Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Among the Alawites

By Nir Rosen

".....When I asked Abu Rateb, leader of the Homs military council, what would happen to the security forces and shabiha, the hundreds of thousands of armed Alawites, if the government fell, he told me I was exaggerating the numbers. He foresaw what he described as ‘slaughter’ but felt that an alternative to Bashar would emerge from within the regime and preside over a settlement. ‘Bashar is the central figure for them. They will be broken by the fall of Bashar and lose motivation.’ After a difficult transition a new Syria would be born, ‘a free Syria, just and democratic’. A leading insurgent in Duma, the largest suburb of Damascus, told me he worried about fighting between Sunni and Alawite villages like Aziziya and Tamana. ‘We can’t say that we have the right to live here and they do not,’ he said, but ‘after the revolution Alawites will return to their natural place. They won’t have the authority.’

It is not clear what that ‘natural place’ would be. Are they meant to leave the cities and resume their traditional links with the rural areas? A new generation of Syria pundits in the West is already discussing the possibility of a separate Alawite state, but one hears of no such thing from the Alawites themselves. Syria has long been their central project, and their mode of involvement has been to leave their villages and move towards a version of modernity. It is conceivable that they will end up in some form of autonomous enclave as a result of a civil war in which the opposition gains the upper hand, but it is not their wish. They believe they are fighting for the old Ba’athist ideals of Syrian and Arab nationalism. An Alawite state would not be viable in any case: the old Alawite heartlands have never had much in the way of utilities or employment opportunities and the community would be dependent on outside backers such as Russia or Iran. A Lebanese solution for Syria, in which different areas have different outside backers, may be the end result, but it is nobody’s goal."

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