This is an informative short interview that I heard yesterday on NPR concerning the rise to political power of the Alawites in Syria, of whom current President Bashar Assad is a member.  The Alawites, as Steven Heydemann explains, were once a marginalized minority Shia sect, but they were recruited for military purposes by the French during the period of French occupation of Syria (1920-1946).  It was during this period that the Alawites began to move from outsider group to a position of greater political and military strength.

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