Syria's Alawites deny full loyalty to Assad in Cairo conference

Ahram Online, Reuters , Sunday 24 Mar 2013

Almost 150 Alawite figures attend a two-day anti-Assad conference in Cairo

Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad (Photo: Reuters)

Syria's Alawite opposition called for "dismantling" the structure, cadres and hierarchy of the ruling regime during its two-day meeting held in Cairo. 

More than 80 Alawite figures will discuss issuing a document that draws a political roadmap for a transitional phase after President Bashar Al-Assad's regime collapses, reveals Bassem Youssef, a member of the meeting's organising committee in an interview with Al-Arabiya's website.

"The regime enforces Alawites to get involved in the ongoing civil war against rebels," he claims.

Youssef denied that all members of the Alawite sect in Syria are "pro-Al-Assad," adding that the conference wishes to discuss the conflict in political and not sectarian terms, emphasising the need for social unity.  

The Cairo meeting is the first by Alawites backing the anti-Al-Assad side of the crisis. Almost 150 Alawite figures, including activists and religious leaders attended.

Al-Assad has increasingly relied on armed movements and members of the Alawite community to protect his regime against the revolutionary movement.

As rebels proved substantial and considerable in their ability to stand against regime troops, however, the future of Alawites remains highly in question, being a branch of Shiite Islam that encompasses only 10 percent of the whole population.

"The meeting is happening almost two years late, but it will help disassociate the sect from Assad. Every effort is needed now to prevent a wide-scale sectarian bloodbath when Assad eventually goes, in which the Alawites would be the main losers," a Western diplomat told Reuters on Saturday.

Hafez Al-Assad, the previous president and not coincidentally Bashar's father, had crushed an Alawite, leftist movement as well as the Islamist opposition during the 1970s and 1980s.

Among prominent Alawites currently in jail is free-speech advocate Mazen Darwish, who worked on documenting the victims of the crackdown against the revolt, and Abdelaziz Al-Khayyer, a centrist politician who advocates peaceful transition to democratic rule.

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