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Syria: Five Reasons Why There Won’t Be An Alawite State – Analysis


Will the Alawites try to establish an Alawite State centered in the Coastal Mountains?

Many opposition figures and journalists insist that the Alawites are planning to fall back to the Alawite Mountains in an attempt to establish a separate state. This is unconvincing. Here are the top five reasons why there will not be an Alawite State.


1. The Alawites have tried to get out of the mountains and into the cities. After the French conquered Syria in 1920, the earliest censuses showed a profound demographic segregation between Sunnis and Alawis. In no town of over 200 people did Alawis and Sunnis live together. The coastal cities of Latakia, Jeble, Tartus and Banyas were Sunni cities with Christian neighborhoods, but no Alawi neighborhoods. Only in Antioch did Alawis live in the city and that city was the capital of a separate autonomous region of Iskandarun, which was ceded to the Turks in 1938. In 1945 only 400 Alawis were registered as inhabitants of Damascus. Ever since the end of the Ottoman era, the Alawis have been streaming out of the mountain region along the coast to live in the cities. The French establishment of an autonomous Alawite state on the coast and their over-recruitment of Alawis into the military sped up this process of urbanization and confessional mixing in the cities of Syria. Assad’s Syria further accelerated the urbanization of the Alawites as they were admitted into universities in large numbers and found jobs in all the ministries and national institutions for the first time.

A sectarian look at Syrian unrest
A sectarian look at Syrian unrest

2. The Assads planned to solve the sectarian problem in Syria by integrating the Alawites into Syria as “Muslims.” They promoted a secular state and tried to suppress any traditions that smacked of a separate “Alawite” identity. No formal Alawi institutions have been established to define Alawi culture, religion or particularism. They did not plan for an Alawi state. On the contrary, the Assads bent over backwards to define Alawis as main-stream Muslims, Bashar married a Sunni Muslim in an attempt at nation-building and to stand as an example of integration.  He claimed to promote a “secular” vision of Syria.

3. Assad has done nothing to lay the groundwork for an Alawite state. There is no national infrastructure in the coastal region to sustain a state: no international airport, no electric power plans, no industry of importance, and nothing on which to build a national economy.

4. No country would recognize the Alawite state.

5. Most importantly, an Alawite state is indefensible. Alawite shabbiha and brigades of special forces may fall back to the Alawite Mountains when Damascus is lost. But how long could they last? As soon as Syria’s Sunni militias unite, as presumably they will, they would make hasty work of any remaining Alawite resistance. Who ever owns Damascus and the central state will own the rest of Syria in short order. They will have the money, they will have legitimacy, and they will have international support. Syria could not survive without the coast. More importantly, it would not accept to do without the coast and the port cities of Tartus and Latakia. All the coastal cities remain majority Sunni to this day.

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Syria Comment - Joshua Landis

Joshua Landis maintains Syria Comment and teaches modern Middle Eastern history and politics and writes on Syria and its surrounding countries. He writes “Syria Comment,” a daily newsletter on Syrian politics that attracts some 3,000 readers a day. It is widely read by officials in Washington, Europe and Syria. Dr. Landis regularly travels to Washington DC to consult with the State Department and other government agencies. He is a frequent analyst on TV and radio.

7 thoughts on “Syria: Five Reasons Why There Won’t Be An Alawite State – Analysis

  • July 22, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    I disagree, Sunnis are already leaving the Latakia governate. Conversely, Alawis and Christians are and will continue to will seek refuge there. This will allow the international community to find some eventual solution with the least trouble and death: Alawistan, Sunni Syria and a newly enlarged Kurdistan.

    This will be fine with Russia which will vigorously support the new Alawistan which will incorporate Tartous. Iran may have to accept it since they can still support Hezboullah. The Sunnis get the heartland. The Kurds get a newly enlarged Kurdistan. The Christian and Druze get a refuge. Alawistan gets whatever unconventional hydrocarbons that exist in the Latakia governate and offshore. Alawistan gets the port cities. Alawistan might have a well educated skilled population of 5-6 million (Alawi, Christian, Druze)

  • July 23, 2012 at 1:42 am

    The question is, what becomes of the Alawi people? Do most of them emigrate?

  • July 23, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Yours is wishful thinking Mr landis! An Alawite State would be viable, and it certainly wouldn’t be a “rogue State” ss you hastily pretend. Contrary to what you think Alawites will be supported by many around the world. They, plus the Christians and other minorities are the victims of an intransigent Sunni extremist majority here. If Kosovars could get their “country” to protect them from Serbian ethnic cleansing why not the Alawites? We understand you are just a moutrhpiece of US/EU policies and interests. But in the case of Syria the US and its western poodles don’t have the moral high ground. And Alawite State supported by Russia and China will gain recognition from many in the non aligned movement. People are just sick of regime changes orchestreted by Washington and its NATO gang! Many around the world thing its time to draw a line in the sand. It will be in Syria…

    • July 24, 2012 at 8:05 pm


      Why do so many Assad supporters follow the exact same template: attack the writer; call them a ‘mouthpiece’; claim Assad and the Alawite people ‘victims of an intransigent Sunni extremist majority’; link the Alawites to the defenceless Christians; and then blame it all on the US/CIA who are apparently controlling everything that has happened in Syria? How about a few variations? Heck, why not the occasional concession, something like, ‘While it’s true that the Assad regime has been responsible for numerous atrocities…’ or,’many Alawites are terrified of the collision course that Assad has set them on.’ I too want to draw a line in the sand Brian, a line against unthinking polemic and name-calling.
      Please try harder.

    • July 24, 2012 at 11:19 pm

      Yours was quite the polemic as well.

      The Alawis will be persecuted and assimilated into a Sunni Syria. As will the Christian minority. Alawis have been considered heretics for centuries: they believe in reincarnation, they do not veil their women, they drink wine, and in the modern era they have been quite secular.

      This is an existential battle for their existence, similar to Israel’s.

  • July 23, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    @”Brain,” that sounds like a rogue state to me.

  • July 24, 2012 at 12:37 am

    An Alawite state will be quite defensible. They will retain a large portion of the highly trained military and intelligence officers, as well as heavy weaponry and much of the institutional structure of the state. In fact, the remainder state in the interior will face a tremendous shortage of human capital and functioning state apparatus. It would take a while for them to construct viable institutional structures necessary for a strong state. Without access to the open sea and with a hollowed out state, interior Syria will become a playing field of regional powers.

    Also, there is quite specific ethnic cleansing going on in order to clear the coast and the highlands of Sunnis. If the Assad regime, and the Alawi community were making a contingency plan of withdrawing to the highlands, what else would it look it?

    No guarantees of course, but this is looking more and more likely by the day.


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