Al Jazeera reports on protests and discontent against the Assad regime in the Alawite-majority city of Latakia. The trigger was the murder of Hasan al-Sheikh, a local Alawite and relative of Bashar al-Assad, on a road near the Assad family’s ancestral village. Since the victim had no ties to the regime’s opposition, the motive for the killing is believed to be personal or related to lawlessness.
In response, the victim’s brother organized a spontaneous protest and called for a sit-in in Latakia until the murder is solved and the perpetrators, regardless of their identity, are brought to justice. The governor of Latakia stated that an investigation is underway and that no one will escape punishment as the law applies equally to all.
Notably, similar protests in Sunni areas are often brutally suppressed, with the Assad regime resorting to airstrikes on residential areas in its war against the Sunni population. In this case, however, there appears to be a degree of leniency, explained by the fact that Latakia is Assad’s last stronghold amidst a shrinking area controlled by loyalist forces.
This incident may just be a pretext to express the deeper grievances of the Alawites against the Assad regime. For decades, they supported the regime, but this unyielding support became one of the main reasons for repeated uprisings by Muslims against the rule of this non-Islamic sect (a previous uprising was bloodily suppressed in 1982). Alawite fighters (shabiha) did not hesitate to commit heinous crimes against Sunnis, backed by Shiite Iran, to maintain control. Nevertheless, the tide of the war of liberation is relentless, and control of the country is gradually shifting to forces representing the Sunni (Muslim) population.
In this situation, rational Alawites must recognize that the most prudent choice would be to withdraw support from Assad and enter into direct negotiations with the new Syrian government to secure autonomy and protect their minority rights, as moderate Islamic groups among the Syrian rebels have offered.