Can Syrian President Bashar al-Assad establish an Alawite state? The reason we ask this question is the unprecedented Russian military intervention in Syria, the biggest in the Middle East since the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat expelled Soviet military advisers in 1972.
Russian military activity in Syria is mostly in Latakia and the coastal area extending to Tartus in the south. This area is viewed as a possible project for an Alawite state in case the regime collapses or the Syrian state disintegrates.
Civil war will follow Assad wherever he goes in Syria.Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Russian forces, fighter jets and the construction of airports, residential compounds and warehouses in Syria can be clearly seen in the photos snapped by American satellites. These photos have pushed Washington to officially inquire about the Russians’ aims.
Russia sparks suspicion
My article last week – on whether Assad is seeking the help of the Russians to reduce the domination of its Iranian ally – was within the context of this scenario, and the dangerous development of the Russians’ intervention in Syria.
We must however doubt the narrative of Assad’s dispute with the Iranians being the reason that he resorted to the Russians. We must doubt this for several reasons, such as the fact that the Iranians are stronger than the Russians in Syria, and that they also militarily surround Syria given their involvements in Iraq and Lebanon. Despite that, the intentions of Russian activity remains suspicious and its truth will not be revealed for a long time.
Dividing Syria a difficult aim
If we take the possibility of dividing Syria, and assume that Assad plans to resort to the coast of the Mediterranean to establish an Alawite state due to the increased attacks on the capital, then building such a state there and protecting it will be more difficult than maintaining governance in Syria.
There has been much talk of dividing Syria since the uprising of the Syrian people in 2011. It’s now in the spotlight again due to the Russians’ heavy presence around Latakia, the largest port city, and Tartus.
The concept of dividing Syria is not as easy as some think, as most governments oppose it given the dangerous repercussions for regional countries.
And previous divisions have proven that they increase the region’s problems, rather than put an end to them. The events since the divisions in Iraq in 1991 are an example of that. The international community, to this day, opposes the idea of the Iraqis’ act of solving their disputes via divisions – because such solutions merely divide Iraq into several states fighting together.
There’s also the case of Somalia, which has been through a bitter experience ever since the regime collapsed following the death of President Siad Barre. Somalia has been in chaos for more than 20 years now, and it’s divided into at least three statelets, including Somaliland, which declared its independence two decades ago and it has its own government, police and currency; however, no one recognizes it.
Perpetual civil war
Therefore, if Assad escapes Damascus to Latakia or to Qardaha and decides to build his republic there, it will not guarantee international recognition.
And there are two more dangerous factors about a potential Alawite state. The first is civil war, which will follow Assad wherever he goes in Syria. Assad will be the target of all angry Syrians and he will not be capable of providing permanent international protection for his new state.
The second factor is that Alawites themselves will consider Assad a burden and will blame him for their disaster. We must not forget that most of the Alawite elites left the country to Europe and Gulf countries after the crisis erupted, as they were aware of the size of the threat Assad had subjected them to. There’s no reason that obliges the sons of the Alawite sect, which represents 10 percent of the population, to accept that the Assad family governs them. Former President Hafez al-Assad at least used patriotic and nationalistic slogans to unite the Syrians under his rule – but his son Bashar has entered a war against the majority of citizens, and he enabled some of his relatives to manage the country’s resources and assume high-ranking posts of authority.
Assad is aware that there’s no place to go to if he leaves his castle in Damascus. This is why he rejects all the suggestions calling on him to step down and give up governance. To stay in power, he scarified 250,000 people and displaced more than 12 million. In addition, the barrel bombs his forces used have destroyed most cities.
By the Iranians’ continuous presence in Syria and the emergence of Russian troops, the two allies – Russia and Iran – are playing a lost game in holding on to Assad. They are now trying to suggest ideas and send more troops so Assad remains in power. The question is: For how long will they bear the losses?
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.