Over the last few weeks, the momentum has clearly shifted in favor of the rebels, and barring setbacks and surprises, the liberation of the north and south will be completed by the summer. The battle for Damascus will continue to pick up steam, then, all hell will break loose along the coast and in central Syria. The fragmentation continues.
In the paragraphs below, Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi takes issue with my reference to “Alawite Jihadism,”:
Before proceeding further, one should dispense of Ammar Abdulhamid’s misleading term “Alawite Jihadism.” While Abdulhamid does explain that “Alawite Jihadism” did not develop as a “strictly religious phenomenon,” it implies that there is some kind of specific religious struggle behind the efforts of Alawites fighting for the Assad regime.
On the contrary, to the extent that pro-Assad Alawite fighters express any sentiment about religion, it is normally in the form of a non-religious bloodline identity, which often includes opposition to Islam, and not merely the Sunni form of it as Abdulhamid implies, though the anti-Sunni rhetoric is undeniable
In the most extreme manifestation, this can give rise to statements like ‘F— you and your prophet [Mohammed].’ A more subtle variation on the anti-Islamic hostility is to ask rhetorically, ‘Who is your God? Isn’t Bashar your God?’ The latter, as I have argued before, does not so much reflect actual worship of Assad (as Abdulhamid seems to think) as simple mockery of the fact that the deity the detainees worship is not saving them from torture and death.
Actually, the evidence for religious motivations on part of some Alawites is pretty evident. All one has to do is examine the words of the late Col. Ali Khuzzam, an Alawite officer who led the charge against protesters in Daraa in the early days of the revolution and took part in the attack on the neighborhood of Baba Amr less than a year later, to realize that for some Alawite, the religious dimension of this conflict is all too real. According to the Colonel, the current conflict is but another episode of a religious war that has been going on for 1400 years.
But the Alawites for whom this conflict is religious are not the ones who fill the pages of Facebook with their views and complaints, but the ones who are often dismissed and disdained by their fellow educated, urbanized and secular Alawites who loathe everything about the old ways, except for an occasional song by the likes of Ali Deek, and an occasional visit to relatives in some village desolate enough to appear “charming” and “idyllic,” at least for the few days that they are willing to spend there.
Curses against “Allah” per se are not necessarily too sacrilegious for this multiply exploited segment of the Alawite community providing fodder to Assad’s war, nor is it an indication of a lack of piety on their part. An utterance against “Amir Al-Moumineen Ali,” on the other hand, now that’s where blasphemy lies. After all, “Allah” is the façade, while “Ali” is the “essence,” according to what we know of Alawite beliefs. To many of them, the cult of Assad is only a tad removed from being an official formal religion. The only reason it is not comes as a reflection of the Assads’ own disdain of traditional Alawite piety. Hafiz Al-Assad wanted to Sunnify the Alawites, his old brother Jamil sought a further integration with Twelver Shiism. Eventually, and after the showdown with opposition groups in the 1970s and 1980s, the benefits of traditional Alawite piety dawned upon them. Indeed, the 1990s witnessed a revival of traditional Alawite piety in rural areas and among these very susceptible segments from whose ranks the bulk of Alawite recruits for army and security services are derived. Few decades earlier, Salman Al-Murshid had a different attitude regarding traditional Alawite piety, and the result was a cult that survives to this very day: the breakaway Murshidi sect whose members play an active part in the current crackdown. After all, to them, the Sunnis literally killed their god on accusation of treason and blasphemy in 1946.
Of course, as I noted in my analysis, the struggle is not all about religion, it’s mostly about identity. A young Alawite militiaman needs not be religious in any sense to look at this conflict as a way of asserting his identity, defending it, and defending his existence, while voicing his disdaining Sunnis, and professing his faith in the superiority of current Alawite worldview based at it is on resistance ideology, secularism, and, with the arrival of Bashar Al-Assad, an alleged embrace of modernity. Hence, and while I do assert the religious dimension of the struggle for a growing number of Alawites, and I do assert the existence of an Assad cult as a phenomenon that has religious dimension to some Alawites, I described the prevalent general ethos among Alawite as an Alawite pride movement that combines secular and religious dimensions. Moreover, I do not believe that this will be an ephemeral phenomenon. It is, in fact, just beginning.
As for Assad, should he indeed meet a violent death, I would not discount the possibility of witnessing an actual formal sect emerging down the road where he and his father play central roles. But even without such development, the Assads will continue to play important roles in the Alawite pride phenomenon for decades to come. Assad’s “martyrdom,” even if viewed in secular terms, will add much depth and oomph to this phenomenon.
On a related note, should the current rumors regarding the assassination or attempted assassination of Assad prove true, then, the “prophecy” I made back in January would have been validated:
He [Bashar Al-Assad] seemed more like a placeholder of sorts, a person whose presence was necessary only until a new leadership structure has been quietly built in the background, most definitely under Iranian supervision, involving rising stars from within the Alawite community, be they members of military and security apparatuses, or leaders of various pro-Assad militias. The end result will be a new organization, building on elements from the Alawite Pride phenomenon – Shia beliefs, resistance ideology and the Assad cult of personality – and directly linked to and funded by Iran. Once this is accomplished, it would not matter how long it would take to drive the regime out of Damascus and into coastal holdouts. For one way or another, Iran will remain relevant and will have a sway over unfolding events. Once the new structure is consolidated, or is close to consolidation, Assad himself and perhaps some of his close advisers, might be seen as liabilities, and Assad as a martyr might just prove more relevant and useful to the cause of Alawite Pride than his continued survival. With his martyrdom, there will be no risk of him doing or saying anything that can jeopardize the movement and the new power structure.
So, the question is: are we there yet?
Col. Riad Al-Ass’aad hours after his surgery and the removal of his right leg following the failed assassination attempt. Still under sedation, he keeps saying: “I want to die, I want to die.” The video and the pictures caused much dismay in opposition circles and generated much sympathy for the man who is no longer playing any pivoting role in the conduct of operation. This is not a blow to the rebel movement, by means, and it is not yet clear who was behind the attempt http://youtu.be/FWZkgvelC80 , http://youtu.be/MYwwSAaIj1E the attempt took place in the town of Mayadin, in Deir Ezzor Province, a town currently under the control of Jabhat Al-Nusra and her affiliates, as is much of Deir Ezzor and Raqqa provinces. But just recently the Colonel voiced his adamant support of Al-Nusra, it is not likely that its members will target him.
Meanwhile, the Military Revolutionary Council of Deir Ezzor conducted elections as part of its restructuring efforts: the new council is made up of defectors with Colonel rank as well as a number of civilian Jihadi leaders. The leader is Colonel Samer Sultan http://youtu.be/tn4HnpHEMXg
Rebels in northern parts of Damascus city target a building along the main highway connecting Damascus and Homs cities that they claim is used by pro-regime snipers http://youtu.be/gIBaE0v-7M8 , http://youtu.be/yEeIGaCz97M