The Alawi Community and the Syria Crisis – by Fabriche Balanche

Sectarian Distribution in Syria Fabrice Balanche

The Alawi Community and the Syria Crisis

by Fabriche Balanche – original post here

“Alawis to the grave and Christians to Beirut!” This troubling slogan was chanted during demonstrations against the Assad regime in spring 2011, and exactly who was behind the chanting remains a controversial question. The Syrian opposition claimed that the slogan’s authors were members of the intelligence services who had infiltrated the demonstrations. According to this view, Syrian government agents were seeking to portray the opposition as primarily motivated by sectarianism and dominated by Salafis in order to frighten minorities and those wishing to live in a secular Syria.

It is still unclear whether the menacing anti-Alawi chants were the result of meddling by the intelligence services or the expression of sentiments held by a part of the Syrian opposition. But it is indisputable that Syria has since been gripped by a civil war between Sunnis and Alawis, and that other minorities have become collateral victims. Syria’s descent into intercommunal conflict has resembled the Lebanese civil war and, more recently, the ethno-sectarian fragmentation of Iraq. Sunni fundamentalists who dominate the military opposition in Syria consider the Alawis heretics unfit to live in dar al-Islam (the abode of Islam), let alone to rule the country.

… Alawis were officially recognized as Muslims thanks to a fatwa issued by the mufti of Palestine, Imam Haj Amin al-Husseini, in July 1936. In 1973, due to the pressure exerted by Syrian President Hafez al-Assad on Musa al-Sadr—the Lebanese imam who founded the Amal movement—the Alawis were formally recognized as members of the Shi‘i community.

However, these two “certificates of Islamic-ness” did not convince some, including the Muslim Brotherhood, who killed many Alawis during the 1979-1982 uprising because of their religion. More recently, in his sermons on al-Wisal, a Saudi satellite channel, the Salafi Shaykh Adnan al-Arour has threatened to chop them up with a meat grinder. …

Changes in Minority-Majority Population Growth

Demographic Growth in Syria by District, 1994_2004 - Frabrice Balanche

The relative decline of the Syrian Alawi population since the 1980s is due to an accelerated demographic transition experienced by all minorities—Alawi, Christian, Druze, and Ismaili. In 2011, the non-Sunni population of Syria shrank to about 20 percent, compared to 30 percent in 1980. This is due largely to women’s improved access to education and their integration into professional life. Fifty years ago, when Alawis experienced higher poverty and illiteracy rates, their fertility rate was also high, but it fell sharply as access to education and administrative jobs increased. Moreover, the Alawis, unlike the Sunnis, are not compelled to have a male descendant. While the Alawi fertility rate has fallen, that of their Sunni counterparts remains above three children per woman, even in higher social classes. This demographic decline challenges the power relationships within Syrian society. Over time, for example, the proportion of Alawis in the army and the intelligence services decreased. At the time the civil war began, Sunni soldiers constituted a majority of the Syrian Army, though Alawis retained a disproportionate share of the posts held by senior officers. Since the beginning of the conflict, however, the composition of the army has changed, with Alawis the majority at all echelons. This is why it has been so difficult for the Syrian Army to defeat the insurgency and why the regime has had to depend heavily on the support of Hezbollah. Indeed, the Alawi community is unable to provide enough soldiers to fight against the numerous rebels coming from abroad and from the large Sunni population.

The Civil War’s Impact on the Alawi Community

The Alawis have privileged access to state employment thanks to their deep integration into the networks of Syrian power. Obvious discrimination in public sector hiring has caused frustration among Sunnis, but the fact that Alawis are generally more assured of getting jobs does not mean that they have a higher standard of living since government salaries are relatively low. Hafez al-Assad used the Alawi community to build his political system, but he did not seek to create prosperity for Alawis because he knew that their loyalty to the regime was mostly based on economic dependence.

