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Posts Tagged ‘Alawites’

The ‘Whipped Cream’ Arabs of Israel

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

The Arab citizens of Israel constitute twenty percent of Israeli society – a population that has equal rights, but does not share the Zionist dream. But just as there are differences of opinion among Jewish Israelis, Arab-Israeli attitudes towards the Jewish sector, the state of Israel and its institutions not only differ, but often are even polar opposites.

And just there is no cohesive “Jewish sector,” there is also no such thing in Israel as one cohesive “Arab sector” (though I will use the terms for sake of simplicity). Instead, there are several Middle Eastern populations, some of which are not Arab, and they differ from each other in religion, culture, ethnic origin and historical background.

Ethnic Division

Within the Arab sector of Israel there are a number of ethnic groups who differ from each other in language, history and culture: Arabs, Africans, Armenians, Circassians and Bosnians. These groups usually do not mingle with each other, and live in separate villages or in separate neighborhoods where a particular family predominates. For example, the Circassians in Israel are the descendants of people who came from the Caucasus to serve as officers in the Ottoman army. They live in two villages in the Galilee, Kfar Kama and Reyhaniya, and despite their being Muslim, the young people do not usually marry Arabs.

The Africans are mainly from Sudan. Some of them live as a large group in Jisr al-Zarqa and some live in family groups within Bedouin settlements in the south. They are called “Abid” from the Arabic word for “slaves.” The Bosnians live in family groups in Arab villages, for example, the Bushnak family in Kfar Manda.

The Armenians came mainly to escape the persecution that they suffered in Turkey in the days of the First World War, which culminated in the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Cultural Divisions

The Arab sector can generally be divided into three main cultural groups: urban, rural and Bedouin. Each one has its own cultural characteristics: lifestyle, status of a given clan, education, occupation, level of income, number of children and matters connected to women, for example polygamy (multiple wives), age of marriage, matchmaking or dating customs and dress. The residents of cities – and to a great extent the villagers – see the Bedouins as primitive, while the Bedouins see themselves as the only genuine Arabs, and in their opinion, the villagers and city folk are phony Arabs, who have lost their Arab character.

The Arabic language expresses this matter well: the meaning of the word “Arabi” is “Bedouin,” and some of the Bedouin tribes are called “Arab,” for example “Arab al-Heib” and “Arab al-Shibli” in the North.

The Bedouins of the Negev classify themselves according to the color of their skin into “hamar” (red) and “sud” (black), and Bedouins would never marry their daughters to a man who is darker than she is, because he does not want his grandchildren to be dark-skinned. Racist? Perhaps. Another division that exists in the Negev is between tribes that have a Bedouin origin, and tribes whose livelihood is agriculture (Fellahin), who have low status. A large tribe has a higher standing than a small tribe.

Religions and Sects

The Arab sector in Israel also breaks down by religion, into Muslims, Christians, Druze and ‘Alawites. The Christians are subdivided into several Sects: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant, and among the Muslims, there is a distinct sect of Sufis, which has a significant presence in Baqa al-Gharbiya. There is also an interesting Salafi movement in Israel, which we will relate to later. The Islamist movement is organized along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The religion of the Druze is different from Islam, and Muslims consider the Druze to be heretics. Because of this, the Druze keep their religion secret, even from each other and therefore most are “juhal” (ignorant – of religious matters) and only a small number of the elder men are “aukal” (knowledgeable in matters of religion). In the modern age, however, there have been a number of books published about the Druze religion.

The Alawites in Israel live in Kfar Ghajar, in the foothills of the Hermon and some live over the border in Lebanon. They are also considered heretics in Islam, and their religion is a blend of Shi’ite Islam, Eastern Christianity and ancient religions that existed in the Middle East thousands of years ago. Their principle concentration is in the mountains of al-Ansariya in northwest Syria, although some are in Lebanon and some migrated southward and settled in Ghajar. The meaning of the word Ghajar in Arabic is “Gypsy”, meaning foreign nomads with a different religion. In Syria the Alawites – led by the Assad family – have ruled since 1966. That Alawites are considered heretics is the reason for the Muslim objection to Alawite rule in Syria since according to Islam, not only do they not have the right to rule, being a minority, but there is significant doubt as to whether they even have the right to live, being idol worshipers.

Syria: The Main Middle East Crisis in 2013

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

While President Barack Obama has been inaugurated for a second term and made his speech, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is still in power in Syria, making his own speeches saying he will not give in.

The Syrian civil war will go on until one side wins and the other loses. And a lot more people are going to die. The idea of some kind of compromise or diplomatic process has always been ridiculous. These two sides—the government and rebels—have nothing to talk about. On one hand, they thoroughly distrust each other with good reason. On the other hand, they both want power and that’s something which cannot be shared.

