1. Introduction

In the ongoing conflict, Syria’s northwest coastal region has thus far been insulated from the extensive destruction and unrelenting violence occurring elsewhere in the country. This has prevented the mass population exodus seen in other contested areas and kept the region’s residents better off, relatively speaking, than Syrians from other parts of the country. Far-reaching, conflict-induced developments have nevertheless significantly altered the living circumstances of the coastal population, the majority of which is of the Alawite faith.

This study looks at the adaptation and survival strategies of local communities in the coastal Latakia and Tartus governorates during the conflict and, more specifically, at their responses to three new phenomena brought about by the ongoing fighting. After a review of the methodology in Chapter 2, Chapter 3 looks at the coastal communities’ responses to the arrival of a massive number of largely Sunni individuals escaping the violence unfolding in the surrounding governorates, and discusses the extent to which they have changed, or left unaltered, the preexisting social relations—both between the coast’s Sunnis and Alawites and between its Alawites and the Assad regime. Cross-sectarian relationships along the coast were jolted by the conflict, and Chapter 4 explores their evolution by examining the trajectories of local economies in the two port cities of Latakia and Banias. Chapter 5 examines the charities and militia recruitment centers that proliferated on the coast as the regime was forced to create new channels of interaction, co-optation, and containment of the Alawite community’s dissent.

Taking the coastal region as a case study, this research seeks to contribute to a more nuanced understanding of how the protracted conflict affects not only socioeconomic relations between Syria’s sects, but also the Assad regime’s traditional mechanisms of governance, coercion, and control.

This article was originally published by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

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