It is not clear how events in Syria will play out. One item that keeps coming up is the
possibility that Bashar and Co. will retreat to the hills and establish an
Alawistan. There are many arguments for
and against this happening. Long-timeSyria watcher Josh Landis says that none of the political or physical
infrastructure is in place. Another
analyst points out that an Alawi state would quickly become a rogue state andwould inspire other separatist movements in the region – of which there are a
on that basis yes, it is a problematic idea.
But what are the prospects for a less formally designated
Alawistan? Beyond preventing a massacre
of the Alawites, it could be the spearhead of a profound change in the region.
When Minorities Rule explains that majority rule is a Western idea. Minority rule is SOP in the Middle East and
can often be more benign then majority rule.
It is difficult to see the Alawi regime of Syria as benign of course,
although it has been forced to build coalitions with other minority groups to
rule. But let’s toss out the idea of an
a formal Alawi state and note Kramer’s insightful observation here:
The problem in the Arab world is not a lack of
democracy. It is a lack of self-determination. Here I do not mean national
self-determination; I mean latitude for ethnic, religious, and kinship groups
to exercise the maximum autonomous control over their collective lives. This is
what has been eroded by the cancerous growth of the state over the past fifty
years, exemplified by Iraq. The problem is the overbearing state, which has
achieved efficiency in one thing only: depriving the Middle Easterner of the
freedom he most cherishes, which is to be left alone to practice his faith,
speak his language, and enjoy the traditions of his sub-national community.
Syria, similar to the status of the Kurds in Iraq? As Kramer notes, the coercive power of the
modern nation-state, combined with technology and bureaucracy has brought
tremendous misery to the region. Could
weaker states be an answer? An Alawistan
would probably give rise to a Druzistan, maybe a Syrian Kurdistan, and create a
precedent for some diversity among Syria’s Sunni majority. It is unlikely al-Qaeda will take over Syria
– but it would not be sensible to bet against the Muslim Brotherhood doing
so. They are organized and in life,
success goes to the organized. It would
be nice if the international community could derive a formula that would endow
Syria with a democratic government, tolerant of human rights, and ready to
200,000 troops on the ground doing it in Syria with far less resources is unlikely. But if the Alawis can pull back into their
mountains with enough of the army to protect themselves could a scenario for a
weaker, but far less bloody, repressive, and meddlesome Syria be possible?
how this would happen – although hopefully the loathsome Assad family would not
be part of the equation – but if the idea has merit, the means to make it come about should be explored.
events affect the strategic interests of Israel and the United States is always
a central consideration. Syria is the
last bastion of pan-Arabism (outside of university faculties of course) and a
weak Syria of semi-autonomous regions would probably not be as capable of
confronting Israel. Further, Syria’s
Druse might find acting as go-betweens with their Israeli brethren (who are
well integrated into Israel’s society) to be extremely profitable. They might continue to mouth anti-Israel
rhetoric but their priorities would be elsewhere.
ideology was to legitimate their minority rule.
With the need for that justification removed, and a more fractious state
wrestling with internal problems, the conflict with Israel can go on the
prosperity. There will be a lot more
moving parts in the Levant and thus more opportunities to spark conflict. But hopefully the most vicious oppression can
be mitigated and Kramer’s modest sub-national self-determination can become the
cunning conspiracy to weaken the Arabs so that they can’t confront Israel. Well, sure.
But the present system has been awful for the Arabs.
The Middle East is dominated by repressive
regime after repressive regime. The
post-World War II era has been a disaster in terms of freedom, human
development, and economic prosperity for most of the Arab world. The modern nation-state system has not served
the Arabs well at all.
successes that justify a system that has failed in every other regard?
may be a system that allows the Arab world to break out of the development
cul-de-sac that has plagued it for the past century.
player in preserving the old Middle East.
One outcome of the rebellion against them is that they could play a
central role in shaping a new, more prosperous and free Middle East.