Although the Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, are currently in power in Syria; for centuries, they were marginalized, deemed heretics by the larger Islamic Sunni community, a report by the online edition of the Time revealed on Monday.
Tracing back their history, the report mentioned that the Alawites emerged in the 9th century, led by Mohammad bin Nusayr, after breaking with the Shiites, who now form majorities in several Arab countries such as Iran, Lebanon and Bahrain.
To keep away from the coastal areas dominated by the Sunnis and to avoid persecution, the Alawites established villages in the remote mountain chains of Lebanon, Syria and Turkey.
By 1963, Hafez Assad, an Alawite himself, along with two other military officers, brought the sect to power in Syria. Normally, members of the sect were given top government positions, thus gaining much influence and power.
By 2000, Assad was succeeded by his son, Bashar, who has been trying to quell protests against his regime since March 2011. For the most part, his fellow Alawites have stuck by him in the increasingly bloody fighting. But not all, according to the Time report.
Scores of the sect members are increasingly breaking rank, and defections are on the rise, thus giving harder time for Assad.
Syrian captain Omar, an Alawite rebel fighter, described Assad as a “butcher” and said that he had defected once the Syrian regime started to shell civilian neighborhoods in his hometown.
“Bashar is telling us the Sunnis will slaughter us,” he was quoted by the Time as saying via Skype from Syria. “He is scaring Alawis and pushing them to the edge. This is why the army is killing the people in the street. They are scared the Sunnis will massacre us.”
He added: “I just couldn’t see Syrians dying anymore.” He declined to reveal how many Alawite officers have defected, but he said that the number was “significant.”
Others with ties to the security forces have also turned their back on the Alawite leadership.
The father of Luban Mrai is a senior leader in the pro-regime militias known as the ‘shabbiha’ that targets civilians. She left to Istanbul after experiencing “serious moral and ethical dilemmas” stemming from the targeting of civilians.
“The regime is using our religion for political ends,” she told the Time in a phone conversation. “Alawis are killing Syrians for no reason. This is wrong.”
The Time report also highlighted that leading Alawite intellectuals had also abandoned Assad’s regime.
Rasha Omran, a Syrian prominent poet who has gained fame throughout Europe, has been focusing on the Syrian crisis since the beginning of the uprising.
Few days after the start of revolution, Omran announced her support on her Facebook page. The prominent poet regards herself as a Syrian rather than as an Alawite. She was forced to leave Syria, by intelligence agents, so as not to embarrass the regime.
“This is a dictatorial regime,” she was quoted as saying by the Time in a phone call from Egypt. “How can I support a government that kills its citizens?”
She thinks that Assad and his inner circle are stirring up ethnic hatreds. “We are all Syrians. But Assad is working to demolish our country,” she said.