Alawite base weakening for Assad and Syrian regime

The Alawite sect in Syria is seeking to reform its identity and is distancing itself from the regime of Bashar al-Assad, reports BBC News (April 3). The Alawites emerged in the 10th century in Iraq and were similar to other Shia Muslims in claiming that Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, was his rightful successor. But the Alawites purportedly claimed that Ali was a manifestation of God, which Syria’s Sunni Muslims deemed heretical, but the sect has kept many of its beliefs in secrecy to avoid persecution. In a document obtained by the BBC, Alawite community and religious leaders stated that they want to “shine a light” on the movement after a long period of secrecy and claim a religious identity as a third model “of and within Islam,” apart from the Shia tradition. The eight-page document also calls for a secular system in Syria where Christianity, Islam, and other religions are equal.

Although Alawites have dominated Syria’s government and security services under the Assad regime, the statement says the legitimacy of his rule “can only be considered according to the criteria of democracy and fundamental rights.” These changes reflect a broader shift of the Alawites away from the Assad regime, according to a report from the Middle East Media Research Institute, known as MEMRI (Feb. 4). The report notes the formation last November in Istanbul of “Upcoming Syria,” the first Alawi movement to oppose the Assad regime. “The new movement aspires to collaborate with the Syrian revolution so as to secure…Alawi safety and their part in the future social and governmental makeup of the country,” as well as form a new cadre of leaders in the sect who are independent from the regime. At the same time, there have been reports that Alawi officials have been in touch with neighboring countries such as Turkey and Israel in an attempt to gain guarantees for the safety of the sect in the period after Assad.