Syria’s Civil War: Assad’s Fall Could Mean an Alawite Genocide
In the fog of civil war enveloping Syria, all communities are suffering while regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting a proxy war, on Syrian soi, reviving a thousand-year-old conflict between Sunnis and Alawites. Meanwhile, the United States and Western Europe have either failed to take this sectarian war in the making into consideration or are again, more likely and cynically, using and fueling sectarian conflicts in the Muslim world to fulfill their geopolitical agenda.
In the aftermath of the defeat of the Ottoman empire — an ally of Germany — during World War I, the two main colonial powers of the time, Britain and France, seized this opportunity to “redesign” the map of the Middle-East and to play king makers. In doing so they largely ignored to take sectarian issues into consideration. In Iraq, the United Kingdom put a Sunni minority in charge instead of the Shiite majority. By doing so, the UK reignited and fueled a 600-year-old fire. Ever since the US invasion of Iraq nine years ago, sectarian killings have been going on with no end in sight.
In Syria, an Alawite minority — the Assad family is Alawite — is ruling over a Sunni majority. The Alawite sect represents about 13 percent of Syria’s population. The Alawites control the power in Syria. They do so, not only in the military, the key positions of the government, but also at the top level of business. Since the al-Assad clan took power in the early 1960s, the Alawites have become Syria’s ruling class. Having been in power for five decades, the Alawites are completely entrenched in this situation.
By supporting the Sunnis in the Syrian civil war, the Obama administration and, more surprisingly, governments in Western Europe, are failing to take in to consideration a potential genocide or at least a massive exodus scenario of the 1.2 million Syrian Alawites, who are unlikely to be welcomed anywhere in the Middle East, with perhaps the exception of Lebanon. If, or more likely when, the Assad regime is toppled — with the blessings and help from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and also indirectly from NATO — Alawites remaining in Syria will immediately become targets of Sunni militias seeking revenge. It is likely to be even worse than when Iraqi cleric al-Sadr’s militia men were going on killing rampages in Sunni areas of Baghdad.
The dominance of the Alawites is recent in terms of Syria’s history. As a matter of fact, for centuries the Alawites were the poorest and most rural people in Syria. They were also oppressed and despised by the Sunni majority. Today Alawites number about 1.5 million, of which 1.2 million live in Syria. Three-quarters of the Alawites live in Latakia, a province in the northwest of Syria, where they constitute two thirds of the population. There is a very long history of brutal conflict between Sunnis and Alawis in Syria. The conflict is about a thousand years old. Mainstream Muslims, Sunnis and Shiites alike have viewed Alawites as heretics for centuries. Ahmad Ibn Taymiya (1268-1328), a highly influential Syrian Sunni, wrote in a fatwa — religious decision or edict — that Alawites shouldn’t even be considered Muslims.
“The Nusayris (older term for Alawis) are more infidel than Jews and Christians, even more infidel than many polytheists. They have done greater harm to real Muslims than have the warring infidels such as the Franks, the Turks and others. To ignorant Muslims they pretend to be Shi’a, though in reality they do not believe in God, his prophet and his book. Nusayris are always the worst enemies of Muslims,” wrote Ibn Taymiya about 700 years ago. From the fourteenth century on, to express their incredible contempt for the Alawite sect, Syrian Sunnis used the word Nusayri — ancient word for Alawite — as a synonym for pariah.
The full support that the Obama administration, Western Europe and implicitly Israel are giving to Sunnis in Syria and in the Middle-East at large, could be a gross miscalculation at best, but it is more likely to fall into the category of Machiavellian geopolitics. It is indeed seeding crisis and potential sectarian wars in the Muslim world. It is inspiring an even greater Sunni anger towards the Shiites in Iran. It seems that Washington is following the old adage “divide and conquer” to establish policies in the Middle East. Apparently, some of this manipulation of Arab public opinion is working. Jordanian Salafi leader Abou Mohamad Tahawi recently stated that “The Alawi and Shiite coalition is currently the biggest threat to Sunnis, even more than Israel.”
But Sunnis should be aware — just like what happened to America’s former good friend Saddam Hussein — that the United States and Western Europe could switch alliances on a dime, especially when the oil supplies run out. Sunnis are only the West’s best friends in the region because of Saudi Arabia’s oil and money. US diplomacy is also following the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Today, UN peace talks took place in Geneva concerning the Syrian crisis. The United States did not want either side of the Syrian civil war to be represented. The US did not want the two proxy regional powers Iran and Saudi Arabia to be present either. The five permanent members of the security council are discussing Kofi Annan’s plan.
Annan’s plan would set up a transitional unity government, but would exclude “elements which would undermine it.” This, of course, entails excluding Bashar al-Assad from any unity government. Russia and China both want the crisis in Syria to be solved by Syrians, without foreign interference, but they also want al-Assad and Alawites to be represented in such a unity government. Today, Mr. Annan gave a stern warning to the international community saying that “No one should be in any doubt as to the extreme dangers posed by the conflict — to Syrians, to the region, and to the world.” Indeed an all-out sectarian war could tear apart the Muslim world. But the main question for Syria is if Sunnis and Alawites can tolerate each other. When al-Assad falls, will Alawites face a genocide or a mass exodus? A solution which has not been put yet on the table could be a partition of Syria, following the model of Yugoslavia in the 90s. Latakia, would become strictly Alawite and autonomous from the rest of a Sunni controlled Syria.