Syria: the myth of partition

After being rather selective in its narratives of modern Syrian history, western coverage is now spreading plots about sectarian divisions in a future Syria that has freed itself from the grip of authoritarianism 

In the past few days, Hollywood-style narratives have been widely disseminated about the current Syrian situation.  After some rather selective narratives of modern Syrian history, western commentators are now spreading rumours about sectarian divisions in a future Syria that has freed itself from the grip of authoritarianism.  Also, after the focus on the militant struggle which wholly ignored a parallel peaceful movement, it seems that some western experts who are searching for excitement, are now leaning towards discussing the possibility of an “Alawite” state being set up on the Syrian coast, based on “advanced agriculture, modern infrastructure, and ports,” claiming that the Syrian regime has developed these sectors in anticipation of such a scenario. 

It seems that the knowledge of 'scholars' about the situation has its limits.  The data used are not accurate due to the neglect of statistics as a science in Syria for decades.  It is well known, however, that the Syrian coast is not homogenous with regards to sect, in spite of attempts to change its demographic composition. The cities of the coast are not dominated by any one sect, but contain a diverse mixture.   The cities of Latakia and Jabaleh comprise a specific sect, and in Tartus the percentage of Alawites has reached 60%, with 30% Sunnis and 10% Christians.  As for the mountains and the countryside, there is a majority of Alawites residing in these areas, but they also include Christians, Sunnis and Ismailis.  Therefore, any scenario of the kind imagined by these 'experts' will require a process of Serbian-style 'ethnic cleansing', and today this is purely fictional prospect, given current domestic, regional and international postures.     

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As for the economic situation of the coastal area, there are no factories or infrastructure, except for the ports, that are well developed.  The only two real economic projects are the Tartus cement factory and the thermal station in Banias.  Both projects have produced high levels of pollution and ruined huge tracts of olive grove, pushing thousands of young farmers into low-income manual labour markets in the cities.  That is not to mention that there are villages in Latakia and Tartus provinces that lack primary services like sewage and drinking water.  This intentional neglect has led many to seek habitation in Damascene slums,  while some migrants were deployed to service military and security machinery, far away from societal and familial structures, which were destroyed to unify loyalty among position holders, while removing that loyalty from traditional representatives of civil society.       

However, what is most important is that the leaders of the intellectual/revolutionary opposition on the street belong to all segments of the Syrian population, without excluding the Alawites, who have been exploited by the 'regime sect' and not by the sect of the regime.  In the 1920's, Alawite ancestors under the leadership of Saleh Al-Ali opposed and revolted against the French project of creating an Alawite state.  This project will likewise be refused by their descendants who instead will participate in building a united Syrian future, in spite of the wild imaginings of those who search for excitement and political thrills in fiction.   

 

Thanks to Wafa Alsayed for translating the piece from Arabic.

About the author

Salam Kawakibi is deputy director of the Arab Reform Initiative

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