Life under Bashar al-Assad was not great for Syria’s minority communities, but many would rather deal with the devil they know rather than the Islamists who stand to gain from the revolution.
Since the beginning of the popular uprising in Syria, thousands of civilians have been killed by Government forces. Although it is safe to say that a significant portion of Syria’s population want regime change, its minority communities are weary of a future without Bashar al-Assad. It is often ignored that Assad’s Ba’ath party (like that of Saddam Hussein until 2003) is resolutely secular and often positions itself as the only thing standing in the way of Sunni Islamist rule. Minority groups are reluctant to oppose Assad because he and the Ba’ath party have historically protected them.
Syrian Kurds (about 9% of the population) are concerned that Turkish support for the opposition forces increases the likelihood of unfavorable policies under a new regime. Turkey has its own problems with a large Kurdish minority and any help to the mostly Arab opposition forces are seen by Kurds as instigation.
The Christian community (about 10% of the population) fears that it will suffer a fate similar to that of the more than 1 million Iraqi Christians following the American-led invasion in 2003. As a result of targeted sectarian violence, several hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians fled the country, mostly to Syria, which was then considered safe for Christians under Assad’s rule. Where can they turn to now if forced out? Lebanon?
Other Islamic communities – the Alawi, Druze and Shi’a (about 16% of the population) – are scared of potential Sunni hegemony that would further marginalize them. Assad himself is an Alawite, which often serves as a rallying point for the mostly Sunni revolutionary forces.
Bashar al-Assad, like Saddam Hussein before him, spoke of secular Arab nationalism as the only credible force able to contend with Western imperialism and radical Islamism. Unfortunately, both men rule(d) in such a way that any concessions made for tolerance were overshadowed by the brutality of their hold on power. The Kurds, Christians, Alawi, Druze and Shi’a that make up a quarter of Syria’s population have little sway with either the international community or the revolutionary forces, both of whom want Assad to step aside. Many support Assad out of fear of the alternative, which will only make it worse in the eyes of the Sunni Arab majority when he loses power, which it seems is only a matter of time.