An Alawi middle class emerged with the growth of the civil service, and over the past decade the freezing of public sector recruitment has affected the Alawi community less than any other because Alawis are protected by a system of political patronage. But the freeze has resulted in a high rate of unemployment among Alawi youth in the coastal region and has also had disastrous political consequences for Bashar al-Assad, because more than 80 percent of the Alawi community works for the state. In fact, since coming to power, Bashar has supported the Alawi community less than his father, calculating that it would feel obliged to support him anyway in order to maintain its privileges. Instead, he made it a priority to integrate the Sunni and Christian economic elites into his inner circle and share with them the benefits of economic liberalization.

The Alawi community has not always given its full support to the regime. In the 1980s, the main Marxist opposition movement, the Communist Action Party, attracted many young Alawis. In the ongoing revolution, large protests against the regime have not mobilized the Alawi community, but some Alawis have joined demonstrations, and the opposition includes many Alawi figures (such as Aref Dalila, an academic who spent 10 years in prison for his criticism of the government). However, in March 2011, when the demonstrations began in Baniyas, the majority of Alawis did not support the Sunni imams, who were asking for single-sex schools and the communitarian rebalancing of public employment “confiscated by the Alawis.”

Protests in the coastal region did not lead to an escalation of violence as occurred in Homs because the Sunni rebel enclaves were quickly contained by the army. The protests found fertile ground in Homs because Alawis represent a minority of the population in the city and the surrounding countryside. In spring 2011, the tension in Homs between the communities was palpable. Taxis refused to drive passengers from Sunni to Alawi areas, and clashes proliferated along the borders of these areas. Kidnappings and assassinations on religious grounds have also been reported. The Alawi neighborhoods have been targeted by snipers and mortars from Sunni rebel areas. Many observers have compared the ongoing violence in Homs with the disintegration of Beirut during the Lebanese civil war.

The conflict has forced hundreds of thousands of people to migrate, and many Alawi families have returned to their villages in the coastal mountain range. Fleeing Christian families have settled in the seaside resorts of Mashta al-Helu and Kafroun—near Tartus—though Christian men continue to work in Homs. The Alawis of Damascus have not left for the coast because most of them live far from the areas of insurgency (such as Douma) and from the military camps in the suburbs. But if the regime falls, the coastal region could become a haven for hundreds of thousands of Alawis fleeing Damascus and the purge of the army and the administration that is likely to follow—not unlike what the Sunnis in Iraq experienced after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Military situation in Syria_May 2015, Fabriche Balanche


For centuries, the Alawis lived as prisoners in the coastal mountains and came out only to serve as labor for the landowners of Latakia, Tripoli, Homs, and Hama. The rise to power of Hafez al-Assad provided the community a chance for upward mobility. Even if the economic and political context has changed since the days of Ibn Taymiyya, the re-Islamization process within Syrian society raises concerns in the Alawi community, especially since the military opposition is dominated by ISIS and the Nusra Front.

If the Bashar al-Assad regime is ousted, the Alawis may choose a territorial partition. They could rebuild the former Alawi state created between 1920 and 1936 by France in the coastal region, though this time the external support would come from Russia and Iran. …

Read the full article at its original location here

Comments (87)

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51. Altair said:

@41 Juergen

Why would you post that particular video? I usually find your video posts worthwhile, but that one was utter nonsense. Almost everything in it was false or a red herring.

Iran is responsible for ISIS? It is supporting just about everyone who opposes ISIS, and ISIS is a nemesis of Iran and anything remotely resembling Shi’ism.

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May 21st, 2015, 4:49 am


52. Syrialover said:

MINA #43, I am sorry if you did not mean to be funny.

But your wild conspiracy theories and frantic hatred of the west making you excuse Assad is like reading satire.

Fact: Under Bashar Assad’s “rule”, up to 50% of Syrian territory has now been overrun by ISIS. Incredible.

This is despite Assad controlling a large national army, an airforce and getting full-on support and direction from Iran and help from Russia.

