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As Syria's rebels close in, Assad has three options

The most likely is a retreat into the mountains controlled by his minority Alawite community. 

(Page 3 of 3)



While there appears to be consensus among analysts that the regime will eventually decamp to the coastal region, what remains unclear is the nature of the enclave – if any – that would be established there. The prospect of creating a mini Alawite state along the lines of the French-engineered statelet between 1920 and 1937 appears improbable under current circumstances. It would require the suppression of hostile Sunnis in the coastal cities and would be internationally ostracized and subject to attack by the FSA.

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The chief motivation for retreating to the mountains in the first place is self-preservation rather than state-building (Alawites represent about 12 percent of Syria’s 23 million, while Sunnis make up about 70 percent).

“The Alawite community … is counting on [Assad’s] army to protect them from possible retribution from the rebel militias,” writes Joshua Landis, professor of Middle East history at the University of Oklahoma and author of the influential Syria Comment blog. “Sectarian hatred has been driven to a fever pitch by the brutality of the regime. Syrians have been putting hate into their hearts over the past two years, making the likelihood of some sort of retribution ever more likely and the ethnic cleansing a possibility, even if a small one at the time.”

A rump regime well-entrenched into the mountain villages defended by the Alawite core of the Army and security services equipped with armor, artillery, air power and possibly even chemical and biological weapons could buy the Assads some breathing space during a likely period of chaos caused by a sudden leadership vacuum in Damascus. But it is questionable whether it would provide a long-term solution for the Assad clan’s survival.

Alawite divisions

Also working against a more formally established enclave is the fact that not all Alawites support the Assad regime. Some may prefer to cut a deal with the opposition rather than link the fate of the community to that of the Assads. Even Assad’s hometown of Qordaha, 15 miles south east of Latakia, has reportedly seen some intra-Alawite unrest between supporters and opponents of the Assad clan.

The Assad family, under Bashar’s 12-year rule, has “all but seceded socially and economically” from its roots and has done “precious little” for the Alawites, which remains one of the poorest communities in Syria, says Fred Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and former special adviser for transition in Syria at the State Department.

“On top of that, they have placed this community in grave jeopardy by recklessly pursuing a sectarian strategy to save their skins and preserve their ability to acquire material wealth,” he says. “In sum, I think it would be inadvisable for the [Assads] and their chief enablers to try and set up shop in Latakia and vicinity. If they have to escape in that direction because of a closed Damascus airport, they’d do well to keep moving. Where to? I don’t know who would have them at this point.”

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