Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Alawites' bloody retreat into own enclave

The Alawites (a branch of Shia Islam) had a state of their own in Syria's coastal region for 12 years after the collapse of the Ottoman Emipre (see 1920s map). They even issued their own postal stamps (see pictures).

The French who seized and colonised "Greater Syria" from 1922 to 1943 helped to create several mini states from previously semi-autonomous regions including Lebanon (with its Christian, Druze and Shia Muslim majority at the time) and an Alawite state along Syria's coastal strip. The latter was re-integrated into Syria in1936. This divide-and-rule strategy was essentially designed to keep the "fundamentalist" Sunni majority at bay in the rest of Syria.  Nationalist Alawites, Sunnis and Christians refused to join the Troupes Speciales du Levant that later became the Syrian army, so the French recruited mostly poor Alawite peasants who had been marginalised and mistreated by the rest of the population. These Alawites gradually worked their way up through the ranks and eventually took power in Syria, led by Hafez Al Assad in 1972.

The Alawite army/security/militia-based  dictatorship consolidated its rule over the country by co-opting wealthy Sunnis and  minorities, and sharing the pie with them,  and hiding behind a false non-sectarian Arab nationalistic agenda  while at the same time aligning itself with Iran and the Shia of Lebanon (Hizbullah).

Now that they have shot themselves in the foot and at risk at being exterminated by a popular uprising (which is supported by other Arab states that are fearful of Iran) the Alawites are beating a retreat towards their enclave. They have been moving heavy weapons, missiles and sophisticated air defences into well-camouflaged spots and tunnels in the Alawite mountains and ethnically cleansing the surrounding areas as they do so.

It is unlikely that Syria will break up again into mini states. Many of the 2.5 million Alawites are strongly loyal to Syria as a nation-state and wise enough not to allow the Assad ruling family and its cronies to lead them into the abyss in desparation. Russia is not foolish enough to allow a ruling gang to fragment the country and re-create an Alawite state. Despite all the theatrics and political machinations on the world stage, a deal has already been struck between the Russians and Americans to bring the Assad regime to an end without endangering the delicate balance of power in the region.

In the end the Russians and Americans will have to pick up the pieces and help to re-construct the country. In the cold light of day, the civilian death toll (large and ugly as it is) still looks to them to be a cheaper option than direct intervention. They will intervene when the senseless revenge massacres against Alawites start and before the regime loses control of one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world.

1 comment:

عشتار said...

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