On Tuesday, the first day of August, the Syrian Arab Army marked its founding anniversary. Established in 1946, the army has undergone several transformations, culminating in its service under Bashar al-Assad, and before him, his father Hafez al-Assad. Unfortunately, the Assad regime diverted the army from its original mission, turning it into a tool of oppression against the Syrian people in their towns and cities.
In a research paper titled “Centers of Power in the Regime’s Army 2020: The Alawite Safa Approach,” issued by the “Omran Center for Strategic Studies,” it was revealed that from 1970 to 1997, at least 61.3% of the Alawites held commanding positions in the army. A significant number of these officers were direct relatives of the Assad family, contributing to the consolidation of Alawite control over the army during that period. The Alawite officers strategically focused on key strike units responsible for military coups, such as aviation squadrons, missile units, armoured brigades, intelligence, and counterintelligence forces, thereby solidifying their power.
Remarkably, even after five decades of Assad family rule, Alawite officers continue to dominate the top 40 command positions in the Syrian army. This imbalance, favouring the Alawite sect, has led to frustration among Sunni officers, who have been underrepresented at all levels of the officer corps, particularly in operational and intelligence roles. Many Sunni officers defected during the popular movements in 2011, driven by their alienation from the regime and refusal to partake in the slaughter of civilians, mostly Sunni Muslims.
The research paper by the Omran Center highlights that all of the 40 most crucial command positions in the Syrian army are currently occupied by Alawite officers, including two officers who are direct relatives of Bashar al-Assad: Major General Maher al-Assad and Major General Talal Makhlouf.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Abdullah Najjar, a defector from Political Security, Hafez al-Assad was successful in controlling the army by strategically placing Alawite officers in various positions and linking the fate of the Alawite sect to his rule. This approach has been followed by Bashar al-Assad, and many Alawites still associate their existence with the continuation of the Assad family’s rule.
Najjar emphasizes that for the army to be truly national, the selection of officers and volunteers should be based solely on their loyalty to the nation, without any affiliations to sectarian, partisan, or other groups. While the early establishment of the Syrian Arab Army relied on minorities such as Alawites, Druze, Circassians, and Kurds, the officers were once somewhat nationalist. However, as one sect gains dominance over the rest, the army loses its national value.
In conclusion, the history of the Syrian Arab Army is intertwined with the rise of the Assad regime and the increasing control of the Alawite sect over the military. This sectarian bias has led to discontent among Sunni officers and has had significant implications for the army’s national identity. For the army to be a truly national institution, it must prioritize merit and loyalty to the country over any sectarian or familial affiliations.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.