The Assads, father and son.

The Assads, father and son.

AlJazeera has been running a series of articles by Nir Rosen reporting from Syria. At great risk, he’s covering, for instance, the armed clashes between Syrian army defectors and state security forces. In his two latest pieces, he writes about the sect to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs, the Alawites, which composes 10 percent of Syria’s population. From the first:

While Alawites identify as Muslims they have historically been rejected by mainstream Islam. To be accepted as leader, [Bashar’s father Hafez al-] Assad had to persuade Sunnis and Alawites alike that Alawites were, in fact, mainstream Muslims.


The regime denied any public space for Alawites to practice their religion. They did not recognise any Alawite council that could provide religious rulings [which] could have been a tool to clarify the Alawite religion to other sects and religions and to reduce suspicions over what many Syrians perceive as a mysterious faith.

… Alawites struck a bargain; they lost their independence and had to accept the myth that they were “good Muslims” so as to win Sunni acceptance. … Assadism then filled the gap left by the negation of traditional Alawite identity. … Denied the right to mobilise as Alawites, they look to the ruling family for leadership. But the regime does not act to further Alawite interests, it acts primarily to further its own interests.

It’s bitterly ironic that not only were Alawites and all of Syria saddled with a tyrant like Hafez, but that his ascension to power further marginalized his own people. Nor will it necessarily be better for the Alawites if his son, Bashar, is deposed. Rosen again.

The opposition has failed to articulate a vision for what will happen to the tens of thousands of Alawites in the security forces and the state. The demise of the regime will directly affect nearly every Alawite family.

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