And ISIS being motley a force with no aircraft, no big military hardware or professionally trained fighting forces or strategists(defectors talk about their chaotic, frantic, amateurish hit-or-miss battle tactics).


Clues in a couple of tweets from

# The Syrian regime is calling on the international community to save Palmyra… while spending its own resources on killing Syrians.

# Hey Assad, how about using some of your planes against Islamic State instead of complaining to the world about their advance in Palmyra?

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May 21st, 2015, 6:31 am


53. Observer said:

L’Orient Le Jour posts today that IS “liberated” 27 Christians held in Tadmor prison for over 35 years.

Mirror images of each other the regime and IS they are as Yoda would say 🙂

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May 21st, 2015, 7:54 am



the author write’s

“because the Sunni rebel enclaves were quickly contained by the army”

contained?…. what a stupid and arrogant way to sanitize a genocide

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May 21st, 2015, 9:55 am



Ghufran writes “settlement that reduces iran’s reach”…

and that makes you sad?… to hell with Iran and its agents… the barbaric sleazy bazar-type pre-incarnation of Daesh.

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May 21st, 2015, 9:58 am


56. SANDRO LOEWE said:

The ethnic cleansening projected by Iran is not being 100 % implemented. Is this the new plans of Iran after ¨nuclear¨ talks or is it just the rebel side gaining momentum due to Assad mistakes ?

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May 21st, 2015, 10:02 am


57. ALAN said:

The US just announced it has active combat troops on the ground in Syria.

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May 21st, 2015, 1:19 pm


58. ALAN said:

On Tuesday, May 19th the Russian consulate in Damascus suffered another attack by NATO proxy forces, who trying to overthrow the government of Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry responded with a statement condemning the attack as an act of “terrorism” and asked the “international community” to respond to the attack and urged “all parties enjoying influence on extremists in Syria to demand they immediately stop such actions.”
The attacks of terrorist and mercenaries into the territory of another state is an act of war ang illegal, according to the eighth article of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Particularly cynical the shelling appears immediately after the celebrations on the occasion of the seventy-year anniversary of the Victory in Moscow. Just fire the Chinese Embassy during the conflict in Yugoslavia, aggressive actions of NATO beyond their states did not just violate the charter of international law, they contribute to the overall deterioration of the geopolitical situation in the world and growing mistrust between East and West.
Obama! Stop playing with fire and DONT CROSS the Red Lines!
nothing has basically changed other than the original, discursive Cold War era MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction – doctrine being over.

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May 21st, 2015, 1:40 pm


59. Syrialover said:

Cowardly scum. A sickening stench from the top.

Reports are coming out that the Syrian forces blocked civilians from leaving Palmyra while ISIS advanced.

Meanwhile convoys of top military and collaborators fled. Many soldiers were left behind.

These ordinary young Syrian conscripts, sent to the front poorly equipped with little training, have been left as prey for ISIS, which is rounding them up for public “atrocity fests”, appearing soon on youtube. and numerous other sources

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May 21st, 2015, 2:34 pm


60. Juergen said:


Dont assume I share because it represents my view. I found this view unique and surely as objective as much more the regime produces. I believe all should be out to dispute.

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May 21st, 2015, 2:51 pm


61. Juergen said:

Hmm, I think this is the first time such an video appears. An SAA helicopter crew shows us how to do the killing work for Bashars barrel bombs.

Note how modern the flight is monitored by an notebook on the lap of the copilot.

I am sure well have the same redflag accusations coming up, right ?

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May 21st, 2015, 2:55 pm


62. ALAN said:

see on the map how ISIS in Syria is clustered by the border of NATO-member Turkey? There’s a reason for that.
So gun to the head, this is what happens next: a couple of the good ole’ “chemical attack” false flag YouTube clips once again emerge just around the time Obama announces it is time to send a tactical, contained group of troops in Syria to retake the “cultural heritage” that is Palmyra, at which point the war against ISIS morphs into what it has been from day one: the western attempt to crush and topple the Assad government, and to hand over control of Syria to Turkey and Iraq, just so the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar can control what happens behind the scenes, by which we mean finally allow that long overdue gas pipeline to traverse the nation and sideline Russian gas deliveries to Europe.

