The ensuing gun battle reportedly claimed several lives. The “Revolutionary Co-ordination Committee Qardaha”, whose mere existence is an important fact, wrote on October 1 that Mohamed al Assad died from his wounds in the hospital of Tartous. Different Syrian websites reported that the town was cordoned of and communication networks temporarily severed.
Conflicts between family clans are not new. In the past years they were mainly revolving around mafia-type businesses as Qardaha is also known a centre of the Shabiha, the pro-governmental militias having emerged from the mafia. Although the illegal businesses have been under the tutelage of the regime conflicts could not always be suppressed.
But this time we are faced with an explicitly political clash.
Its occasion was the disappearance of Abdelaziz al Khayyer on September 20th, a member of the large al Khayyer family. Returning from Beijing he intended to participate in the opposition conference of September 23rd , which got the backing of Russia, China and Iran. Its central message has been that the revolution is ready for negotiations for a peaceful transition to democracy. According to the “National Co-ordination Body for Democratic Change“, which convened the event, Al Khayyer was kidnapped by the air force intelligence. In this way the “deep state” demonstrated what he really thinks of negotiations. For the consumption of the public and its allies, however, the government put the blame for the disappearance of al Khayyer on the notorious “terrorist groups”. Those knowing the situation inside believe that his life and the ones of his colleagues are in acute danger. The security apparatus will not easily release people who they claim are not in their custody.
According to the central figure of the democratic opposition, Michel Kilo, the incidents in Qardaha express a deep discontent among the Allawi milieu with the policy led by the ruling families Assad, Shalish and Makhlouf. All of them stem from Qardaha whose importance is underlined by the mausoleum for the founder of the Assad dynasty Hafiz located in the very same town. Meanwhile leading elements of the Khayyer family think that the line of the Assad family – to drown the democratic demands in blood – endangers the future of the Allawis in Syria as a whole. Behind them are also the Othams and Abouds who also provide ranking officers in the army and the security services. To many families being part of the regime the price to be paid also in lives is becoming too high. The recruitment of fresh militiamen for the Shabiha is facing troubles which could turn in a certain moment into open resistance.
But the political contradictions can be traced backed and got historic roots as well. The Khayyers and their allies are notable families which produced an elite of doctors, lawyers, artists and writers. Many of them were affiliated with the opposition against the rule of Assad as for an example Abdelaziz. Kilo even claims that it is the majority of the Allawi intelligentsia who has been refusing the regime.
The renowned poet Hassan al Khayyer sang following lines:
“What shall I say
saying the truth is followed by whip flogs and a dark wet jail.”
He disappeared in 1979. Co-inmates reported that before his execution his tongue was cut. Until now his whereabouts remain unknown.
Contrary to this the Assads are military parvenus. Only the family rule founded by Hafiz opened the doors to their social ascension.
The modern, urban Allawi intelligentsia, which is to an important extent left-wing and pan-arabist, happens to point at the collaboration of the Assads with French colonialism. After France took control an anti-colonial insurgency spread. Although an all-Syrian movement it had its centre of gravity among the Allawi mountainous community. After its suppression the French reacted with divide and rule. They built an Allawi administrative area which could have later evolved into a separate Allawi state. In the 30ies, when the French left government under the impression of the anti-colonial mobilizations started to contemplate about ending the mandate, the more conservative and communalist Allawi leaders called upon Paris not to leave the country. A letter voicing this demand dated June 15, 1936, addressed to the cabinet of Leon Blum is co-signed by Bashar’s great-grandfather Suleiman.
The western media likes to speak of an Allawite state as last option after a civil war. Yet this is being refused not only by the Allawi intellectuals but also by the broad masses of the same community. Social change dragged the Allawite people into the large urban centers. Furthermore the Assad regime has always displayed itself as the herald and stronghold of Pan-arabism. Also Michel Kilo confirms that there is no such idea among Allawis. They continue to strive for a common Syria.
When analyzing the political tendencies within the Allawi community one should, however, not forget that they had been both under the Ottoman as well as under the French rule an oppressed minority of dependent peasants and servants. Their loyalty to the regime stems also from the fear of being once again reduced to this subordinated status.
To dispel these Allawi fears, to minimize what could be interpreted as Sunni revanchism, is a decisive task of the opposition. Therefore sectarianism is not only fought by the democratic forces and the enlightened Islamic tendencies but even denounced as an instrument in the hands of the regime. Often one can hear the allegation that Assad has been instigating Salafism and Sunni sectarianism in order to create a bugbear to hit at justifying the war against their people. At the same time democratic forces and especially oppositionists with Allawi background are singled out and targeted as enemies more dangerous than Salafis.
The incidents of Qardaha raises hope that the sectarian communalist base of the regime is crumbling which on its turn will help the democratic forces of the rebellion to go against the Sunni sectarian communalist forces supported by the Gulf. Meanwhile the democratic opposition insists that the main momentum of the revolution is democratic and supra-confessional and that there is no sectarian communalist civil war going on.