The Alawis number perhaps a million persons-about 12 percent of Syria’s population- and are concentrated in the northwestern region around Latakia and Tartus. This religious minority has provided Syria’s rulers for nearly two decades: Syrian President Hafiz al-Asad, in power since 1970, and Syria’s leading military and security chiefs, are of Alawi origin. For at the forefront of Syria’s modern struggle for independence were the Sunni Muslims who populated the cities of Syria’s heartland. When the Ottoman Empire fell, the French claimed Syria as their share, and the Alawis found their new rulers eager to protect and patronize them. Political separatism was compatible with Alawi religious esoterism, and it won many adherents among the Alawi religious shaykhs. The close relationship between Syria and the Islamic Republic of Iran was rooted in this early collaboration of convenience. The Syrian relationship with Islamic Iran did enhance the religious legitimacy of Syria’s rulers, but in a very subtle and indirect way.