Nir Rosen on Syria's Alawites
With an identity based on Assad's rule, they have adopted slogans such as "Assad for ever", unable to separate themselves from the regime or imagine a Syria without Assad. Alawites who dare to oppose the regime believe they will face extra punishment for their "betrayal".
The Muslim Brotherhood rebellion which began in 1976 and led to a civil war between 1979 and 1982 determined how many Alawites see the current uprising. The Brotherhood attempted to rally the Sunnis into a sectarian struggle. Many Alawite intellectuals, judges and doctors were assassinated. The massacre of Alawite officer candidates in the Aleppo military academy in 1979 - as well as the assassination of Alawite Sheikh Yusuf Sarem - remain fresh in the community memory.
The Sunni majority, meanwhile, remember the brutality with which the Brotherhood's armed uprising was crushed. The Brotherhood was destroyed within Syria and remains largely absent from the current uprising, even if most of today's protesters are conservative Sunnis. This year's is also a popular and leaderless uprising, especially of the poor, unlike the Brotherhood's rebellion. While the Brotherhood lost much of its credibility after that crackdown, it remains influential in the diaspora-based opposition, which encourages Alawite fears.
The historian Hanna Batatu wrote in 1981: "Working for cohesion at the present juncture is the strong fear among Alawis of every rank that dire consequences for all Alawis could ensue from an overthrow or collapse of the existing regime."