We expect this scenario to start unfolding within the month as the US economy desperately needs an official war to avoid sliding into a recession.

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May 21st, 2015, 3:11 pm


63. Juergen said:

Looks like the Lorient du Jour article is not a confirmed story.

Inside Palmyra, the Ancient City ISIS Just Sacked
Hours after the terror group grabbed its second city in a week, Palmyra was pitch-black and silent. But residents are bracing for bloody reprisals—and the destruction of historic sites.
“According to Khaled Omran, a member of the Palmyra’s anti-Assad Coordinating Committee, the regime tried to reinforce its collapsing front lines Wednesday with detainees from the notorious Tadmour Prison. Most, however, ran away from the ISIS onslaught rather than stay and fight for their jailers. “I saw about 10 busloads of prisoners being driven to the front,” Omran said Wednesday evening via Skype. “Maybe 1,000 men.” They added to the regime’s “thousands” of soldiers and forcibly conscripted tribal militias who were used, in Omran’s words, as “cannon fodder.”

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May 21st, 2015, 3:12 pm


64. Syrialover said:

Big question for ALAN and others here who show insider’s commitment to the Assad regime:

Why couldn’t the government spare a couple of barrel bombs for the ISIS convoys as they moved long distances across open country towards Palmyra?

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May 21st, 2015, 3:35 pm


65. jamal said:


(what a stupid and arrogant way to sanitize a genocide)

It’s not a genocide. You gotta do what you gotta do to stop the Sunnah terrorists from committing more massacres

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May 21st, 2015, 3:45 pm


66. Syrialover said:

JUERGEN, the German media often provide smart insights into the Syrian situation.

What are they saying about the suspicious failure of the SAA and its associated militia to fight to protect 200,000 citizens, important access routes, surrounding gas fields and landmark cultural site in Palmyra?

(This might help ALAN as he struggles to answer my question to him above).

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May 21st, 2015, 3:51 pm


67. Syrialover said:


Good to see you. Maybe you’ll have some answers.

You wrote in #62: “You gotta do what you gotta do to stop the Sunnah terrorists from committing more massacres”


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May 21st, 2015, 4:05 pm


68. Syrialover said:

I’ll pass on any answers to my friends trying to calm their terrified relatives hiding in their homes in Palmyra.

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May 21st, 2015, 4:12 pm


69. jamal said:

ya’ll pretend being military analysts or strategists, I hate to break it to you ya’ll nothing.

The real strategists are there in Damascus and SAA. Retracting from Tadmur is a brilliant move which will be taught fir years in military academies around the globe. Just wait to see the sudden flip in power and achievements.

For those who are “worried” about Damascus, not to worry at all because “Mecca could fall but not Damascus”

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May 21st, 2015, 4:12 pm


70. Syrialover said:

JAMAL, shame you’re resorting to hallucinatory drugs to cope with this.

Makes you useless to your buddies in Damascus. Not a bad thing.

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May 21st, 2015, 4:18 pm


71. Juergen said:


Well, you overestimate a bit our quality of journalism when it comes to Syria. I think French and British media have a wider and more sophisticated view and report more often on Syria. Only Der Spiegel and Die Zeit have a better understanding. Most commentators argue the next aim is Homs with more oil wells on the way this seems the obvious next move ahead. I don’t know if you have read the article by the daily beast, an eyewitness described the fleeing of government and army officials, contradicts directly the claim by Syrian tv, which stated that most of Palmyra was evacuated. I assume just like Tabqa army base… From Damascus I hear that most sense a strange atmosphere, never before people felt more insecure than now, the regime seems to have a hard time to play their usual lullaby kullu bi khair…

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May 21st, 2015, 4:27 pm


72. jamal said:

64. Syrialover

Reassure your friends, the SAA will regain Tadmur in due time.

