The Buzz

Prospects for an Alawite State

Predictions of Bashar al-Assad’s imminent fall have grown louder of late. But not everyone foresees the Syrian dictator slinking away (or following in the unfortunate footsteps of Muammar Qaddafi) if his regime falls. Recently, an alternative scenario has gained ground: if Assad loses Damascus, he and his coreligionists could set up an Alawite state in the mountains of Syria.

A New York Times blog dubbed this “worst-case plan” the “Alawite Stalemate:” the Alawite minority hunkers down in an Alawi state that mimics the post-WWI Alawite “proto-state” created by the French. Analysts in these spaces posit that the Alawites “would rather dismantle their existing republic and retreat into fortifications in the mountains than share power with a Sunni-Arab majority ill-prepared to grant either democracy or clemency to its erstwhile wardens.” 

But for all the popularity this idea has gained of late, serious questions remain as to the viability of an ethnic Alawite state. Writing in The National, Faisal al-Yafai perceptively notes that “there are strong reasons to believe such an Alawite state would not be welcomed by ordinary Alawites, and would not succeed in any event.” 

For one thing, the ruling regime in Syria is not about Alawites—it is about the Assads. This one family and its cronies control “up to 70 per cent of the country’s assets, land, licences and businesses.” Given this disparity, “what would make ordinary Alawites think that in a new state, where they would be completely reliant on the Assads' protection, the family would be more willing to share the spoils?”

Furthermore, as al-Yafai notes, “if the Assads did retreat to the coastal mountains, it would be a short-lived stand.” Alawites make up a paltry 10 percent of the military, and the odds of them being able to fend off the numerically superior opposition forces without the capital’s resources are slim. Even if they succeeded, the Alawites lack the infrastructure to support a coastal state for long. 

It’s too soon to tell whether Assad will turn to this contingency plan. But al-Yafai’s realistic examination of the idea’s logistical difficulties is a notable addition to the conversation.