers of other faiths and sects based on religious beliefs. Their motto in this regard is "everyone is responsible for their own faith". They do not excommunicate anyone and coexist harmoniously with other religious sects, often intermarrying with them. However, since 1970, when Hafez al-Assad ascended to power, the regime has worked diligently to solidify an illusion among many Alawites that suggests that the regime granted them the opportunity, for the first time in Syrian history, to assume power, reap its benefits, seize opportunities, and transform into a significant force within society and the state. In reality, the coastal regions of Syria, where Alawites are prevalent, are among the poorest areas. Building upon this illusion, the regime succeeded in fostering a form of "political" allegiance and fanaticism among many Alawites, using it to bolster the security and military apparatus with Alawite personnel and cadres, particularly within the officer ranks.

This behavior is almost systemic in autocratic regimes, focusing on ensuring the organic presence of loyalists – whether relatives, clan members, tribe members, sect members, or people in the region – within security and military institutions.

Naturally, neither the late Hafez al-Assad nor his son thereafter could maintain their grip on power solely on the illusions believed by many, had they not, in parallel, established concrete and robust pillars to support their reign. Among these crucial pillars, the security apparatus stands as the most prominent. Security was a central concern in the regime's policies. To this end, multiple security agencies were created, fortified, and shielded from legal accountability for their actions. Incidentally, it is worth noting that before 2011, members of the Alawite sect faced the largest share of the regime's repression, and it is exceedingly rare to find Alawite families in the coastal areas who had not experienced the imprisonment of a family member.

The flawed sectarian interpretation of the regime's nature – used as a pretext to respond with armed terrorist forces backed by international actors – contributed to its survival. It is politically incorrect to explain events in Syria through a sectarian lens

The second pillar involves the cultivation of strong relationships, rooted in mutual interests, with the merchant class, industrialists, and religious figures (specifically Sunni ones). This was achieved through involving them in illicit enrichment and the plundering of the country's resources. During Hafez al-Assad's era, a powerful influential class of merchants and industrialists, particularly in Damascus and Aleppo, emerged. They accumulated staggering fortunes, a substantial portion of which was illicitly funneled out of the country.

The third pillar entails the eradication of any semblance of natural political or civic life from society, converting all permitted political parties, including the Baath Party, as well as labor unions, into mere instruments of the regime, consistently performing security functions.

All these pillars, whether fantasy or reality, have been subjected to scrutiny during the ongoing crisis, revealing their efficacy. With the exception of the security apparatus, the other pillars have little to do with the Alawites.

The fundamentally flawed sectarian interpretation of the regime's nature, which was as a pretext to respond with sectarian and armed terrorist forces backed by international actors, played a significant role in its survival and resurgence. In this context, the price paid by the Syrian people, across all their diverse segments and identities, was exceptionally high. And it is both scientifically and politically incorrect to explain the events that unfolded in Syria through a sectarian lens and to rely on one identity over another as a means to escape the crisis and outline the desired future of the Syrian state.


* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22




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