Incidentally, please forgive me when I point out that in 2010, I said that Egypt would be the big story of 2011, and that in 2011 I said that the Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt would be the big story of 2012.

For those asking why I’m not saying Iran will be the main crisis, that’s possible, but 2013 is more likely to be a year of endless talk between the Washington and Tehran, punctuated mid-year by Iran’s election of its own new president. Iran will buy time, the election of a new president alone will be good for about three months or so since he’ll need to get into office, appoint his cabinet, and formulate his “new” policy. So 2014 is more likely to be the year of Iran.

Meanwhile, 2013 will be a year of continuous battle in Syria, at some point punctuated by either the government’s collapse or retreat. The rebels have been advancing, especially in the north and in Aleppo. But the regime still has a pretty strong hold on Damascus and in the Alawite stronghold in the northwest.

The idea that Syria will fragment into two or more countries is ridiculous. Nobody is declaring independence. Both sides maintain they are the legitimate rulers of Syria and that will continue to the end. Yet it is highly likely that there will be two zones of control for some time.

The following scenario seems realistic. And nothing said below should be interpreted as my personal preferences but merely an analysis of the reality on the ground.

In several months the rebels will be eating away at Damascus. If and when the day comes that most of Damascus is captured, the rebels will set up a government. That new regime will quickly be recognized by the U.N., Europe, and the United States. Regional states will be more diverse in their response, with Islamist-ruled Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey along with pro-Islamist Qatar will be enthusiastic; Saudi Arabia and other anti-Islamist Arabs reluctant; the pro-Assad, Islamist-dominated Lebanese government and Iran rejecting this option.

Of course, a critical question will be: Who will lead on the rebel side? The negotiations will be very complex and quarrelsome but, with American help, the Muslim Brotherhood will probably emerge with a disproportionately strong showing.

Here is a good point to ridicule the idea that the United States has little influence. Of course, America isn’t going to decide everything or control events. But for the Brotherhood and other Islamists, having U.S. backing will make them a lot stronger than if they faced U.S. opposition. And remember the context will be shaped by all those arms and money the United States (through Qatar, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey) gave the Islamist side. The moderates certainly view the United States as pro-Islamist and while they themselves have a lot of weaknesses, being demoralized by this fact adds another one to the fatal mix.

Sometime in 2013 there will be big choices for each side. For the current regime, will it retreat when necessary to a redoubt in the predominantly Alawite sector of the northeast? How quickly will the rebels assault that center as compared to consolidating their control over the rest of the country?

And finally, how many ethnic massacres will there be, of Christians and Alawites in rebel-held territory and of Sunni Muslims in regime-held territory? There is no doubt that such murders will take place by the Salafis even if the better-disciplined Muslim Brotherhood refrains from revenge killings. But will they reach the level that will shake up Western thinking and perhaps force a reluctant Obama Administration to do something serious about it?

Chemical Weapons are Assad’s Insurance Policy

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Recently the NY Times reported that the Assad regime had commenced mixing the ingredients to produce Sarin gas and loading it into 500-pound bombs.

But not to worry (for a while), said the Times, thanks to the intrepid Barack Obama and his international friends:

What followed next, officials said, was a remarkable show of international cooperation over a civil war in which the United States, Arab states, Russia and China have almost never agreed on a common course of action.

The combination of a public warning by Mr. Obama and more sharply worded private messages sent to the Syrian leader and his military commanders through Russia and others, including Iraq, Turkey and possibly Jordan, stopped the chemical mixing and the bomb preparation. A week later Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the worst fears were over — for the time being.

Well, actually not, because the article also strongly implies that the process went on for a week before Assad, obviously shaking in his boots over the “sharply worded” warnings, stopped it.

Now it is reported that U.S. officials admit that there is no way to prevent Assad from using the weapons that were prepared:

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that it will be nearly impossible to prevent the Syrian government from using its chemical weapons, so the U.S. must rely on deterrence and continue warning Syria that using them would be unacceptable.

“The act of preventing the use of chemical weapons would be almost unachievable,” Dempsey said during a Pentagon press conference. “You would have to have such clarity of intelligence, you know, persistent surveillance, you’d have to actually see it before it happened, and that’s — that’s unlikely, to be sure.”

All that would be necessary would be to load the filled bombs onto aircraft, which could be done in a matter of minutes or hours. The threat that he would use these weapons provides Assad with a good insurance policy against foreign intervention, freeing him to unleash the full force of his large conventional arsenal against rebels.

It also helps that some of the extremist rebel organizations are less palatable to the U.S. and European nations that are providing limited support to the rebels than the Butcher of Damascus himself.

In a recent speech, Assad affirmed that he had no intention of stepping down. It is not unimaginable that he can pull it off.

