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Syria's Alawites Torn Between Regime, Opposition

While many analysts inside and outside Syria seem to assume Syrian Alawites support President Bashar al-Assad’s Baathist regime, the reality on the ground is much more nuanced.
Smoke rises after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the village of Dourit, in Latakia countryside August 17, 2013. Picture taken August 17, 2013. REUTERS/Khattab Abdulaa (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTX12PMS

The Syrian regime is known as a Baathist secular regime that has tried to create an inclusive Syrian national identity consecrated by an Arab nationalist Baathist ideology that is immunized by socialism and secularism. The regime intended for this identity to be inclusive and shared by all components of the Syrian people and prevail over the sectarian divisions seen in Syria in previous eras — especially during the French Mandate, when the French established two states: one for Alawites and another for Druze in other parts of the country.

The regime led by late President Hafez al-Assad mainly relied, to consolidate its rule, on Alawites enlisted in the army and security services and employed in some administrations as well as within the Baath Party. However, the regime dealt with sectarianism in the country with extreme sensitivity and took into account the fact that Sunni Muslims are the majority of the Syrian population. Moreover, Hafez al-Assad used to say he was of the Shafi'i madhhab, the religious sect of the majority in Syria, and his son Bashar is also keen to attend prayers at public events, according to the Shafi'i doctrine.

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