Assad and the Alawite statelet option
The latest speech by Syrian President Bashar Assad, during which he acknowledged that his army faced manpower shortages and had been forced to sacrifice territory, indicates that he believes he still has the option to retreat to the coast and establish an Alawite statelet.
But all this talk about the Alawite mini-state or statelet has been outpaced by events on the ground, although sectarian division has become a painful reality for Syria after Assad failed to understand that he has already passed the point of no return.
The Assad regime does not seem to understand that Iran will not be capable of saving it, whether through its military experts or sectarian militias. The same goes for Syria’s arms deals with Russia or the Chinese-Russian veto at the UN Security Council. The Assad regime is doomed. It’s just a question of time.
Assad, whether we are talking about Bashar or his father, Hafez, always held the establishment of an Alawite mini-state as a last resort. Even Syria’s military, governed by an elite class of Alawite officers, is set up for this eventuality. All the talk about pan- Arabism, Ba’athism and the liberation of Palestine is nothing more than a smokescreen to cover this ugly reality. The same goes for the Assad regime’s claims of being the guardian of Syria’s minorities or the defender of the Palestinian cause.
The sad reality is that whatever Assad does will contribute to the fragmentation of the Syrian state — whether he tries to hold onto the reins of power in Damascus or resorts to the establishment of an Alawite mini-state. But perhaps the most dangerous thing is that Assad, whether he knows it or not, is being used to guarantee the disintegration of Syria.
Assad’s latest speech reflected the psychology of a man who is isolated from his own people, not to mention the rest of the world, and who refuses to acknowledge the dire reality of the situation that he is in. He is ignoring the established fact that he is leading a regime that has no legitimacy whatsoever. This is a regime that has been roundly rejected by the Syrian people and the rest of the international community, with a few notable exceptions. He is now relying exclusively on sectarian practices.
His father and predecessor, Hafez, possessed the political nous to strike a balance, using sectarianism to guarantee his rule while paying lip service to Syria’s Sunni majority. He was careful to pray every Friday at a different Sunni mosque in order to shore up his Sunni backing and send the message that he was a Muslim first and foremost.
He made sure to incorporate a variety of Sunni faces, in particular from rural Syria, in his government. He secured his rule after cementing his alliance of minorities, while it was Syria’s rural Sunnis, rather than the urbanite elite, that served as a major source of his popular backing.
This is something that Bashar Assad failed to learn or implement during his rule, believing that family connections were more important than the sect and that a network of family relations, based on economic interests, would be sufficient to protect his regime.
Even his reaction to the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011 amply demonstrates how Assad upset the delicate balance that had been established by his father. This was a balance that included playing on Iran’s sympathies without fully succumbing to the regime of the mullahs. While Hafez Assad’s relations with Iran were certainly based on a sectarian basis, he knew how to use this to get what he wanted, whether from the Arab Gulf or Ba’athist Iraq.
Today, Tehran is Syria’s only refuge but, if it seeks to benefit from this avenue, it will only create more conflict that could last for years, while it would also ensure the fragmentation and destruction of Syria as we know it.