It’s doubtful that any of the likely replacements for the Assad regime would be better actors. And the chaos that might reign before the succession is settled could permit weapons to fall into the hands of Hizballah or other terrorist groups.

This is actually the most dangerous possibility. It’s generally thought that Israel warned its neighbors that the use of any form of weapons of mass destruction — nuclear, chemical or biological — would be met with massive retaliation, presumably nuclear. Egypt and Syria both had chemical weapons capability in 1973, as did Saddam Hussein during the Gulf war. These were not used, and the restraint was not due to humanitarian feelings. It is not clear to what extent Hizballah could be deterred in this way — and certainly al-Qaeda could not.

I’m sure that the West and Israel would welcome the replacement of Assad by a liberal, democratic, social-media-savvy regime. But that isn’t going to happen. Whomever wins will most likely slaughter their former opponents, despite the outrage in the West.

It could be that the best outcome for everyone except his enemies would be the survival of Assad.

Visit Fresno Zionism.

The Alawites and the Future of Syria

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

The Alawites are a small, historically oppressed people, whose political future will determine whether Syria remains united in some form or disintegrates into even smaller ethnic and religious entities.

As they will play such an important role, America, Israel, and other forces interested in the future of Syria might do well to get to know them, their concerns, and how others can best come to terms with them.

Syria’s non-Sunnis have historically lived in apprehension of what the Sunnis might do to them. Although Arab Sunnis are the largest religio-ethnic group in Syria, non-Sunni Arabs make up upwards of 40% of the population. Historically, until the end of Ottoman rule after World War I, the Sunnis assumed they were the region’s natural rulers, and by and large controlled the destinies of the large numbers of non-Sunnis who lived among them. The non-Sunnis seem to have “known their place” in Syrian society – second class citizens. The Sunnis determined the rules.

In the 19th century, Western concepts of nationalism and equality for all people began to appear in the Middle East. The idea that everyone – irrespective of ethnicity or religion – is equal before the law has seemed anathema to the Sunnis: such an idea would contradict the basic Islamic principle that non-Muslims – known as dhimmis, or second-class, barely-tolerated citizens – could live in an Islamic society only if they accepted their place as unequal and unworthy of political and social equality. However, even though all Sunnis might consider themselves equal, in reality, clans, tribes, or ethnic identities, not to mention gender, usually prevail.

After World War I, when the French ruled Syria, they tried to introduce the concept of equality of all people before the law – a principle that never took root. During French rule, the people today known as Alawites – and who today rule Syria – begged the French to allow them to set up their own state in their ancient homeland along the Mediterranean coast between today’s Lebanon and Turkey. One of those who most passionately supported this option was the grandfather of the ruler of Syria today: Suleyman al-Assad.

This is because Syrian Sunnis have historically referred to individual Alawites as “abid” (slave), and treated the Alawites as such. The Alawites were servants in Sunni households. Alawite tradition is filled with horror stories of Sunni abuse, both working in Sunni households and in other areas of as well.

The Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, were terribly discriminated against under Sunni rule. The Sunnis attitude towards the Alawites – and towards the other non-Muslims – was “noblesse oblige,” or an attitude of condescension, if not outright hostility.

According to Alawite religious beliefs, the Muslim prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law – Ali – was a deity. That a human could be a deity is anathema in Islam. Moreover, even though Christians are officially regarded as dhimmis, or second-class citizens, by the Muslims, many also refer to Christians as pagans: Christians deify Jesus who, in Muslim eyes, was a merely a prophet, born to a human mother and father.

Under the French and in the early years of Syrian independence after 1946, wealthy and respectable Sunnis did not want to have their sons serve in the military. Their Alawite servants, however, recognizing the military as a way to advance, persuaded their Sunni masters to sign recommendations to allow the children of their Alawite servants enter the military. Gradually, the Alawites rose in the ranks. Eventually in 1966, they overthrew the existing order, took over the country, and have dominated it since.

Many of these military officers, like their Christian counterparts, embraced Arab nationalism, perhaps hoping through nationalism to gain the equality that had eluded them in religion under the Sunni-dominated, society. These officers did their best to put their non-Sunni identities aside, and hoped – at times even demanded – that their Sunni fellow-Arabs do the same.

As the Alawites rose in the military, they also rose to senior positions in the Ba’ath Party, the basic tenant of which is militant Arab nationalism. But even as militant anti-Israeli Arab nationalists, these Alawites still feared that the majority-Sunnis would lie in wait, and pounce on the Alawites if the Alawites showed any weakness. The Alawites never allowed themselves forget that the Sunnis hated them; and that even though they controlled Syria, they had better come to an agreement with the leading Sunni families to provide them with stability and enable them to make money – in return for the Sunnis allowing the Alawites to control the country militarily and also make money.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/the-alawites-and-the-future-of-syria/2012/10/14/

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