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May 21st, 2015, 4:32 pm


73. ALAN said:


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May 21st, 2015, 4:42 pm



I thought for a minute that Jamal should be taken seriously… but he has so kindly saved me from my mistake.

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May 21st, 2015, 4:53 pm


75. Tara said:

let me understand this. When Bashar’s brother put on the military outfit, we broke his leg. Batta wears the military suit and we lost Tadmour to ISIS . The family needs to change their fashion habits.

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May 21st, 2015, 5:03 pm


76. Nadia said:


You’re definitely a sharp person with ethics. Would not you agree that your comment #51 goes either way?

Are you ready and willing to acknowledge that both sides are unjustifiably trying to legalize mass killing?

The problem you and most Sunnis are not accepting or acknowledging that minorities at risk of being eradicated for good, instead you call it minority inferiority complex.

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May 21st, 2015, 6:18 pm


77. Nadia said:

My blah blah blah on Tadmur

An exactly a week ago IS attacked Tadmur but retracted after advancing few kilometers inside the city. A source (one of the officers who were in Tadmur last week) mentioned that a deal was struck with IS to delay the inevitable attack on Tadmur and allow an organized withdrawal of army troops and its allies of national defense forces. The deal also included the safe evacuation of 70% of prisoners of the infamous Tadmur prison. These prisoners were then transferred to the other infamous prison of Abu-Alshamat.

It’s worth mentioning that the troops in Tadmur were elite and highly trained ones, some belong to the republican guards and others to the 4th brigade of M.A, in addition to some Russian security forces who guard three Russian scientific basis in that region.

Now after the fall (or handover) of Tadmur, the next target is Abu-Alshamat which is only 210km away from Tadmur. Abu-Alshamat’s checkpoint is one of the biggest in the country and as they say not even the blue flies can go through it. It’s co-controlled by army and mukhabarat with helicopters continuously hovering over the area. In Abu-Alshamat there’s another big secret prison and some chemical and biological laboratories belong to the Syrian Defense Weaponry Establishment. It’s there where they used to conduct chemical and biological weapons human trials on political prisoners during the era of Khadam and Talas.

If the plan follows this pattern then we’re expecting Abu-Alshamat to get handed on a golden plate to IS, then the Dmyer will be the next destination before arriving the Qalamon. Now this source is in total belief that this is a strategy and actually the army is guiding IS as closer as possible to Lebanon for two reason. 1)The whole world cares about Lebanon and at that point the West will be forced to organize efforts with Damascus. 2) Dragging IS to the battle field which has chosen by Hizbuallah and Iran where they have easy and continuous logistical access for such a bone breaking battle.

Again what I mentioned above is a narration of one officer but surely I can’t verify its authenticity. What really struck me though is the importance of prisoners to get transferred with the troops from town to town, not sure why through.

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May 21st, 2015, 6:45 pm


78. Syrialover said:


Sorry, you get an F minus minus grade for your attempt to respond to my question on why the Assad regime couldn’t spare any barrel bombs to hit the ISIS convoys travelling miles across open country to Palmyra.

That article you posted in #70 has been proved to contain wild lies and delusions.

You are welcome to re-sit the exam.

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May 21st, 2015, 7:16 pm


79. Syrialover said:

NADIA, a kind caution if you’re playing with HAMSTER.

“The problem you and most Sunnis are……” (#73)

I don’t remember him announcing that he’s Sunni.

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May 21st, 2015, 7:26 pm


80. Nadia said:

76. Syrialover

He’s and you actually most of the participants on this website are Sunnis.

I hope I did not insult him by saying he’s a Sunni, sometimes you need to be ok with your skin in order to get by.

