Every news agency has discussed the United States’ intention to form an international coalition to strike terrorist organizations in Syria, chief among them ISIS. At first, Alawites from the Syrian coast did not pay much attention to this media hype. Many of them believed it to be yet another attempt to put indirect political pressure on the forces operating in Syria. They based this assumption on the similar hype surrounding the United States’ previous statements that it intended to launch strikes against the regime. Most Alawites believed that these strikes would not take place, since the regime declared that it would not approve attacks on Islamist organizations unless it participated in them. Once these strikes took place, however, Alawites suddenly divided into three main camps:
First, many left-wing Alawite intellectuals continue to believe that the Syrian uprising was the result of foreign subversion, not an expression of the needs of the Syrian people. They have expressed their opposition to the coalition formed to counter ISIS and other terrorist organizations. One such intellectual stated that he did not believe that the United States would ever lead an alliance that served the best interest of the Syrian people.
Second, other intellectuals, who are Alawite by birth but follow left-wing secular ideologies, believed that the Syrian uprising was legitimate. Some of them even took part in early demonstrations. They now believe that military strikes are required to end Islamic extremist forces’ control over much of Syria. Yet at the same time, they believe that a political solution including the removal of Bashar al-Assad and the main figures of his regime must accompany this military action. These intellectuals are currently working on a statement that will be published by the political organizations to which they belong.
Third, the majority of Alawites, who may be considered representative of Alawite “public opinion,” are supportive of the strikes launched by the international coalition. Their support for these strikes increased when Jabhat al-Nusra was targeted alongside ISIS. When asked about the reason for this support, one Alawite stated, ”For three years our sons have been burned and shot to death, and the regime has repeatedly promised that the fight is nearly over. Now, all we see are pictures of our sons decapitated by those takfiri [apostasizing] groups. Now that [the coalition] has come to rid us of these groups’ tyranny, we will support them.” He asked, “What would prevent ISIS from displacing and killing us as they are doing [to the Kurds] in Kobani?” A few days ago, the news reported an air strike against Jabhat Al-Nusra in Lattakia’s northern countryside, near a village called Kfaria. An Alawite woman from that area said that she supported strikes against these takfiri groups wherever they are located.
In order to collect representative opinions, we examined pro-regime websites that reflect the public opinion of the Syrian coast. The following is one of the most important websites followed by coastal Syrians, especially Alawites: https://www.facebook.com/reef.latakia?fref=ts. This Facebook page included no comments that clearly condemned coalition strikes, though regime media continues to question the true aims of the US-led alliance. Alawite support for these military strikes against radical Islamist forces can be understood as resulting from a lack of hope that the regime can bring an end to the civil war. It can be also understood as reflecting the desire to stop losing their sons in the conflict, and the fear that extremist forces will take over Syria if the regime loses the war. It is now clear to most Alawites that there is a large gap between the regime’s interests and their own. Many of them now also think that the regime is prepared to make deals with its opponents and sacrifice Alawites to their worst enemies, which they think occurred when ISIS conquered Al-Raqqa airport. Some Alawites who published comments on these websites even went beyond supporting the coalition’s military strikes, and called for the presence of UN forces in Syria to ensure the safety of their sect, with or without the Assad regime.