Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Syria's Alawite activists stuck in the middle

Despite fears of sectarianism if the regime falls, some in the Alawite minority are speaking out against Assad.

By Nir Rosen

"The Syrian opposition has been stepping up efforts to get religious minorities involved in the year-old uprising. The exiled opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) recently issued a statement announcing that it "extends [a] hand to the Alawite community", the sect which President Bashar al-Assad belongs to.

Although a minority, Alawites dominate Syria’s various security agencies, its army's officer corps and key positions in the government. Western backers of the SNC and opponents of the regime often say the Damascus leadership will only fall when the Alawite community is persuaded to abandon it.

An older Sunni opposition intellectual who spent time in prison before and during the current uprising agreed with this analysis when I spoke to him in Damascus. "The system will fall only when Alawites believe they are headed in the wrong direction," he said, adding that "Alawite intellectuals must realise that if they want to live in this country, they must be against the regime and with the revolution."

Historically, Alawites have played a prominent role in the opposition. But in the ongoing uprising, there are few prominent Alawite voices. Many members of the community fear they will be marginalised if the Sunni majority gains power. Given their experiences of oppression before the Baath party took over in 1963, some statements by the opposition have only encouraged their fears.....

Despite these challenges, the pressures they face from their own communities and families, from the regime and from sectarian trends in the opposition, Alawite activists are keen to make their voices heard.

On December 31 a delegation of Alawite activists joined about 500 Sunni demonstrators in Barzeh.. The leader of the rally announced to the crowd that they had special guests that evening. One man took the microphone and told the crowd he was an Alawite from Homs. They cheered and clapped. He told them there were other Alawites in the crowd and many Alawites "in the prisons of the dog called Bashar al-Assad". The crowds cheered and clapped again, and continued doing so after he shouted: "I am from the Alawite sect - not from the Assadi sect". He led the crowd in chanting "one, one, one, the Syrian people is one!" and "the people want the execution of Bashar!""

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