Alawi dissident voices his concerns about the Syrian uprising

An unpublished piece I wrote about an Alawi friend of mine, who fled to Turkey to avoid serving in the army. Even though he has never been a supporter of the regime, he has been reluctant to join the uprising for several reasons…

Alawi dissident: Intellectuals limited to Facebook in the Syrian uprising

By Andrea Glioti- Mersin (Turkey)

“I left Syria mainly for two reasons: I never wanted to serve in the army and, in the current situation, it would mean being killed whether because I’m an Alawi or because I’m automatically considered a supporter of the regime”, said Hassan ‘Ali, a 24 year-old IT sciences graduate from the countryside of Massyaf, who moved to Mersin one month ago. Hassan was lucky enough to leave the country on a bus without any need to be smuggled across the border, since his name was not blacklisted by that time. “If I was Sunni, I wouldn’t have been able to leave” he admits, while sipping some wine at the port. However, his situation in Turkey is not easy: he arrived without knowing a word of Turkish and started working in a bar to pay his hotel room, while hoping vainly to find a better job. He’s still an alien on the Turkish Mediterranean shores, strolling around in his bohemian outfit and greeting the few acquaintances from the bar.  Hassan is considering moving to Lebanon, his family is not in the position to help him, since the father works as a school employee and the only other source of incomes is a small shop. “Our economic situation got slightly better since my brother has been accepted for an exchange program in a military academy in Russia,” says Hassan, “nevertheless, I don’t have a good relation with my family anymore, since they believe I should be fighting the holy war of ‘Alawis against Sunnis and threatened to hand me over to security forces for my political views, when I was still in Syria”.

Hassan has been at odds with his religious family since long time, being an atheist nostalgic of the ‘50s, when Syrian communists enjoyed major freedoms and a wider appeal to the population. At the same time, he is critical of the religious trends within the Syrian uprising: “Nowadays, the Syrian revolution is led in the streets by Sunni religious leaders, whereas the intellectuals play a role limited to Facebook”.  The fate of secularists in Syria is a grim one, according to Hassan, who puts their chances as high as those of the Salafis in case of fair elections. “Both groups enjoy the support of 10-15% of the population, the difference is that Salafis are more likely to gain the support of Sunni popular classes”. However, in his opinion, the electoral outcome will be decided between nationalists and Muslim Brotherhood, depending on the party most capable of attracting Sunni educated classes. Sunnis account for 75% of the Syrian population.

On the other hand, Hassan understands some of the concerns of his family, due to the forms of sectarian violence he has witnessed in Masyaf. “Among Alawis, there is a sort of ‘consecration’ of a single case of violence, leading everyone to believe the community is targeted”, he points out, “but in the villages surrounding Masyaf at least 50 civilians have been killed by Sunnis and I knew personally three of them”.  In August, his uncle from Salhab was kidnapped by a Sunni armed group, who thought him a loyalist thug (shabih). After being blindfolded and threatened of death, Hassan’s uncle was liberated thanks to the mediation of an Alawi tribal leader. “We had many similar cases, they usually end with a prisoners exchange between Alawi and Sunni villages,” adds Hassan, “even in the case of my uncle, his village was already prepared to retaliate by kidnapping a large number of Sunnis”.

The sectarian cleavage is one of the reasons why Hassan took part only in two demonstrations in Damascus: the only silent sit-in organized under the approval of the Government, after peaceful demonstrations were formally legalized in April 2011, and the protests occurred in the university city in June. Hassan ascribes the sectarian drift of the revolution mainly to the Government, as a matter of fact, the Alawi identity has been the other factor which kept him partially detached from the uprising, being aware that any punishment would have been double for his alignment with the opposition. He also considers the emergence of Salafi radical groups in provinces like Idlib a result of the marginalization of those who had relatives involved in the Islamist uprising of the ‘80s. “Even the Sunni armed groups responsible of the attacks in Masyaf are not members of the Free Syrian Army,” adds Hassan, “they’re gangs of criminals, who were intentionally granted amnesty by the regime in April 2011”. The aim was to consolidate the binomial regime-security in the minds of Syrian citizens.

Differently from the Sunni refugees living in the Turkish camps, Hassan does not advocate the use of further violence to overthrow the Government, as he is convinced that the balance will remain in favor of the State, unless Bashar al-Asad is assassinated: only in this case, the upper echelons would give birth to a power strife beneficial for the opposition.  Meanwhile, Hassan gets ready to wait for a long time somewhere abroad.

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