Bashar al-Assad is losing the support of his own Alawite sect, which forms the basis of regime support in Syria. As the Washington Post reports:
Members of the minority group have become more critical of the regime’s handling of the conflict on social media and during rare protests, according to activists and analysts. They also say Alawites, who form the core of Assad’s security forces, increasingly have avoided compulsory military service in a nearly four-year war where their community has sustained huge casualties relative to Syria’s Sunnis, who lead the rebellion. […]“People are realizing that the war is not going to go away any time soon and that you can’t shoot your way out of this problem—not with Syria’s demographics,” he said. “There are too many Sunnis.” […]The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, recently put the number of security forces killed at a minimum of 110,000, while many describe rural Alawite villages as virtually gutted of military-age men.
That exhaustion on the part of Alawite communities could go a long way explaining the shifting attitudes within the Syrian army, as described by Robert Fisk, long-time Middle East correspondent for the UK Independent, in a recent interview with the Australian Broadcasting Company:
[I]t’s interesting: the Army doesn’t talk about Bashar al-Assad. It says, “We’re the Syrian Army.” It doesn’t talk about the regime. It can’t talk about the regime critically of course. But it’s interesting to see that their concentration is on the country, not on the President, as it would’ve been years ago. […]The Army has got to fight because if it doesn’t, Syria as a regime will be wiped out and so will the Army. Look what happened to the Syrian soldiers who were captured in Raqqa. 200 of them were taken away and beheaded. So, Syrian soldiers fight for their lives of course as well as for their country. One or two say, “We fight for our President, Bashir al-Assad,” but it’s a propaganda line that I think has sort of washed away now. The Syrian Army wants—it is a very important institution in Syria and I suspect it’s more important than Assad. And I think the reason for that is that Assad knows that without the Army, he’s finished and the Army know that.
Fisk is an interesting commentator who has decades of experience in the Middle East, and the entire interview is well worth a read. But that shift in perception that has occurred, away from a regime centered around the Assad family to one focused on a Syrian and in particular Alawite sense of identity in the face of a war of annihilation is worth emphasizing.It makes for interesting reading now to go back and consider what might have occurred had the Alawites taken a different path from the outset of the war, as TAI’s Adam Garfinkle wrote in 2012. Ultimately the regime did not crack, and the survival of Syria’s Alawites became ever more closely linked to the survival of the Assad regime. But two years on, with countless lives lost and victory no closer, the Alawites may be beginning to think that perhaps they made a bad deal.