Two members of the Assad family exchanged gunfire in a cafe in the mountainous town where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s father was born and buried, Liz Sly of the Washington Post reports.The confrontation—along with the regime’s detainment of a prominent Alawite activist—reflects the weakening cohesion within the Alawite community, which comprises 2.5 million people concentrated in Latakia region on Syria’s northwestern coast.
“The Alawites are critical for Assad’s survival. He wouldn’t survive a day without their complete support, so the fact that we are seeing tensions is significant,” Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, told the Post. “Most Alawites are upset with the regime, and they feel Assad is dragging their sect into a conflict they can’t eventually win.”
Syria scholar Joshua Landis, whose wife is Alawite, told the Post that the clash occurred when Mohammed al-Assad—known as the “Sheik of the Mountain” for his role as the local Assad family enforcer—pulled his gun after being insulted by another Assad relative named Sakher Osman.
Both men and as many as six others were injured in the ensuing shootout, according to the Post. Landis, a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, said President Assad intervened in the dispute to calm tempers and restore order.
The Alawite sect is a offshoot of Shiite Islam that endured centuries of persecution under Sunni rule until Assad’s father, Hafez, seized power in 1970 and stacked the country’s elite and security forces with Alawites. The population has remained loyal to Bashar Assad out of loyalty and a fear that they would be ostracized in the free-for-all that would likely follow Assad’s downfall.
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