The Politics of Sectarian Insecurity: Alawite 'Asabiyya and the Rise and Decline of the Asad Dynasty of Syria
For centuries the Alawites were one of the most downtrodden religious minorities of the Middle East, so when an Alawite named Hafiz al-Asad rose to become president of the Syrian Arab Republic in 1971, it seemed a remarkable achievement. The wider Syrian Alawite community provided the foundation for Hafiz al-Asad’s rule, which his son Bashar inherited in June 2000. Because of this support, the Alawites have been described as the ‘dominant’ or ‘ruling’ minority in Syria. This characterisation does not, however, match the reality for most Syrian Alawites who remain socially and economically underdeveloped and, furthermore, have seen their religious identity suppressed during the period of Asad rule. So why do Alawites continue to support the Asad dynasty? Using a qualitative inductive methodology based on field work, interviews and analysis of primary and secondary sources, this research examines the development and nature of Alawite politics. Ibn Khaldun’s concept of ‘asabiyya (group feeling) is used as a framework to search for the fundamental factors that explain Alawite support for the Asad regime. This study concludes that sectarian insecurity is the primary element of Alawite politics that maintains their support for the Asad dynasty. This was a factor that Ibn Khaldun did not consider in his theory for the rise and decline of dynasties. Ultimately, the case of the Syrian Alawites demonstrates the impact of fear and insecurity on sub-state group interactions, and how this ‘politics of sectarian insecurity’ obstructs the emergence of genuine political pluralism in the Middle East.
Advisor: Harris, William; Rudd, Chris
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Politics
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Alawites; Syria; Asabiyya; sectarianism; authoritarianism; Ibn Khaldun
Research Type: Thesis