Joshua Landis: Why Syria’s Alawis can’t have rump state


Barbara Slavin writes:

As Syria descends into chaos, Joshua Landis, the well-known Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma, writes that the minority Alawis will not be able to establish a rump state in their ancestral mountain redoubt once the Assad regime loses control of Damascus.

Writing on his blog, Syria Comment, Saturday (July 21), Landis notes that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has “done nothing to lay the groundwork for an Alawite state. There is no national infrastructure in the coastal region to sustain a state: no international airport, no electric power plans, no industry of importance, and nothing on which to build a national economy.” In addition, Landis says, “no country would recognize the Alawite state” and such a state would be “indefensible.”

In the blog post, Five Reasons Why There Will Not Be an Alawite State, Landis also noted the evolution of the Alawite sect after France assumed control of Syria in 1920:

The segregation that characterized the country under Ottoman rule gradually disappeared, Landis says, as the Alawis came down from the mountains into the Sunni/Christian coastal cities of Latakia, Jeble, Tartus and Banyas. Similarly, Alawis also migrated to Damascus, where there were only 400 of their sect registered in 1945.

Intermarriage – and the fact that Alawis, unlike Shiites in neighboring countries, have “tried to suppress any traditions that smacked of a separate ‘Alawite’ identity,” according to Landis, would also make it harder to build a separate state. (The Alawis also lack a separate language like that of the Kurds.)

Once Damascus falls, Landis says, Alawite shabbiha and special forces might retreat to the Alawite mountains but could not hold out for long.

“Whoever owns Damascus and the central state will own the rest of Syria in short order,” Landis says. “They will have the money, they will have legitimacy, and they will have international support. Syria could not survive without the coast. More importantly, it would not accept to do without the coast and the port cities of Tartus and Latakia. All the coastal cities remain majority Sunni to this day.”

Landis’s arguments provide more good reasons for Bashar al-Assad to step down sooner rather than later if he wants to avoid the fate of Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.

Even then, Syria is headed for a “hard landing,” according to Landis, who said earlier this month that he is “torn” about whether the US should get more deeply involved in Syria to try to stem the bloodshed and hasten a political transition.

In an email to Al-Monitor on Friday (July 20), Landis said Assad “cannot survive. It is only a  matter of time. But he may well hang on for more than a month, as the opposition has begun to argue.”