Talk about being between a rock and a hard place.

“We are witnesses to the country’s unraveling,” a 56-year-old Alawite public servant told me last summer in Latakia, the western coast’s main city. “Many people I know—especially those who have lost loved ones—are fed up, but few dare speak out because this would contradict the facade of defiance,” he said.

In Alawite areas, questioning Mr. Assad’s policies can be construed as treason. This is especially true as rebels and extremist groups, including Islamic State and the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, continue to execute captured Alawite soldiers and post videos of the killings.



Syria’s Alawites: The People Behind Assad

The Alawites are usually seen as fervent supporters of Bashar al-Assad. But now they are worried—and not entirely pro-regime

Sam Dagher June 25, 2015 10:05 a.m. ET

To find popular support for the embattled regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, look to the mountains, valleys and coastal cities of the country’s western region. It is the Alawite heartland—the traditional home of the religious minority to which Mr. Assad and many of his key associates belong.

Alawites make up just 10% to 15% of Syria’s population, and they are usually presented as fervent supporters of Mr. Assad. Most Alawites do indeed fear that, if the Assad regime falls, they will face reprisals from the country’s majority Sunnis, who have led the rebellion against the government since March 2011. Many Sunnis see the Alawites as willing accomplices of a brutal regime that has committed atrocities against them from the time it was founded more than four decades ago by the current president’s late father, Hafez al-Assad.

Before being expelled from Syria last summer by the Assad government—for reasons never explained to me, having been this newspaper’s reporter there for two years—I spent several weeks among the Alawites, and I found a more complex and often painful story.

 Mainstream Sunni Muslims have long regarded Alawites as adherents of an obscure, even heretical cult. Alawites believe that Imam Ali—a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and a figure also revered by Shiites—was an incarnation of God, who revealed himself in six other people before Ali’s seventh-century caliphate.

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