At Open Democracy, Ammar Abdulhamid writes: The transformation of the Syrian Revolution from a nonviolent and inclusive pro-democracy protest movement into a civil war, pitting majority-Sunni and majority-Alawite militias against each other in deadly daily clashes throughout the country, has been a slow and complex process driven in equal measure by domestic as well as external factors. But while much analysis has addressed the role of external factors, there are certain aspects of the domestic dynamics that remain unexamined, in particular the evolving ethos driving Sunni and Alawite fighters.
Indeed, the very nature of the ruling Assad regime that the protesters challenged contributed to the increasing sectarian character of the conflict. The Alawite community, from which the Assads hail, is a minority sect that mixes Shiite doctrine with indigenous tribal beliefs and Christian rituals, representing 10-12% of Syria’s population. The sect has long been considered heretical by the majority Sunni community, and was actively marginalized and persecuted by the Ottomans who never included the Alawites in the famous millet system that regulated the lives of all confessional minorities under their rule. Indeed, for centuries Alawites lived a very sheltered existence in the coastal mountains of northern Lebanon, Syria and southern Turkey (Hatay Province). Their access to state services, including education, was quite limited, rendering the overwhelming majority illiterate. Moreover, in time, Alawite doctrine became secretive and reserved only for male initiates, creating an additional layer of separation between Alawites and their neighbors and adding to the mutual distrust.
In that “splendid isolation,” at least, in the psychological sense, an Alawite culture that is inimical to change and deeply suspicious of otherness evolved. [Continue reading…]