by Daniel Pipes
March 30, 2011
That up-to-the-moment title comes from an article I wrote almost a quarter century ago, in February 1987, looking at the potential sectarian ramifications of Hafez al-Assad’s demise. Although reputedly sickly at the time, the dictator eeked out another thirteen years and managed to pass the rule on to his son Bashar.
The odd thing is, so little fundamental changed during the past quarter-century, my analysis from then, with its heavy emphasis on the Sunni-Alawi sectarian divide, retains its value today at a moment of unprecedented popular rebellion against the Assad dynasty. An excerpt from the article’s conclusion:
Sunnis have a long list of grievances against ‘Alawi rule. They dislike the domination of power by a people considered to be socially and religiously inferior. They resent the socialism which reduces their wealth, the indignities against Islam, the attacks on the PLO, and what they perceive to be cooperation with Maronites and Zionists. They live with the memory of Hama and other massacres.
This hostility weighs heavily on the leadership; indeed, bedrock Sunni opposition remains the Asad regime’s greatest and most abiding problem. As a small and divided minority, the ‘Alawis know they cannot rule indefinitely against the wishes of almost 70 per cent of the population [that is Sunni Muslim]. Further, the traditional place of ‘Alawis in Syrian society and the manner of their ascent this century both make ‘Alawi power likely to be transient. That Sunni Muslims see ‘Alawi rule as an aberration probably bears on the future of political power in Syria as much as anything else.
In the likely event that the ruling elite fights among itself … , ‘Alawi weakness could provide the needed opening for Sunnis to reassert their power. The resentful majority population will fully exploit any faltering by the ‘Alawis. The effects will be severe; as one analyst has observed, “in the long run, it is highly dangerous for the ‘Alawis. If they lose their control, there will be a bloodbath.
For deeper background on the Alawis, see my 1989 article, “The Alawi Capture of Power in Syria.” (March 30, 2011)
Source material can be found at this site.