I return again, to the roots of the Alawites, Bashar al-Assad's base of support. The following is from Moshe Maʻoz's, "Asad : The Sphinx of Damascus : A Political Biography" (1988) one of the most cited texts on the subject, and quite readable.
Maʻoz is Israeli. He fully opposes Assad, to be sure, but has no wish to demean him. On the contrary, Ma'oz takes pains to portray Hafez al-Assad, father of Syria's current leader, as a brutally and uniquely effective nation-builder, and a formidable adversary.
Back to the Alawites.
From the text:
. . . the Alawis or Alawites — have professed an esoteric secret faith. This was a blend of ancient Syrian or Phoenician paganism (mainly the worship of the triad: the sun, the moon and the stars or sky), possibly influenced by Christian Trinitarianism. . . and largely manifest in a Shi'i-Ismaili fashion, namely an adherence to Imam Ali, the first cousin and son-in-aw of the prophet Muhammad. . .
Let me stop there. As Ma'oz and others would have it, the Alawites incorporate old, pagan beliefs, Middle-Eastern stuff predating Islam (if not Christianity and Judaism).
In Ireland, that sort thing provides material for the likes of Yeats. In Syria, it's another story. Perhaps there is a Syrian Yeats. But more to the moment are the Assads.