A breakaway state may be Assad's Plan B
- Article by: ZEINA KARAM
- Associated Press
- July 25, 2012 - 9:15 PM
BEIRUT, LEBANON - In the recent sectarian violence in Syria, some observers see a grim pattern. Alawite fighters from President Bashar Assad's minority sect, they say, are trying to carve out a breakaway enclave for themselves by driving out local Sunnis, killing entire families and threatening anyone who stays behind.
The Alawite sect that makes up the backbone of Assad's regime has historically been centered in the towns and villages of Syria's mountainous Mediterranean coast.
If the regime falls, that heartland could become a refuge for the community -- and even for Assad himself -- from which to fight for survival against a Sunni majority that has long resented Alawite domination.
That would mean a bloody Balkanization of Syria's 17-month-old conflict, an ominous scenario for a country that sits along the Mideast's most turbulent fault lines.
Any attempt to create a breakaway state could trigger a wave of sectarian killings and have dangerous repercussions in a region where many religious, ethnic and tribal communities have separatist aspirations.
Already, there has been a degree of demographic shift. Sunnis and Alawites both have for months been fleeing the worst-hit areas of the country for safety, mainly within their communities.
In the past week, as Assad's firm grip on the key cities of Damascus and Aleppo -- two longtime bastions of support -- appeared to be wobbling, there were reports of Alawites streaming from hot spots into the coastal heartland.
But activists and opposition groups think Assad and members of his power base are going further and are preparing an Alawite stronghold.
Recent killings in overwhelmingly Sunni villages close to Alawite communities, they say, are meant to lay the groundwork.
"The idea for Assad to hold all of Syria as we know it, has become very difficult now," said Elias Hanna, a Beirut-based strategic analyst. "Falling back on an Alawite state is his Plan B."
An offshoot of Shiite Islam, the Alawite sect represents little more than 10 percent of the population of Syria.
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