Discussions of an Alawite State – the damage has already been done.
As even more parts of Syria fall outside of the control of the Assad regime, pro Assad supporters have started to openly voice their support for the idea of a retreat to the coast, and setting up an Alawite state behind the Orontes River. These discussions have become mainstream on pro-regime Facebook groups, and on Joshua Landis’ excellent Syria Comment. Regime supporters openly take as their example Israel, as a country that can survive and even flourish amidst a sea of hostile neighbors.
Um, yeah, OK. Putting aside the fact that every serious analyst on Syria considers the idea of the Hereditary Republic of Qurdaha as unfeasible, unworkable, and unsustainable, just the very act that it is being considered as a serious option by the Assad supporters, has done irreparable damage to the regime’s cause.
First, let’s quickly rehash how the very idea of an Alawite state on the coast is unworkable;
- The only countries that would possibly grant such a state diplomatic recognition are the mere twelve who voted with the regime at UN General Assembly in February.
- Alawites do not form a majority even in Latakia, Baniyas or Tartous, the main cities on the coast. Even in the countryside, Alawites are interspersed in clusters of Sunni-Alawite villages. To create a majority on the coast, massive displacements of the population will have to occur, to and from the Syrian hinterland.
- There is no reason why the rest of Syria will tolerate the breaking away of the country’s coast, and a post-Assad government can be expected to make the recovery of that area their top priority, superseding even the recovery of the Golan Heights.
- Currently, tourism is the mainstay income generator of the coastal areas. Don’t really see that happening if the coast breaks away, and in the 40 years of Baathist rule, nothing has been built to take its place.
- Who the heck is going to trust in whatever currency is issued by the coastal state? It will have to continue using the Syrian lira or another foreign currency. In which case, its monetary policy won’t be independent and would be very limited in its flexibility. Iran and Russia aren’t in a position to take on the role of “patrons”.
- It is highly unlikely that even Alawites would get behind the man and family (Al-Assad) that so failed them during the Syrian Revolution. Infighting for the top position will make the SNC’s squabbles look like a family spat over a game of Monopoly.
Regardless of how far in the regime’s mind such plans for a breakaway state have gone, the damage has already been done. The very fact that it has been seriously considered and voiced by its supporters has done irreparable harm to the moral of the regime’s rank and file. It is a tacit admission that the regime has failed to subdue the country, and is not likely to ever be able to reimpose its will.
These discussions will also not have been lost on Sunnis and Christians who had hitherto been supporting the regime. Is it any wonder that defections among the diplomatic corps have increased dramatically in the past month? Or that the regular army has shown such an astonishing lack of fighting spirit in the battle for Aleppo?
For a regime supporter not from the coast, whose home is in Damascus, Homs or Hama, what is there left to fight for? Christians in a coastal state can expect to be treated no better than in the one the regime ruled, and where they were bared by the new referendum from holding the presidency. Sunnis in a coastal state will assume the role they had in Baathist Syria; cannon-fodder for the army, and to make up the numbers in pro-regime demonstrations.
And what of Syria’s Alawites, the community that finds itself in what is arguably the worst situation of all of Syria’s groups. Stuck between a regime that regards them as expendable as rounds of ammunition, and an opposition that has done scant little to include them in the revolution or reassure them as to their future, not all of them can or will be able to relocate to the coast. The coast can only absorb a minority of Alawites, and by no means will the majority be able to, or be willing to, make the transfer, no matter how bad things may get for them in the Syrian hinterland. Just look at the number of Muslims still in India even in the wake of the most horrific ethnic and religious post-independence violence. The regime’s supporters would abandon and sacrifice even members of their own community, to save the few that can or will relocate to the coast.
For all the talk on the part of the regime of media-incitement by Western and Arab press, nothing could have done as much damage to the morale and cohesion of the regime’s rank and file, as its own rank and file. Dictatorships lose their grip when they and those around them lose their belief in their ability to impose their will, and that point has clearly been passed this summer.