Syria’s Alawite community have a history of persecution, but dominate the ruling family’s security forces.
Nir Rosen Last Modified: 10 Oct 2011 17:49
As we left the central Syrian city of Homs, Abu Laith pulled a 9mm Llama pistol from under his shirt, loaded it and placed it in the gap between our seats. He was a sergeant in Syria’s State Security and drove a small Chinese-made taxi to avoid the attention of armed men looking for members of the security forces. Heading north to his village of Rabia, in Hama, we passed shops covered in gashes from gunfire.
“There was a sniper here,” he said at one point on the road. “He shot six military buses.” We drove by a Military Security building that had been attacked by armed opposition fighters. “Here was a statue of the late President Hafez,” he pointed at a now empty pedestal. Visibly offended, he added: “They took it down and put a live donkey there instead.”
Abu Laith belongs to the Alawite sect who make up about ten per cent of Syria’s population. Sunni Arabs comprise 65 per cent, while Sunni Kurds and Christians constitute ten per cent each. Druze, Shia, Ismailis and others make up the remainder. Since the Baathists seized power in Syria, sectarianism has been taboo, ever-present but unspoken of, with perpetrators of incitement harshly punished.