Controversial journalist Nir Rosen is, by my standards, a left-wing extremist with carcinogenic political views. On the other hand, he is also a fearless and skillful war correspondent who goes places to report where few others dare; as a result, Rosen is usually worth reading, particularly as he seldom is treading a well-worn path:
London Review of Books: Among the Alawites -Nir Rosen reports from Syria
….When Abu Laith took me to Rabia itself, news of our arrival spread quickly. Thousands of residents staged a seemingly spontaneous but clearly sincere demonstration in support of the regime in the centre of town, next to a statue of Hafez al-Assad holding an olive branch and a sword. The statue, paid for by locals, was erected after the uprising started. Behind it was a massive poster with a picture of Hafez and Bashar. On it was written ‘Rabia is the lion’s den,’ a play on the word assad, which means ‘lion’. I was dragged from house to house so people could speak of their dead and wounded relatives, and of Rabia’s 42 martyrs. I told one group of local men that when I visited opposition strongholds like Baba Amr in Homs I always heard similar stories about fathers or sons being martyred. ‘Our sons were just going to work,’ an army colonel whose nephew was killed in Idlib said in reply. ‘There is a difference between killing a man going to work for the state and killing an armed man taking up weapons against the state. Is it peaceful demonstrators who kill five officers at a checkpoint?’
For the past year Rabia’s Alawites have clashed with neighbouring Sunni villages. Last summer the town’s students couldn’t travel into the city of Hama to take their exams because the opposition had blocked the road. Around thirty Alawite families from one nearby majority Sunni village have settled in Rabia, feeling it was no longer safe to stay where they were. The displaced families were disappointed with the government’s response. ‘We didn’t have any weapons or we would have fought back,’ one man told me. ‘They should have sent in tanks but the opposition blocked the roads. We want the state to solve our problems and the army to return us to our land. The army has to enter the villages, but the army is busy in Hama. Why is the state taking its time?’ Abu Laith’s father, a retired soldier, agreed. ‘Only the army can solve this,’ he said. ‘If we respond ourselves it will be seen as sectarian violence and other villages will join them against us. They will outnumber us.’
From Rabia I headed north-west towards Aziziya, a remote Alawite village which has clashed with the neighbouring Sunni village of Tamana. As in most Alawite villages, the majority of its men work in security or the army. Its Sunni neighbours all support the opposition, and opposition militias have been operating in the area since last spring. Salhab, the nearest town of any size, contains hundreds of displaced Alawite mothers and children who have fled the village. The fight between Aziziya and Tamana showed no sign of abating and in the town I found several families in a near hysterical state. A woman who’d recently reached Salhab shouted at me: ‘We left under fire! Our dignity is precious! Our leader is honourable! They are traitors! Everything for Bashar!’
The Alawites and Syria’s Christian minorities are not going to fare well if Syria falls to the increasingly Salafist-tinged opposition. Their back is against the wall. The Druze and Kurds, with potential ethnic allies in neighboring states, may have greater leverage if the Baathist regime collapses.