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May 21st, 2015, 7:47 pm


81. Syrialover said:

An update on Assad’s methods for burning the country and cruelty to innocent Syrians. His deputies:

– stopped people in Palmyra and surrounds leaving to escape ISIS (UN is stating this)

– blew up the local electricity and water infrastructure before leaving the population to ISIS (anyone getting through by phone is hearing panic at lack of drinking water)

– looted and packed up a lot of publicly-owned antiquities to sell off themselves

– fled in elite convoys, abandoning ordinary Syrian soldiers without transport or proper weaponry to become trophies for ISIS

This list is only for starters.

Has anyone heard if the SAA left the heavy weaponry they had parked among the ruins at Palmyra for ISIS?

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May 21st, 2015, 7:53 pm


82. Syrialover said:


Really? Truly? You have seen everyone here’s birth certificates? After a few surprises I have learnt to assume nothing on this forum.

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May 21st, 2015, 8:05 pm


83. Marwan said:

مليون ليرة كلفة اطعام “حيوانات” ماهر الأسد

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May 21st, 2015, 9:40 pm


84. Tara said:


وتفوا على هالعيلة من أصغرهم لاكبرهم. شلة مجرمين
اجوا من الضيعة معدومين.، سرقوا سوريا ، وفكروا حالهم بيسوا شي

-simply stated.

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May 21st, 2015, 9:57 pm


85. Marwan said:

النوري بيضلو نوري و الضيعنجي بيضلو ضيعنجي
و الجحش بيضلو جحش سواء سما حالو الاسد او حتى ربا اسد و نمر عندو بالبيت
يئطع عمرهم شو عندهم عقد نئص

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May 21st, 2015, 10:15 pm


86. Ghufran said:

It was entertaining reading some posts about the fall of palmyra in the hands of Isis terrorists.
Isis in Syria controls territories 10 times the size of Lebanon and young sunni Muslims are still coming to join this terrorist group which now has tanks and many American heavy weapons.
Those who are cheering Isis and Nusra advances are not just fools they are self hating also, show me one area under Isis or Nusra where people are free and women are treated as equal human beings. There is a Taqiyyah going on among Muslims, they pretend to be against Isis but they are eager to see it win out of stupidity and hatred.
People who stayed away ftom public discussions are suddenly coming back after receiving shots of vitamin -I (Isis).
Tadmur ( polymers) fell because there is a limited number of soldiers who are available to fight, Tadmur will not be the last tine to be lost to Nusra or Isis , and if this war does not stop Syria will probably be divided.
Some posts here make this line more relevant today.
يا أمة ضحكت من جهلها الامم
يا عيب الشوم عليكم ما شاطرين الا بالعلاك المصدي و الثرثرة

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May 22nd, 2015, 12:11 am


87. ALAN said:

As you know, a fight always involves two sides, and the third tries to incite them, so that they, God forbid, don’t reconcile and charge together against the third party. In this case, each side wants to be the third party, which is not involved in the fight. In our present story, there are only two such parties — Assad and the Syrian opposition. ISIS is not content with sitting on the sidelines. ISIS wants to conquer territory, it can’t wait, and while things are not great, ISIS wants to capture as much as possible in this situation. But the opposition would love the Islamists to break Assad’s neck and then the United States could mercilessly bomb these Islamists, and only when everything is prepared, invite the Syrian opposition to rule over Syria. Those who plan such operations should realize that those who win with foreign bayonets, will not hold on to power. Assad would also like the main fighting to be between the Islamists and the opposition. This is exactly what is happening and will continue. As you know, the most brutal fighting is internal. That is, figuratively speaking, some species of the same breed compete against each other to secure the prey, and then move a step up from their own species. In our situation there are two sides — the challengers and the President. The “challenger” species consists of two members – opposition and ISIS. They will have the internal struggle. Each of them expects to win, and after becoming the sole winner, then move on Assad.

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May 22nd, 2015, 12:43 am


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