Syrian problem of today was created by the French who empowered the Alawites, essentially a despised race of "lowly serfs" belonging to a nominally shia, but more close to "apostate" group of minority people, who seized power once they infiltrated the Bath party and Armed forces ranks. Assad IMHO is continuing to dig a large big grave for Alawites. I think he is a dead man walking (or may be he will escape to Russia with his family and entourage at the last moment), although it will be quite a job to defeat his formidable army, but it will be done, although it takes years and cost the lives of hundreds of thousands or millions in a Lebanese style civil war. Essentially the mess the Anglo French created in Ottoman provinces with Sykes Picot is slowly healing and going back to the previous status quo. But in this innings the weapon of choice is "Democracy" and majority rule. A bit of history from our familiar partisan Daniel Pipes (who some may consider a guru) as well as other sources:http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/publisher ... d7c,0.htmlhttp://www.danielpipes.org/191/the-alaw ... r-in-syriahttp://www.danielpipes.org/177/syria-after-asadhttp://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2011/03 ... after-asad
The manner of the 'Alawi ascent reveals much about Syria's political culture, pointing to complex connections between the army, the political parties, and the ethnic community. The Ba'th Party, the army, and the 'Alawis rose in tandem; but which of these three had the most importance? Were the new rulers Ba'thists who just happened to be 'Alawi soldiers, or were they soldiers who happened to be 'Alawi Ba'thists? Actually, a third formulation is most accurate: these were 'Alawis who happened to be Ba'thists and soldiers.
True, the party and the military were critical, but in the end it was the transfer of authority from Sunnis to 'Alawis that counted most. Without deprecating the critical roles of Party and army, the 'Alawi affiliation ultimately defined the rulers of Syria. Party and career mattered, but, as is so often the case in Syria, ethnic and religious affiliation ultimately define identity. To see the Asad regime primarily in terms of its Ba'thist or military nature is to ignore the key to Syrian politics. Confessional affiliation remains vitally important; as through the centuries, a person's sect matters more than any other attribute.
The Sunni response to the new rulers, which has taken a predominantly communal form, bears out this view. The widespread opposition of Sunnis - who make up about 69 percent of the Syrian population - to an 'Alawi ruler has inspired the Muslim Brethren organization to challenge the government in violent, even terroristic ways. Although unsuccessful until now, the Brethren have on several occasions come near to toppling the regime.
It appears inevitable that the 'Alawis - still a small and despised minority, for all their present power - will eventually lose their control over Syria. When this happens, it is likely that conflicts along communal lines will bring them down, with the critical battle taking place between the 'Alawi rulers and the Sunni majority. In this sense, the 'Alawis' fall - be it through assassinations of top figures, a palace coup, or a regional revolt - is likely to resemble their rise.
June 15, 2000 update: Pace the last paragraph above: The fall of the 'Alawis is indeed inevitable, but the succession of his Bashshar al-Asad on the death of hs father Hafiz al-Asad on June 10, 'Alawi rule in Syria continues.
March 1, 2010 update: "Today, the Alawis of Syria are the only ruling religious minority in the Muslim world." With that striking statement, Yvette Talhamy, formerly of Haifa University, opens her important article, "The Fatwas and the Nusayri/Alawis of Syria" in Middle Eastern Studies.. She reviews fatwas hostile to the 'Alawis from before the twentieth century and three friendly ones from the twentieth century, arguing that "these fatwas shaped the history of the Nusayris." It's one of the few pieces of research to build on the subject of the article above.
1.2 HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
The rich Sunni elite of Damascus and Aleppo composed the ruling class since Umayyad times. Under the Ottomans, who for centuries competed against Shi'a Iran, this position was strengthened (3). The Ottomans saw the Shi'a offshoots - 'Alawis, Isma'ilis and Druze - as heretics to be persecuted for apostasy from Islam (4).
The 'Alawis were impoverished peasants in Latakia province, mainly serfs on lands owned by wealthy city-based Sunni landowners.
The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire after WWI and the establishment of the French Mandate over Syria gave exploited minorities a chance to improve their situation. The French encouraged minority enlistment into "auxiliary troops" used for suppressing nationalist unrest in the cities. They also encouraged 'Alawi and Druze separatism by granting them regional autonomy (5).
The first years of independence saw a drive for national integration. Proportional representation of minorities in parliament was abolished (6). This led to Sunni dominance until the union with Egypt in the UAR in 1958.
4. ANALYSIS OF SECTARIAN IMPACT ON BA'ATH REGIME AND ITS CHANGES IN POLICIES
The 'Alawis now dominate all Syrian power centres. This was achieved by using their kinship network to infiltrate the army and the Ba'ath party, then utilising both institutions as levers to dominate the state. They allied themselves with other disadvantaged groups (Druze, Isma'ilis, impoverished rural and urban Sunnis) to achieve their goals (41). It is difficult to decide whether this was a premeditated long term plan of 'Alawi community leaders as some observers think (42) or if they simply snatched at opportunities that changing times offered them. There certainly was a conjunction of sectarian and economic class interests which enabled the 'Alawis to take over party and state institutions. 'Alawi cohesion has been strengthened as they unite to secure their position, but Syrian politics are still polarised on a sectarian basis (43).
In contrast to the turbulent first years of independence the Ba'ath party has given Syria a stable and highly centralised government. Its social policies have benefited most citizens at the expense of the former small Sunni ruling elite. The greatest beneficiaries of this development have been the 'Alawis and the rural regions.
In foreign policy, friendship with the Soviet bloc manifested 'Alawi preference for radical secular socialism which guarantees sectarian equality, and Ba'athist anti-imperialist ideology. The alliance with Iran can partly be explained by 'Alawi feelings of affinity as persecuted Shi'as with the only dominantly Shi'a state in the Middle East. This also clarifies their policies in Lebanon: their willingness to save the Maronites from Sunni groups and their support of the Shi'as.