The BBC has the scoop on what could be a transformational document for the Middle East:
In a deeply unusual move, leaders of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect in Syria have released a document, obtained by the BBC, that distances themselves from his regime and outlines what kind of future they wish for the country after five years of civil war. The community and religious leaders say they hope to “shine a light” on the Alawites after a long period of secrecy, at what they call “an important moment” in their history.
In the eight-page document, termed a “declaration of identity reform”, the Alawites say they represent a third model “of and within Islam”. Those behind the text say Alawites are not members of a branch of Shia Islam – as they have been described in the past by Shia clerics – and that they are committed to “the fight against sectarian strife”. They also make clear that they adhere to “the values of equality, liberty and citizenship”, and call for secularism to be the future of Syria, and a system of governance in which Islam, Christianity and all other religions are equal.
And despite Alawites having dominated Syria’s government and security services under Mr Assad and his late father Hafez for more than four decades, they stress that the legitimacy of his regime “can only be considered according to the criteria of democracy and fundamental rights”.
It’s hard to say what exactly is going on here, but if this document turns out to be accurate and representative, it would mean that the Alawis are distancing themselves both from Assad and from Iran in the sectarian war that has engulfed Syria.
The best hope for the return of some kind of long term stability in the Middle East would be the emergence of a Syria that is acceptable to the Sunni world, which means at a minimum a Syria which is not aligned with Iran and where the Sunni majority is the leading political force in the country. If a significant group of Alawites are now recognizing this and embracing it—and this is a big if—it could represent the opening to a brighter future.