Thursday, October 18, 2012

Is There an Internal Split Within the Alawite Community in Syria?

Map of where the different Syrian sects live
As I noted in a post from a few months ago, the ethnic demography of Syria is complex and varied.  Sunnis constitute the majority of the population, but the ruling regime is largely constituted of a small sect called Alawites, who come from the Shia side of the Sunni-Shia divide.  If you want to learn more, here is a previous post on "who are the Alawites".  The President Bashar al_Assad is an Alawite, and the pillars of his regime - the security forces and the top echelons of the military - are largely Alawite controlled.

Given the Alawites concern about Sunni fundamentalism and their place in a country dominated by a Sunni-led government, most of the Alawite community have been strong supporters of Assad.  In a recent article in the Washington Post, however, the issue of whether some part of the Alawite community may be splintering away from the Assad regime.  The reasons raised are twofold:

1)  There was a recent shootout between heads of top Alawite clans in the city of Quardaha in the middle of the Alawite heartland of western Syria, which is in red above.  Most experts, however, believe this was not a political dispute, but rather an economic one involving control of smuggling routes for cigarettes and other goods.

2)  The second hypothesis is that the Alawites believe Assad is using them to maintain his power.  As Alawites constitute the backbone of the security forces and militia, the Alawite death toll has been rising substantially.  According to the Post article, complaints that Alawite fears are being exploited by the regime to protect Assad and his family are growing steadily louder as the death toll mounts.

The reality, however, is that the Alawite community's fear for their safety in a post-Assad Sunni dominated country means that most Alawites will - however reluctantly - stick with the regime until the bitter end.

This is the Post article referenced above.

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