Within Washington policy circles, many officials regard Syria’s minority Alawite sect as a homogenous bubble within Syria. However, in recent months, there have been signs of infighting within Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s crony clan and growing resentment among Alawites, many of whom belong to the military and state security apparatus and upon whose support Assad’s power rests. In fact, the Alawites who want to see the end of the Assad regime may finally be over their fear of losing power to the Sunni-led opposition. Washington would do well to pay attention to these fissures between the families of the Assad regime and its Damascus associates, as well as to the pro- and anti-Assad communities residing in the coastal region along the Mediterranean Sea.
Signs of rising tensions within Assad’s close circles first emerged in August when Douraid al-Assad, the president’s cousin, called for the resignation of Syria’s defense minister, Fahd Jassem al-Freij, following the execution of around 120 Syrian soldiers at the Tabqa airbase by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). According to state media outlets, another cousin of Assad, Hafez Makhlouf, the intelligence chief in Damascus, “voluntarily” stepped down. Meanwhile, Alawite activists along the country’s coastal region called Freij “the minister of death” in their #Speak Up Against Assad campaign, protesting against the high number of Alawite deaths since the start of the conflict. That same month, a pro-regime lawyer was arrested after initiating the Twitter hashtag #وينن, meaning “where are they,” to ask for the names of the 120 or so soldiers whom ISIS was holding captive. Alawite activists have increasingly called for regime change, as noted in a recent statement by one group that calls itself the Syrian Alawite Congregation.
More than 8,000 pro-regime military personnel from the Jableh district in the primarily Alawite coastal region of Latakia have reportedly been killed since the beginning of the revolution, not to mention the thousands from other Alawite regions who have died. Grieving families took exploded near Akrama Al Makhzomi Elementary School, killing 17 and injuring dozens of others, mostly children. Protesters have similarly called for Assad’s toppling in the port city of Tartus, and, according to activists on the ground, prominent families from the Alawite community in Latakia are secretly discussing Assad’s replacement.
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