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The Alawites, also known as Alawis, Nusayris and Ansaris are a prominent mystical religious group centred in Syria who follow a branch of the Twelver school of Shia Islam. They were long persecuted for their beliefs by the various rulers of Syria, until Hafez al-Assad took power there in 1970. Today they represent 12% of the Syrian population and for the past 50 years the political system has been dominated by an elite led by the Alawite Assad family. During the Syrian civil war, this rule has come under significant pressure. (via Freebase)